Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Final Lesson

I wondered recently how I would change my garden if I could. My house and garden sit on barely over a 1/4 acre in a congested suburb, my little world like a plump kernel on a bursting cob. Summer nights are lit by the glow of a neighbors big screen TV instead of fireflies and I've run inside to pick up a ringing phone that wasn't my own.

'Coral Reef' monarda

I imagined closing off one of my fence gates and building a pond. I'd lay field stone paths and take out a bit of grass. I'd create a garden that was private and restorative, insulated from the push and swell of neighboring life. If I had more space, I'd build low stone walls and cloister my suburban prairie.


But as much as my garden is my refuge, it is also my most enduring lesson. I live less than two miles from the school where I teach and many of my students are my neighbors. When I teach my unit on water ecology, I often use my garden as an example. We discuss the hazards of too much nitrogen and talk about what's in the run off that pours into the storm drain next to my house. I brought in water from the creek across the street to prove to my students the effect of fertilizer on oxygen levels. I explained to them that the water was so low in dissolved oxygen it no longer supported life and the class went silent.


It was futile to pretend I lived elsewhere. "If you've noticed that my grass looks weird right now, " I challenge them, "it's because it's covered in compost." The kids, all 11 or 12, look away sheepishly. They don't want me to know that they know where I live or that they saw me bring in the newspaper in my bathrobe. "And the big blue flowers by the front porch? Those don't get any chemicals, either."

I like to flatter myself and think that my students will remember my class, but I know many will not. My words will cascade like confetti from brains overloaded with stimuli and expectation. But what I've created will last. Perhaps if they see my garden enough times, it will affect their choices as adults. If I can become a part of their environmental awareness, that is enough.

Pink 'Endless Summer' hydrangea and 'Mardi Gras' dwarf glossy abelia

The 'Pearl d'Azur' clematis is still blooming. Tall native pink obedient plant, phlox, and daylilies hide its skinny ankles and provide color til fall. Pink hydrangeas and variegated dwarf abelia are so beautiful in the summer I don't mind how pathetic they look all winter. The abelia closest to the daylilies always devlops its varigation last.

14 comments:

  1. I think you are doing wonderful things teaching these children about being good stewards to the environment. If you get through to at least one child it is a triumph! I think your beautiful garden is an inspiration to us all!

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  2. Thank you for such a great post. I spread manure on the lawn too :) and feed my roses organically (and not too often). I also garden on a small suburban lot where you can't escape the neighbors, I know how you feel. But my garden is still wonderful and a great place to be, like yours.

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  3. I love that you use your garden for lessons in your class. It makes it real and local and personal for them!

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  4. How great that you teach the children about the environment in a way they can actually see. They will know what stream the water came from and the flowers growing so well without the aid of chemicals. Although we often forget much of what we were taught in school I'm sure the overall sense of awareness you are bringing to them will last.

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  5. Jennifer@threedogsinagarden
    Don't underestimate the impression that you are making on your students! I firmly believe that, next to parents, teachers are the biggest influences there are on young children. If it were up to me, teachers would be amongst the highest paid professionals. I think it is wonderful that you use your own garden as a teaching tool and your lessons are bound to take root into their young, fertile minds.

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  6. You will never know what ripples in the pond you have created in your class. Who knows the influence you may ultimately have, years from now when your students become adults and make their own impact on the world.You are doing your part, and it is important. Hooray for teachers, and hip-hip hooray for teachers who are gardeners!

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  7. I don't know, I bet those students are having the time of their lives in your class - I remember very well all my first garden teachers, though none of them were at school back then.

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  8. Surely you're touching some of your students with your lessons. I'll bet a few decades down the road some of them still think of you fondly as one of their favorite teachers, even if they envision you in a blue robe.

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  9. You never know what your students may remember! It's wonderful to see that you are passionate about teaching them...and I love that you can use real life examples, too. :)

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  10. Thanks!! I asked one of my former students what they remembered about my class and they responded with "gerbil racing" and "fertilizer is bad"! Woo-hoo!! Success!! One of my neighbors, whose daughter was in my class, came over and asked me how to fertilize his lawn since his daughter had forbidden him from buying fertilizer!! Oh yeah! Happy dance!

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  11. Sometimes teachers get so bogged down in non-teaching stuff (parent-kid issues, etc) we forget how much of what we say is put into mental storage by our students. Thanks again for your support!! I needed it! :o)

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  12. What you do in teaching those kids about environmental concerns is priceless. I, too, often wish I lived on three to 100 acres out in the middle of nowhere where I would have lots and lots of room for planting and more privacy, but, for now, this is where I live. Maybe someday...

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  13. Teachers can make a huge impact ~ my mother became a nature lover thanks to a teacher who took them outside and showed them birds' nests and how to recognize various birdsongs etc. When something is made personal it's much more likely to make an impression.

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  14. I'm with the others that said the same thing, I strongly suspect you underestimate the impact your teaching has. Anyway, if even one pupil turns into an environmentally aware adult you've scored.

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