Last school year all of my students propagated many plants, mostly from stem cuttings. Each student had at least one plant that was his or hers to care for, sketch, measure and learn about. By June, most students were very excited to finally bring their plants home, though there were a few who didn’t want to take them. There were also the plants that were more or less class experiments which were used to test hypotheses: what works better as a starting medium, soil or vermiculite? Do roots grow faster in water or soil? How does a leaf cutting compare to a stem cutting?
Honestly, most experiments were pretty successful all around, leaving us with quite a few new plants. After spending the summer outside, our little cuttings transformed into big, beautiful plants, easily filling 6″ pots. As we began to move the potted plants back into the greenhouse, I wondered how everything would fit. That’s when I saw the flyer.
The title “Bucks for Brandy” immediately called my attention to said flyer posted where I scan in each work day. As it turns out, our preschool and kindergarten program, Nature’s Nursery, is conducting a penny drive to benefit a student’s mom who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Having had numerous familial encounters with “the big C,” my immediate thought was, “How can I help?” The answer: a plant sale!
Working with one high school class in particular, we began to discuss our plan. I told my students about the penny drive to benefit Brandy (who, by the way, has no family history of cancer) which led to questions about how people get the disease. There was a respectful hush among the class; we talked about environmental factors, hereditary factors, and misfortune. (Coincidentally, I’m reading an interesting book related to this topic, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.) Questions and comments came from unexpected places, like the student who is usually sullen and keeps his head down who suddenly had many questions and tried to find analogies that better explained the various ways one might end up with cancer. Quickly everyone was excited to help and participate even though none of us know Brandy personally. Does it matter? Of course not, we all know (or are) a Brandy, right?
So, one group of students painted a banner (we decided on Plants for Brandy) and another group created care cards so people would know about the type of plant they purchased and how to care for it. Others took inventory and discussed pricing, a few made aromatic Sweet Annie swags to sell alongside our plants, pruned our stock and yes, put the new cuttings in water to root for more plants down the road!
The day of the sale, my late morning class helped to set up our pop-up plant store and before we knew it, or were even really prepared, we were besieged with customers. The natural salespeople of the class emerged and quite naturally began interacting with our customers, talking up the plants they helped to grow and the mother we all wanted to help.
There were two particular highlights of the event. First, one of my students, Brent, visited the sale, pulled me aside, handed me an envelope and in a soft voice said, “I don’t want a plant, but this is a donation from my family.” The second time my heart melted was when one of my students, Joseph, a boy of about 11, visited the sale. He didn’t have any money and kept asking anyone who would listen, “What can I get?” over and over. I was helping some of the children answer questions and make change, and I was unaware of Joseph’s dilemma. Caleb, a 15 year old, who was helping the sale came over to me, put five dollars in my hand and said, “This is for Joseph, let him pick out whatever he wants.” Since Caleb doesn’t love gardening class, professing himself to be a “city boy,” this was a side of him I had not yet seen. I asked him how he knew Joseph, and he said something about having seen him around the dorms.
Seeing how positive this experience was for everyone really made me think. Children naturally want to help others and sometimes require the slightest guidance in creating opportunities to lend a helping hand. I’ve noticed over the years too, it’s often the children with the biggest disadvantages (whether emotional, financial or physical) who are most driven to help. Maybe they have a deeper understanding of the importance of support, I’m not sure. What I do know: this fundraiser is the first in what I see to be a long line of charitable events created by the gardeners of Green Chimneys!
I am so thankful for all the support our little on-the-fly event received: my creative, positive interns Angela and Alison; my wonderful volunteer Ms. V; all the students who volunteered to work the sale; Kim for setting up a tent (rain was in the forecast, but even Mother Nature helped out); Danny for carrying tables; Mike for helping us break down and return the tent; all the employees and students who bought our goods; and even my afternoon classes who must have realized I was a little spent from the sale and seemed to go easy on me! Did you ever notice that when you’re doing the right thing at the right time that all the pieces just seem to fall right into place? Now, we just need to send some prayers along to Brandy, and hopefully things will fall into place for her soon, too.