A plant to call one’s own

Christian inspects his radishes that he started from seed.

Christian inspects his radishes that he started from seed.

In the fall, when all the work in the garden that can be done has been done, and it’s too cold to find any last reasons to stay out just a bit longer, it’s time to begin our indoor season in the greenhouse. One of the first lessons our students learn during this transition time is “What is propagation?” We have used stem cuttings, leaf cuttings, seeds and (plant) division to answer the aforementioned question.

Of course, propagation is really just a fun, curiosity-grabbing vehicle to teach much more important lessons than how to multiply your plant collection. Having our students each “make” their own plant and spend the next 4 to 5 months observing how it grows, watering it, sketching it, pruning it and sometimes even having to start over gives them the opportunity to nurture a living thing. The ability to care for a living thing in turn helps to build a child’s self-esteem, as well as kindle an interest in the natural world. The Naturalist intelligence shines in many of our students who don’t learn and achieve as successfully through traditional methodology.

Some students name their plants, most kids can’t wait to take them home and involuntarily groan in the fall when I tell them they won’t take them home until the spring! It’s not unusual at Green Chimneys for new students to arrive at various times throughout the school year. And when they do, we find a few moments to bring them over to the potting bench to start their own plant, a somewhat interesting metaphor for their new arrival, like a new transplant, needing nurturing and just waiting to thrive.

As you may recall from a January blog post, The Courage to Prune, my high school class has been pruning and shaping their Mosquito (Pelargonium ‘citrosum’)  plants, and the class has since become so self-sufficient in the greenhouse. It is awesome. I handed out their plants one last time this past week and before I knew it, everyone got right to work. Some began taking off yellowing leaves, others continued pinching back the latest growth, one student re-staked his plant with a new vision in mind, while another asked for a larger pot so she could transplant hers (she noted that the soil felt dense and she felt like the roots needed more space to grow).

The next thing I knew kids were taking out small pots, filling them with soil and potting up the stems they had just pruned back. It was great! I really think it was one of the best class experiences: there was a hum of activity, but not over-the-top. There was movement as students sought out the supplies they needed (and knew exactly where to find them), questions were abounding… it was controlled chaos in a good, no great, way!

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Most other classes had smaller projects, Donkey’s Tail (Sedum burrito), for instance grows at a snail’s pace compared to the scented geranium. So, there was no transplanting or pruning needed for classes that propagated those! But one thing all classes did was make a “care card.” This card will help remind the student what the plant is called, where it comes from, the light exposure, the water requirements.GE DIGITAL CAMERA GE DIGITAL CAMERA

A handful of students told me they were going to give their plants as gifts to staff or family members. The few students that didn’t want their plant contributed it to the upcoming plant sale. And the one or two who told me they didn’t want to take the plant because they were afraid they would kill it, well, I told them they could leave their plants in the greenhouse until they felt more comfortable taking them home.

So now, our plant shelves are beginning to thin out a bit. The greenhouse is beginning to take on a different vibe, the cluttered, lived in look will soon go the way of the second home that is rarely used, sparse and quiet, as we begin to spend more and more time outside. It’s a good lesson for me in letting go, even of small things. And it’s a great lesson for my students in taking on: taking  on the responsibility of nurturing the plant they helped to “create.”


About Green Chimneys Garden

Green Chimneys was founded on the belief that children will benefit from their interaction with nature and animals. Horticulture comes to life in our educational school gardens, allowing Green Chimneys students to heal, learn, and grow. Learn more about about our nature-based approach to special education by visiting www.greenchimneys.org
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4 Responses to A plant to call one’s own

  1. garden98110 says:

    The Healing Garden gardener, as you know a former Green Chimneys’ student, once had the honor and opportunity of talking to a Nobel winning scientist on the subject of science education for beginners. In our Garden, Dr. Linus Paulings’ response has become a guiding principle for our understanding of the many varieties of ‘special’ science education:

    “One cannot be certain of what moment, or what small act of discovery that we share with a young person, will spark a lifetime of passionate inquiry. If nothing else, these moments are a small investment for a lifetime of returns.”

    • Yes! My philosophy of the greenhouse and garden is to surround and expose the students to as many experiences, opportunities and knowledge as possible, because you never know what is going to resonate with an individual. Always looking for an open window to gently move some ideas through….

  2. Felicidad says:

    This blog is very well written and I always enjoy reading about all that you do; plus, the pictures are very engaging. The children are very fortunate to have you. I can tell you really love what you do. It is people like you who really make the difference in a child’s life. Thumbs up to you and your program.

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