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!
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.
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.”