February 4– Back to the park!
A cool day, but more of a mist then a rain and students showed up in their new rubber boots (thanks TD Friends of the Environment Fund!) and ready to work. I started by talking about what invasives versus native and introduced plantings were. I often talk about school yard bullies as an example of an invasive- doesn’t share sun, soil or moisture- and the reasons for why that is as having co-evolved with different, more competitive neighbours. I find this such a great way to talk about the community of plants and the community of humans and why it is important we learn to work together for a healthy environment.
I let the group know that end of March is our planting time, and that we are now beginning the process of removing any invasives, nurturing and noticing growth of the desired plants on site and watching for plants that don’t come out of their dormant state. Identifying those plants that did not survive last years drought that we want to remove will give us the room for new plantings.
The class was broken into a series of groups, and each group was assigned a planted area to collectively monitor, map and co-steward. We drew 5 larges circles using a stick and piece of string, and we marked out the circles with sticks of dry willow 30-50 cm apart.
Using fresh willow rods from Means of Production garden, we paired rods by binding them at the butt end, and students then jumped back into the twining they learned with Tracy in January- twining willow around the grounded sticks which acted like a warp. It was much easier and faster then other fence edges I have taught and worked brilliantly! (I decided more garden bed fences should be made this way too, and this will be a future adult stewardship project to embark on…)
Once our stewardship mini-plots were circled, students could start to orient themselves to what is in the area for which they are caring. Scotchbroom, budlea and blackberry are the three main invasives that are working to get a toehold in the park- Students were shown clippings of each of these, then tasked with marking any they found in their plots with flag tape so we could come back with a shovel. People left happy after a good day of outdoor work, and a few of the usually more reticent children were actually rather chatty with me as we wrapped up.
There is so much new growth just popping up from the ground, the big thing right now is protecting the new sprouts from foot traffic. Being mindful to where feet are placed when working is a challenge for all ages. Melodie and I had taken advantage of a sunny, mild stewardship day between class sessions and staked around the lupines and iris that we wanted to steer feet clear of, then we began weaving a border for the stinging nettle crop and that just kept growing to become the start of that woven border I mentioned earlier…
There is so much public traffic cutting through the space, dog walkers and general strollers that it feels like we might lose our May purple field of lupine and iris if we don’t protect the new growth from trodding and define desire lines for cutting through the space while limiting traffic elsewhere.
When students arrived on the 11th, I could show them how to look for, and mark with sticks, the new growth on their site. Sometimes you can follow the old dried plant canes from the previous year, sometimes you need to scratch through grasses and other growth that has grown and also learning to just look close and train the eye to particular leaf shapes and colours. I continue to be so impressed with students retention of plant names and other terms, they remember dormant, invasive, names of both invasive and native plants we have spent time with. And now we go hunting for them- find them and either protect or remove them.
We also returned today to our mapping lessons. North is always the top of a map as Leslie reminded us and maps were broken into quadrants: N/E, N/W, S/W, S/E.
Students worked in their groups to note what grew in their “crop-circle”, how many of each species, what invasives they pulled and we noted in each area plants that were currently dormant that we wanted to monitor. Everyone designed their own icons to chart their field map, and we used our bodies as measuring instruments- lupine leaves the width of a pinkie nail, iris sprouts the height of a thumb.. like having your growth measured on a door frame as a personal tracking method to return to.
This part of the project is feeling really good for the work the students are doing and the level of engagement has been quite high – this is the applied part of it all. Names and identification skills coming to use, learning to use a shovel, the weaving techniques and even the material understanding. I was a bit surprised how much many enjoyed weeding, so different from other school garden projects I have done- and I wonder if its because the approach this time involved so much lead-up in training about the plants themselves so the kids care more and are invested. A student showed me one of the old willow sticks and asked what it was, saying the bark when it came off felt very strong and leathery, and she thought it would be good for weaving and rope work- YES! that was yet another happy ‘teaching moment’… soon the sap will be flowing and we can strip bark off with ease.
Waking up to a cold, blustery day of hard rain had us thinking twice about working outside. I am aware of how important it is to both push the envelope of what is ‘comfortable outdoor weather’ to work in, but not pushing so far that it becomes a bad experience that the kids are turned off wanting to work outdoors- choosing our moments is important- so today became an indoor map making day.
It was a great opportunity to bring group problem solving and visual idea development together.
Working in the same groups as outside, we started by making a large circle on a page, the inside of the circle to become an aerial map of what is happening inside the willow woven circle the students are stewarding and observing in the park.
The maps drawn in sketchbooks became important keys now for reference, and groups spent quite some time just talking and reaching consensus about what the icons would be for each plant- now that they were transferring them from line drawn sketches to colour and shape. We worked with tissue paper and acrylic medium and I showed how to layer colours, and consider shapes- cut or torn to build up the surface.
I enjoyed seeing how each group problem solved differently, and was impressed by how for one group Nootka Rose was symbolized so simply with red cut triangles- the prickly area nobody wants to walk in…versus the green lines for sedges and small blue bits for where iris is just poking up.
The maps now will be able to go a wall in the classroom for ongoing reference to what is happening in the park as well as additions to what we plant, remove, or where birds or other wildlife is spotted.
A new plant to teach today! Flowering Red Currant is now a garden showcase in the few places it is planted- students had a chance to go look and Raymond reported back to finding several bushes at his sit spot he hadn’t known the name for until now.
Today each group was handed a list of tasks to follow up on as follows:
- What new species can you find?
- Plant Count- pick a species in your circle and count what you can find
- Topography- find the high and low areas of your terrain and draw it on your map
- Find areas for planting- are there dead plants, weed or empty space that we can plant?
Students had time to do this work on site as a group and then each group reported to the class what they had found. Having introduced the idea of a topographical map, we talked about high area being more prone to dryness and low areas being swampier, this information will help us when it comes time for choosing what plants go where. Each site is quiet different, some groups will have lots of planting, others have very established spaces. A few mostly have either crab grass or invasives to remove then there will be room for new plantings.