Time, work and a lot of tender loving care have transformed the courtyard at Larimore Elementary School into a garden spot.
Under the guidance of art teacher Abby Schwent and pre-kindergarten teacher April Wallner-Wallis, 26 students enrolled in the school’s garden club. The club meets weekly after school. Using wheelbarrows, dirt and shovels, plus a lot of extra help from others, club members cleared rocks and dirt, added six soil beds, a birdhouse, benches and a trellis to go along with the picnic table.
“It was funny at first,” said Schwent. “The students thought everything grew in the ground. One of the kindergarten students wanted to grow cupcake plants. Then they wanted to grow tropical fruits. We explained we had to narrow our choices to things that will grow in our area.”
During a recent club meeting, students divided into two groups – one that resumed planting nasturtium seedlings while the others used markers and small whiteboards to sketch out how they think the garden will look when complete.
“You can see how fruits and vegetables are grown like kale, broccoli and jalapeños,” said fourth-grade student Jayla Thomas. “We get to spend time with our friends and our teachers, too.”
Miles Taylor, a fifth-grader, explained what appeals to him about being in the garden club.
“I like planting fruits and vegetables,” he said. “I had never heard of some of these before like radishes and broccoli. My favorite fruit are lemons – I like the sourness of them.”
Schwent said she received a $250 grant from Annie’s Grants for Gardens and a small grant from the Missouri Conservation Department for a small pond and to add native plants and flowers to attract insects. In addition, they took field trips to visit Jack Petrovic, garden manager at Schlafly Bottleworks, and to the Missouri Botanical Gardens to do research and get tips on what should be planted when. At the botanical garden, students also received sketch books and visited the Climatron.
“I was very proud of the kids because they could identify some of the plants on the field trips,” said Schwent.
Kindergarten student Bruce Johnson moved from one area to another, brimming with energy.
“We make all kinds of stuff here – radishes, broccoli and pumpkins and flowers. I like broccoli because it’s healthy. Is that corn? Is it ready to eat yet?” he asked, pointing to some plants between soil beds.
“Bruce, those are lily plants, not corn,” Schwent gently corrected.
Schwent said Schlafly’s grows much of its own food.
They borrowed an idea from Schlafly’s – a compost pile. It started as a small pile in Schwent’s classroom and later will fill in a large bin in the courtyard. Adding the pond and native plants is a future goal. Another of the club’s goals is to harvest the bounty of their plants later this summer and create a farmers’ market at school. In February, club members made terrariums.
“Every week, the first thing they do when they come in my room is check on their terrarium,” she said.
The garden club also provides the students with cooperation.
“The older ones immediately help the younger ones,” Schwent said. “One day, they paired up without me having to ask them.”
From the hallway door leading out to the courtyard, potted plants line the short staircase leading to the grassy area. In an area by the hall windows, students will plant jalapeño peppers and pumpkins. A few feet away, a newly built soil bed contains carrots and green peppers. On the other side of the courtyard, another bed holds broccoli and radish plants. In the center is the new bed with the birdhouse. The dwelling has eyehooks and wires attached to it. Eventually, green bean plants will grow along the wires.
At the rear of the courtyard lie three additional beds, one with squash and corn, another just for tomatoes and the third containing kale, spinach and peas.