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How Does Your Garden G.R.O.W.W.

By Felicia Redfield, GROWW Program Coordinator

“So we are easing through our “First Winter” and you, as well as we at the GROWW Garden, have, hopefully, accomplished all of those garden chores that always challenge us through the fall: Clean up our garden beds, clean our tools and oil them for protection, put away our garden hoses, store seeds we’ve gathered for next year’s planting, turn the compost bins, harvest the potatoes, plant our winter crops….well, you get the picture – the list goes on and on and on and on. But, if you are like most of us here in Madison County, you were fooled by that wonderful spate of warm weather and put off your full fall cleanup, believing that you had one more week of warmth before that first frost. Of course, eventually the air cools, the wind blows, the days get shorter, and winter weather arrives – and our garden offers a new land of exploration and wonder.

The question that I always ask the students as winter arrives: Is the garden dead? Well, it appears to be. The plants are no longer producing fruit, there’s nothing left to harvest, everything is brown and ‘sad’ looking, leaves have fallen or have been ravaged by bugs and beetles – it is, for all intents and purposes, inert and asleep. This is the time of year that I love to take the kids out to the garden to simply observe: what is going on out here? Why do I leave the dead sunflowers standing upright, and why don’t we get rid of the half-eaten squash? I challenge the students to just sit quietly (or some semblance of quietly), writing and drawing in their journals, using their senses to experience the environment – close your eyes, what do you hear? smell? Where does the wind come from? What sound does it make as it passes through the leaves? (It sounds like laughter, they say, or applause).  A family of goldfinches comes to feast on the sunflower seedheads, adults still feeding fledglings, the remaining moths arrive to find whatever food is left for them to forage, and if we look closely at that half-eaten squash, we see – by observing teeth marks and footprints – that hungry deer have been to the garden to visit and have helped themselves to pumpkin delicacies. The garden is awake in a whole new way, once more alive with a magic that appears after all the growing is done.

My goal for this year is to invite our students to use the garden not only as a place to grow vegetables, but also as a place to grow their imaginations using the five senses.  We have restructured the garden space and created an area for journaling and exploring as well as planting, and I have asked the kids to imagine themselves living in a garden space of their own creation – what would their special garden look like? What if they were as small as an ant? What experiences would they have if the garden were as big as a forest? Writing and exploring possibilities outdoors is our theme for this year, and these kids – kindergarten to fifth grade – are open and excited to tell their stories and explore this brilliant space. Of course, we still have myriad tasks to complete in the GROWW Garden as we head into winter. Our two main activities are to rid the garden of weeds – fewer seeds now, fewer weeds next year – and to harvest all remaining vegetables.  With the hard work and fervor of our elementary school students we harvested more than 20 pounds of tomatoes, hundreds of carrots, multiple heads of cabbage, peas, radishes, beets, corn, beans, potatoes, and a multitude of squash. The third and fourth grade planted our winter crop of garlic to be harvested in the spring and summer. Our newly constructed herb beds produced a bounty of chamomile, basil, cilantro, dill, and a huge amount of catmint, and our students experienced the feel and smell of each part of these plants. We touched smooth leaves and prickly leaves, stems that smelled sweet and stems that were sticky and spikey; we experienced new smells that challenge our imaginations and familiar scents that elicit stories about grandma’s garden and summer camping trips…. we see and taste the results of a year of planning, planting, and tending. Their love of the garden, its bounty, its life, and its potential is evident each time they walk through the garden gates. They are developing a love of the seasons, the changes, the ebb and flow of the garden world, and they are enhancing their understanding of the wonderful life that we are building here in Ennis and the world around us.  Like a seed planted in our garden, we hope that with care and careful tending, their understanding and enthusiasm will take root and infuse itself into their everyday lives now and in the years to come. Please come visit the garden and enjoy this very special place.”

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