The teachers on the action team are myself, Karin Dunn (Grade 4), Sara Chadsey (intermediate French), Liz Amos (Kindergarten), Michelle Carlton (Grade 1), Chris Palumbo (Grade 7) and Kaitlyn Hunt (Grade 6). The students will be planning a native plant garden for the front of the school.
To support the native insects and birds in our neighbourhood, we need to plant native plants as food sources and host plants. When beautiful, resistant, long lasting cultivars are planted, they look wonderful in our gardens all summer long, however, they may not be as beneficial to the insects and birds. For example, echinacea has a few native varieties but there are many hybrid varieties. Some of the varieties do not have as much nutrition and some have flower shapes that make collecting the pollen difficult. Fewer insects will be able to survive in a habitat with less nutritious flowers. With fewer insects in the area, fewer birds will be able to find enough insects to feed their young. Also, some hybrid varieties do not produce seeds which are an important food source for the birds in the fall. We need to have native plants in our neighbourhoods to be able to support the local insects and birds.
Increasing the biodiversity of the area will enable life to function with less interference by humans. A garden with native plants will be less work to tend. The plants that evolved to live in our area are able to survive with less help from us. The plants are used to the amount of rainfall so there is less watering. The perennials will survive through the winters so there is less need to plant annuals that are mass produced in greenhouses. The garden will be enticing to a large variety of insects and birds. They will feed off of each other and thus there will be less of a need for humans to use chemicals to control insects. Perhaps most importantly, the pollinators will be plentiful to pollinate the local farms.
The entire habitat is important to the population of insects and birds. With that in mind, the garden will contain at least one shrub or evergreen to be a shelter for the insects and birds from predators and weather. Many butterflies need to sit for a while to dry before they fly and birds may need to be higher in a shrub to feel secure enough to feed on the insects. There will also be areas of bare soil for solitary bees to make their nests. If possible, a water source or dish that can fill with rainwater will be included. Also, to be determined by the students, is whether or not to include a short fence to keep it safe from foot traffic or to include a bench to encourage spectators. The goal of this project is to be visible to the community.
The location of the garden is in the front of the school near the sidewalk. Having the garden near the sidewalk allows passersby to see it flourish. The students will design signs to describe the plants and the insects that benefit directly from them. The signs will identify each plant as being a host plant for particular butterfly larvae or as a food source for the butterflies, insects or birds. Another sign will state that the goal of the garden is to benefit the native insect and bird populations to help us go towards a sustainable future. We want the community to feel encouraged to include native plants in their own gardens. The idea can spread through the community and benefit us all.
As the project continues, it can be maintained by a club and classes which can include anyone in the school as well as be used by classrooms as a teaching area. The garden will continue to change over time as new ideas come to light. Some plants may be added or changed. New features may add to the functionality of it. The lessons of the garden can also develop over time. Initially, it can start with native plants and the pollinators that benefit from them and later it can start to educate people about leaving the stems for nesting insects. The long lasting purpose of the garden is to inform and continue to educate the students and the community about the necessity of native plants for the continued survival of our insects and birds.
Our plan is to plant a garden with only native plants in it and to encourage the community to incorporate native plant species in their gardens which will improve the biodiversity of the neighbourhood.
The garden is located in front of the school near the sidewalk. The Grade 2 class chose the location after surveying the area near the front of the school and comparing it to a list of criteria. The criteria was: easy to dig up, free from obstacles, visible to the community, less travelled area and plenty of sunshine. They chose to put the garden near the sidewalk, which allows the passersby to see it flourish. By the end of the school year, signs will be added to name each plant and to state its necessity to the habitat, for example, what butterfly it is the host plant for, what insects like to feed from it and what birds might eat the seeds.
The students will design signs to describe the plants and the insects that benefit directly from them. The signs will identify each plant as being a host plant for particular butterfly larvae or as a food source for the butterflies, insects or birds. Another sign will state that the goal of the garden is to benefit the native insect and bird populations to help us go towards a sustainable future. We want the community to feel encouraged to include native plants in their own gardens. The idea can spread through the community and benefit us all.
The entire habitat is important to the population of insects and birds. With that in mind, the Grade 1 Virtual Class decided on a honeysuckle bush to be a shelter for the insects and birds from predators and weather. The Grade 2 class found a large rock to put in the garden to allow as a resting place for butterflies and other insects to warm up in the sunshine. They continue their search for a log to add as a source of shelter for other insects.
A local scientist gave all six classes and two more Grade 7 classes an online presentation on native bees and wasps. School funds were used for the presentations so it was not using the grant money from LSF. The lessons were very informative and engaging and we learned many connections of insects to the garden. For example, we learned that the log in the garden could provide an area for the mourning cloak butterfly to overwinter. This butterfly overwinters as a butterfly. We also learned that golden alexander is a native flower that is a host plant for the black swallowtail to lay its eggs on. The caterpillars then turn into chrysalis and some of them overwinter as a chrysalis on branches. For this reason, we will leave the stems in the garden until the following summer. Coincidentally, I had eight black swallowtail butterfly chrysalids from last fall. I brought them to the school and we were able to release the butterflies as they emerged. We also learned that the aster is a fall blooming flower that provides the monarch the nutrient rich diet it needs to make its flight to Mexico for the winter. We are including asters and other fall blooming flowers in the garden in addition to a butterfly weed plant which is the host plant for the monarch to lay its eggs on.
The plant research by the Grade 7’s helped the students to decide on native plants for the garden. They came up with a list of possible plants and sorted them by bloom times and heights. It was an enormous task and it proved very helpful for choosing plants. When shopping for plants, the choices were purchased when available. Included were the New England Aster, Prairie Smoke, Cardinal Flower and more. The Grade 7’s will lay out the garden by using their information and then planting can begin! The plants have been purchased and as soon as next week, they will go into the garden. The Grade 4’s, 6’s and 7’s have been digging out the existing plants in the garden area and are putting fresh soil down. They worked diligently to get the weeds out and cooperated with each other to move the soil. Altogether, eighty students were involved in the digging! The other 40 students choose the location and the shrub.
The multimedia campaign is led by the Grade 6’s. They created beautiful digital and printed posters to go up around the school, flyers to distribute to the community and they wrote announcements for the entire school. Also, the school newsletter included pictures of the garden and a paragraph about the project. The paragraph included the source of the grant money from LSF. They are letting the students know about the importance of bees and other pollinators and in particular that we don’t need to be afraid of bees. The idea is that if people are not afraid of being stung, they will feel more comfortable having plants that bring more bees to the neighbourhood. The Grade 7’s are also learning about habitats in French and are creating awareness posters in both French and English languages. They learned the vocabulary for the posters and the reasons why we need to plant native flowers. The Grade 2 class is also performing a play about bees during our school assembly. The Grade 4’s have been creating posters to let people know about the garden and signs to lead people to the location. Finally, the Grade 6’s created an email address where students can suggest names of our garden. All of this activity is creating a buzz about the garden and letting the students know that it is for everyone to enjoy.
The ultimate goal is to pass the learning to the parents and the community to spread awareness of the importance of planting native and providing a healthy and natural habitat for the pollinators. We are all excited to see what the summer brings to our garden.
Reflection & Celebration
The entire process of designing, preparing and planting the native garden was a wonderful and educational experience for the students. Since the planting, the students regularly volunteer to water it, they point out different bugs they see outside during breaks and they tell me about the plants they are planting in their gardens at home. Students learned the practical skills of how to research plants, make decisions about which to include and to create educational posters. But, the larger impact is the effect the process has had on their attitudes about insects and plants. They learned how to appreciate the different looking insects and to respect their place in the diversity of our community. They learned the benefits of plants as being for the good of all humanity and the ecosystem and not just as being pretty for the garden. The celebration will be when we see the first insects enjoying the garden!