Raising Blooming Food & Blossoming Students!

By Michelle Domocol

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Young visitors at Healing Present growing herbs in the Edible Buffet garden

In Healing Present’s Edible Buffet garden, children planted herbs, veggies and flowers. This interplanting method was readily used. With this type of planting scheme, you too can build simple and fun children’s gardens. If you’re a teacher in an outdoor classroom, you can have a steady harvest of edible plants for scrumptious meals with garden-based activities. Your classes’ flowers primarily attract beneficial insects that help your veggies and herbs grow. As you learn what grows well in your area encourage students to experiment every season. Add new varieties. Ask your students to record and journal what plant varieties were bountiful. Your garden can change every season so why not keep it thriving and buzzing with engaged students and blooming food. Below are more tips and insights to building educational and productive raised bed gardens.

When I’m designing and growing raised bed gardens in outdoor classrooms, students love combining flowers and edible crops. Some projects allow a more collaborative garden planning process with students. This is a key teaching method for student involvement and project engagement. When we plan together, we invite inspiration and

  • list down student’s favorite meals,
  • browse through inspiring online art and illustration websites
  • peruse seed catalogs or
  • visit botanical gardens to brainstorm the best and most meaningful plant selection.

In this collaborative, student-centered method, students determine what grows in the garden. They help direct the artistic and scientific investigation in their outdoor classroom. Through their involvement, I want the students to care and feel connected to the garden. As they contribute planning input, they may engage more with fellow students and their lessons. If they grow vegetables and herbs they recognize from their favorite meals and snacks, they may feel more invested.

I also want them to incorporate flowers they remember from past vacations or field trips. Memories of food and exciting field trips reinforces continuity between old and new concepts.

As a teacher and designer, I sometimes wish we could grow and build everything our students want. But that’s not always possible. At best, we can grow a simple cross section of our student’s requests. Thankfully, simplicity can breed focus and innovation.

Many new garden-based teachers ask themselves what grows well together? What plants are easy to grow?

Well there are a multitude of approaches and answers to these questions. One method I favor is organic, chemical-free interplanting. It’s a safe and fun way to interplant a combo of flowers, herbs and vegetables with students.

Here are some planting combinations our team has planted in the Eastern US, California, and Healing Present:

  • cluster of large wooden barrels planted with masses of bokchoy and napa cabbage were interplanted with dill. Separate raised beds of sunflowers were installed beside the bok choy and napa cabbage
  • Raised beds with Rows of broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage interplanted with marigolds. At the edge of each row, Queens’s Anne’s lace, lamb’s quarters, golden rod
  • Paths lined with dwarf bean varieties; every fourth bean plant was combined with zinnias and tansies
Photo 1. Raised beds and container gardens in Healing Present

Whether in class or at home, choose a raised bed that suits you or the end user. Be it students, your family, or fellow community members. Match the raised bed to the specific needs of your end users. Who’s primarily gardening in the garden? You? Taller, Adult students? Younger, shorter students? Visitors with specific mobility needs? When you’re planning, take the time to investigate raised bed products or build custom raised beds. In Healing Present, different raised beds and container gardens that serve various visitors, farmers’ needs and the requirements of our clay, rocky soil. Photo 1C shows raised beds that accommodate visitors with wheelchairs and limited mobility in their backs. Photo 2 shows my designs for seated planters. These suit gardeners who’d prefer or need to physically sit while taking care of plants.

Photo 2. Planters and Raised beds with attached seats.

Choose or design raised beds with features that accommodate the height of your students. Photo 3 displays a variety of planting combos and raised bed materials. Photo 3A shows a raised bed with a durable, plastic basket weave frame. Inside, you can plant flowers like Iris and purslane and vegetables like purple camote (sweet potato) and munggos (mung bean).

Photo 3. A) Durable, Outdoor plastic Bed with camote, eggplant, iris and purslane B) A speckled, concrete raised bed frame with Canna and cosmos flowers interplanted with eggplant and kamatis (tomato); C) A treated hardwood raised bed with yellow and red canna flowers mixed with cabbage varieties (like napa) and bok choy; D)A corrugated aluminum raised bed with blooming coleus and cosmos; alongside delicious basil and raddish.

In Photo 1, Healing Present use small containers, coconut shells and green roofs to substitute our site’s ground is naturally rocky and heavy soil. So we can’t directly plant in the ground all the time. Sometimes our vegetables and herbs grow better with lighter soil with less rocks. So we give it to them in containers. In Photo 4A, you can see Healing Present bed frames are made of local fish netting in protective greenhouses. This helps our farmers increase harvest yield, improves the drainage of our rocky soil and protects the bok choy and lettuce from pests and wind. Photo 4B also shows kale thriving in a netting raised bed with lighter soil, vermicasts, and compost.

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