Field trip! Do you remember your school days—and especially those trips you took with your classmates to the zoo or museum? Well I recently had a chance to indulge in a little nostalgia by taking a field trip out to Tigard, Oregon to visit the Woodward Gardens at Mary Woodward Elementary School. Although I must admit that the Mary Woodward school was nothing like the elementary school I went to in the Bronx.
The Woodward Gardens
Perhaps the biggest difference is that Mary Woodward boasts a lovely school garden. I was invited to visit the garden by Michael O’Loughlin (that’s him in the restored wetland area). Back in the day…about 15 years ago…Michael’s children attended Mary Woodward. So when the Parent Student Organization (PSO) decided to create one of the first school gardens in the Metro area, Michael volunteered to spearhead (some would say supercharge) the effort.
Michael’s continuing involvement with the garden makes him the perfect tour guide. As I expected, the school garden contains raised beds, a compost area and a teaching/gathering spot for the students.
But I didn’t expect the size and scope of these garden features. For example, the school has over a dozen raised beds where they grow everything from cucumber to corn. And the compost area, built with the help of Metro, is a full-blown demonstration garden that is open to the public.
And that gathering area I mentioned?
Well you can take your pick between several different areas scattered across the property. There is a covered arbor, complete with an outdoor kitchen, where the school conducts “plein air” classes and crafts. There are two walk-in greenhouses where students can start seeds or work on special projects. There is even a native wetland that is home to ducks and frogs. The boardwalk and octagonal seating area let students enjoy nature without intruding on it.
Teamwork Equals Success
Michael was quick to point out that a garden of this complexity can’t exist without generous financial help, loads of volunteers and the support of the larger community. Michael’s company provided the “seed money” for the garden and the Woodward Parent Student Organization provides funding for ongoing maintenance.
But the school has been very successful at getting other companies involved in the project. For example, the Home Depot store in Hillsboro provided substantial discounts on the cabinets and countertops used in the outdoor kitchen. Orchard Hardware and Whole Foods have provided grants to the garden. And Al’s Garden Center supplies the garden with surplus seeds, bulbs and plants seasonally.
When it comes to handing out kudos two names deserve special mention. Terry Gibson, a landscape architect who is known for building sustainable gardens, designed the wetlands restoration area (shown above). He coordinated the permitting process with all of the various environmental and government agencies to create this beautiful retreat for the students.
Another generous gift came from Jim Barton, an artist who donated the sculpture symbolizing the salmon runs for which Oregon is famous. The sculpture graces the school’s atrium.
First and foremost, Woodward Gardens is a teaching tool. Jo Noren and Nancy Ross, the garden coordinators, are responsible for integrating garden activities with the school’s educational goals. Both Jo and Nancy are always on the lookout for opportunities to become better garden educators. For example, they attended a week-long symposium called Earth Partnership for Schools at the University of Wisconsin several years ago. This program focuses on the synergies between garden development, environmental restoration, civic responsibility and academic goals.
For example, the Mary Woodward School currently offers an afternoon class called “Grow, Cook, Eat” that…as you might guess…relies upon fruits and veggies grown in the school garden. It is extremely popular with the children, even though it comes with a healthy does of nutrition information.
The Woodward Gardens often serve as inspiration for the students’ creative art endeavors and provide opportunities for science inquiries. Jo’s (rather long) list of different science projects included the study of mason bees, charting a plant’s life cycle, and data collection to learn whether potatoes grow faster in a bag or raised bed!
As you look through the photos I’ve posted here, you’ll understand why I was so impressed by the Woodward Gardens. But I was inspired in equal measure. This garden proves that we can achieve wonderful things when an entire community works together.
My trip to see the Woodward Gardens was really my introduction to the school garden program here in Oregon. Stay tuned as I visit more schools and hopefully discover ways to participate in these great programs.