Our pergola from Forever RedwoodWelcome to the FDE Garden Lab!QR-coded signs in Garden Lab! An instant way to learn about our plants, trees, and collections. Follow us on our site on PlantsMap.com at https://www.plantsmap.com/organizations/frederick-douglass-elementary-school-garden-lab
Frederick Douglass Elementary School opened its doors to the community in August 2012. Since then, we have used the time to take a barren courtyard full of construction debris and develop this space into a year-round outdoor learning lab called the FDE Garden Lab. This garden lab is an interior courtyard at the heart of the school, which was explicitly designed by a teacher, Marykirk Cunningham, Jim Cunningham and horticulturalist/landscaper, Pop Goodhart, who volunteered their time to design and construct an environmentally-based outdoor space that is accessible to all students, staff, and families as an instructional tool for across curriculum project-based instruction. The eleven raised beds, four herb boxes, and five ground beds were constructed by volunteers from the school, community, local businesses (Home Depot, Meadowfarm, KOHLs, Sislers Stone, and Set in Stone), and others who had a keen interest in making this special project a reality. The raised beds are designed for each grade level to plant according to the Virginia Standards and grade level curriculum. Crops and gardens include a Three Sisters Garden, a Monarch way station, a multi-sensory garden, salad science, potatoes, fruit-based crops such as apples, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and figs, and a wide range of vegetables that are incorporated into a “garden to table” concept with the students harvesting crops to be prepared for lunch by the cafeteria staff. Two ground beds are specifically designed as rain gardens for watershed research, and a Native plant garden has been completed to study the importance of native plants. Specific garden spaces that include sensory-focused gardens support our SPED students and allow all students and staff to have a space that supports mental well-being.
We have established a staff garden committee to support the garden coordinator and have strong summer support from parent volunteers. Our PTA has a parent Garden Lab Committee to work hand in hand with our staff.Kindergarten Sunflower Project: From planting, to harvesting, to making observations and recording data, to packaging seeds and organizing a fundraiser to sell the seeds to raise money for the garden
Over the past eleven years, we have been able to update our raised beds as longer-lasting structures with pavers, add a shade structure/pergola, a cold frame, a black locust table, and bench, the happy table and reading boulders (donated by Sislers Stone), the rain gauge, and four planters for herbs that were all handcrafted by Pop Goodhart. We have added a raised bed area to the back of the garden to increase fruit production and created a ground bed near the new table for our native plants. We increased our fruit production by adding the strawberry, blueberry, and raspberry plants. Working closely with the cafeteria staff and the LCPS nutrition department, we have expanded our “garden to table” program to include all grade levels, so all crops harvested by students are served and available to all students participating in the harvest. Hand in hand with this program, we continue our partnership with the Virginia Agriculture in the Classroom, focusing on where food comes from and Virginia farming.
We have been lengthening our crop season using the cold frame in the garden lab and placing frost covers over the raised beds. The cold frame allows us to continue to produce crops well after frost appears in late fall and early winter. We added a tiered strawberry bed with a trellis for an espalier apple tree that will produce three different types of apples and a wall trellis for a clematis to grow on. Our kindergartners expanded their annual seed sale from our Spring Festival to the Leesburg Farmers Market with great success in raising money for the garden lab.
Our big surprise in 2018 came from our partnership with Forever Redwood, a company in California that practices restorative forestry practices in creating wooden structures. Forever Redwood donated 50% of the cost of a pergola and shipping to enable us to have enough funds, along with a grant to purchase a pergola kit that we will construct this fall as a shade structure for the center garden lab table.
In spring 2019, we used our grant from VA Agriculture in the Classroom to purchase QR-coded signs from PlantsMap.com to bring technology to the lab that allows our students, staff, and visitors to get instant information on our gardens and plants.
At the beginning of the school year 2022, the wind spinner from the PTA was installed in the sensory bed, and the raised beds were renovated with new stone pavers to help sustain the raised beds over time.
The FDE garden lab provides much more than an academic lab as it nurtures the health and well-being of over 1,000 students, families, staff, and community members linked to our garden while providing a means to demonstrate the importance of sustainability and a direct link to nurturing through outdoor learning. The FDE Garden Lab has hosted over 50 local public and private schools for tours and information sessions. It has been the host to state and national organizations for conferences and professional development.
Even with the changes that COVID-19 brought to our school, we took pride in the garden lab as it thrived and was even used for instruction with hybrid and distance learning models.
The FDE garden lab has year-round support from students, FDE families, and staff. We have parents at each grade level trained as “Garden Moms and Dads” that will support teachers in the garden lab. During the summer, we have a top-rated summer volunteer program where families care for the garden through watering and weeding. In exchange for their support, families can harvest-ready crops and take them home to eat or have a picnic in the garden. It is an excellent opportunity for families to read with their children outside in a calm and nurturing environment.
Now, there are new projects and goals on the horizon as we expand this essential outdoor space that feeds the body and mind and continues to be the heartbeat of our school and community! It is OUR GARDEN for all to nurture and explore!From the garden...harvesting lettuce......to delivering the lettuce crop to the Cafe.....to the table to eat our yummy lettuce.If you have any questions, would like to volunteer or would like to support our garden lab, please contact Marykirk Cunningham, FDE Garden Lab Coordinator, at email@example.com.Click HERE to donate directly