Our new pergola from Forever RedwoodWelcome to the FDE Garden Lab!
Frederick Douglass Elementary School opened its doors to the community six years ago. We have used the past six years to take a barren courtyard full of construction debris and develop this space into an outdoor learning lab called the FDE Garden Lab. This garden lab is an interior courtyard at the heart of the school, which was specifically designed by a teacher, Marykirk Cunningham, Jim Cunningham and horticulturalist/landscaper, Pop Goodhart, who volunteered their time to design and construct an environmental based outdoor space 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, SOLs and grade level curriculum. Crops and gardens include a Three Sisters Garden, a butterfly garden, a multi-sensory garden, a cotton crop, 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. Three ground beds are specifically designed as rain gardens for water shed research and a Native plant garden has been completed to study the importance of native plants. We have established a staff garden committee to support the garden coordinator and have a strong summer support by parent volunteers. Our PTA has a parent Garden Lab Committee to work hand in hand with our staff. 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. Now there are new projects and goals on the horizon as we expand this important learning lab that supports project based learning.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 four years, we were able to add a shade structure/pergola, cold frame, tumbler composter, 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 added another raised bed area to the back of the garden to increase the production of fruit and created a ground bed near the new table for our native plants. We will increase our fruit production with the addition of the blueberry and raspberry plants. We have expanded our “farm to table” program to include all grade levels so all crops harvested are served and available to all students participating in the harvest. We have added parents by grade level as trained “Garden Moms and Dads” that will support teachers in the garden lab. We have been lengthening our crop season by using the cold frame in the garden lab. The cold frame allows us to continue to produce crops well after frost appears in late Fall and early Winter. We added a teired strawberry bed with a trellis for an espalier apple tree that will produce three different types of apples along with a wall trellis for a clemitis to grow on. Our Kindergarteners expanded their annual seed sale from our Spring Festival to the Leesburg Farmers Market with great success in raising money for the garden lab.
This school year we will be focusing on jump starting our compost program. The basic premise for our composting program at Frederick Douglass Elementary School will be the approach from the view of nature or as nature would compost from forest or field. We will be using a mix of natural ingredients from the garden and cafe to create a healthy compost. We are interested in making a sustainable garden from school and local community.
Our big surprise this year comes from our partnership with Forever Redwood, a company in California who 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.
We are currently seeking a grant for signage that would go hand in hand with the use of technology to provide information about different parts of the garden lab. Finally, our goal is expand the garden lab use as a special place to learn, to experience nature, and to know that it is not just a space for certain classes or people, but that it is OUR GARDEN 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.Click HERE to donate directly