Popular Science Monthly/Volume 52/February 1898/School Gardens
IN cities where Nature study has been introduced, it has become evident that the required number of plants suitable for the purpose of instruction in the elements of botany is obtained often with considerable difficulty. A school in the suburbs, with woods and fields near, and a free range for its pupils, in a few years finds the open places occupied with houses and notices to trespassers, and the sources of material for observation work cut off. In the public parks are posted notices forbidding the plucking of a leaf or the breaking of a twig. There is plant material enough for study everywhere, even in a city, but it is not available for schools.
School grounds are generally given up to play or gymnastic exercises. Only a few educators in this country have thought of them as sources for obtaining plant material for observation work. In many places in Europe school grounds are very much better managed than in this country. Not only do school authorities there aim to supply materials for study in the schoolroom, but they mean to impart clear ideas of horticulture and related occupations by various uses of land connected with the schools. They appreciate the training which results from pruning, budding, and grafting trees, plowing, hoeing, and fertilizing land, hiving bees, and raising silkworms.
In 1890 there were nearly eight thousand school gardens—gardens for practical instruction in rearing trees, vegetables, and fruits—in Austria. The Austrian public-school law reads: "In every school a gymnastic ground, a garden for the teacher, according to the circumstances of the community, and a place for the purposes of agricultural experiment are to be created. School inspectors must see to it that, in the country schools, school gardens shall be provided for corresponding agricultural instruction in all that relates to the soil, and that the teacher shall make himself skillful in such instruction. Instruction in natural history is indispensable to suitably established school gardens. The teachers, then, must be in a condition to conduct them."
In France gardening is practically taught in twenty-eight thousand primary and elementary schools, each of which has a garden attached to it, and is under the care of a master capable of imparting a knowledge of the first principles of horticulture. No one can be appointed master of an elementary school unless qualified to give practical instruction in cultivating the ordinary products of the garden.
In Sweden, as long ago as 1871, twenty-two thousand children received instruction in horticulture and tree planting, and each of two thousand and sixteen schools had for cultivation a piece of land varying from one to twelve acres.
Still more significant is the recent establishment of many school gardens in southern Russia. In one province two hundred and twenty-seven schools out of a total of five hundred and four have school gardens whose whole area is two hundred and eighty-three acres. In 1895 these gardens contained one hundred and eleven thousand fruit trees and two hundred and thirty-eight thousand three hundred planted forest trees. In them the schoolmasters teach tree, vine, grain, garden, silkworm, and bee culture. They are supported by small grants of money from the country and district councils. In the villages, small orchards and kitchen gardens are connected with many primary schools. This movement has also widely spread over different provinces of central Russia.
If the establishment of school gardens in the country is a wise step, the advantages of such gardens in cities should be apparent at once.
Since 1877 every public school in Berlin, Prussia, has been regularly supplied with plants for study every week, elementary schools receiving specimens of four different species and secondary schools six. During the summer, at six o'clock in the morning, two large wagons start from the school gardens, loaded with cuttings packed and labeled for the different schools. The daily papers regularly announce what plants may be expected, and teachers consult with the gardeners as to what ought to be sown or planted. Teachers take their classes into the school gardens for lessons in botany, and are aided by the gardeners, who cut the specimens.
The gardens in Berlin are few in number, and lack many advantages to be found in the country gardens. Comparatively few pupils can see the plants growing from seed to seed, or growing at all. The butterflies, beetles, and other insects which are constantly
at work on growing plants come to the notice of only a few children, consequently their habits can not be known to many. The nature of annuals and biennials, the growth of plants from week to week, the results of varying conditions of soil, light, heat, and moisture, which are so necessary to a broad and sound understanding of plant growth, can not be properly understood if reliance is to be placed on cut specimens alone. With cut specimens there are cut off more than half of the advantages to be found in the study of plants growing under favorable conditions.
Such considerations lead to the conclusion that every school should have its own garden, where the opening and closing of blossoms, the springing and unclosing crosiers of ferns, the clinging tendrils and rootlets of various vines, and numerous other habits of growth may be observed at the right time.
In March, 1890, a paper entitled Horticultural Education for Children was read in Boston before the Massachusetts Horticultural Society by one of its members. The interest aroused by the reading of this paper resulted in the establishment of a school garden in connection with one of the Boston grammar schools in the spring of 1891. A committee of the society promised such pecuniary support as seemed to be needed from time to time. Mrs. Henrietta L. T. Wolcott, then at the head of the committee, in presenting the claims of school-garden work to the society, said: "We desire to emphasize the true idea of a school garden. Growing plants, from the first sign of germination to the full perfection of blossom and fruit, and edible roots in all stages, give constant opportunity for study. We believe that by means of the school garden children can be so trained to appreciate plants growing naturally that the present custom of laying out public gardens with flowering and foliage plants arranged in the form of grotesque designs, portraits of distinguished men, symbols of trades, spiritual suggestions or emblems, and rolls of carpeting framed and left out in rain and sunshine will in time disappear. Setting rows of plants in military precision and replacing them by others like magic can have but little educational value."
Since the committee intended to offer premiums for the best school gardens, they thought that persons might be induced to buy the ordinary cultivated plants of a florist, and with them make what they might choose to call school gardens. This, however, would not imply any proper knowledge of such plants, or more useful ones, nor ability to make good use of them as objects for study. It was thought that troubles might arise from allowing a florist's garden to be taken as the standard for the gardens which they wished to see established. The one who spent the most money, or had the most persuasiveness among florists, might establish fine gardens, lay claim to premiums in, good faith, and win them; and yet such gardens might not serve the purpose which the committee considered best. Accordingly, they decided that in the beginning only those plants which were the most suitable for educational purposes should form the main stock of the school gardens. The decision was expressed thus: "Ornamental plants, or those commonly cultivated in flower gardens, will not stock the school gardens contemplated by the committee. Native wild plants, such as ferns, grasses, asters, goldenrods, violets, native shrubs, and economic plants, such as grains, vegetable roots, and leguminous and cucurbitaceous plants, must be the stock of the gardens."
Later, when children's natural love for color and the influence of beautiful flowers in the schoolroom in cultivating æsthetic tastes came to be considered, cultivated plants were allowed introduction, but in a secondary place. It was claimed with truth that teachers who have beautiful flowers on their desks, and fine bits of color on the walls of their rooms, were likely to have other matters in harmony, order, neatness, quietness, and an atmosphere conducive to study. The flowers seem to set the key, and other matters are tuned up to that pitch. Pupils appreciate the conditions and the teacher. Unscholarly conduct is felt to be a discordant note, and the sentiment of the class is against it. However, the committee
had other and perhaps higher aims to accomplish. They wished pupils to take a positive, conscious part in the development of plant life.
In accordance with the conditions mentioned, the committee decided to start a garden where the circumstances seemed most favorable, and appropriated ten dollars for the purpose. A piece of ground forty-eight by seventy-two feet in the back of the boys' yard of the George Putnam Grammar School was found the most available, and a few teachers in the school offered all the assistance in their power to carry out the purposes of the committee.
The soil was such as one might expect to find where no thought of plants or plant materials for a moment entered the minds of those who were instrumental in the establishment of the school and the preparation of the course of study.
The pupils brought in many wild plants, and the fleshy roots of biennials—turnips in variety, carrot, parsnip, radish, beet, onion (bulb), cabbage, etc. In planting, they took turns in digging the holes and placing the plants in position. Observations were made during the flowering season. The structure of the flowers of the cruciferous and umbelliferous plants was studied, and the nature of biennials was revealed. Other economic plants, such as the potato, the tomato, and the gourd, were raised to show the individualism of plants.
A square yard of ground was assigned to each of the ordinary grains—wheat, rye, oats, barley, and buckwheat. The first four, being most important members of the grass family, were especially interesting in their development. After that, grains meant more to the pupils.
Nineteen species of wild asters were planted in one row. Ten of the finest flowering kinds formed another row. Later it was discovered that those plants blossomed the most profusely which sprang from seeds scattered at random around trees and beside rocks and fences.
In the fall, seed vessels were collected for study in winter, and bulbs, corms, and tubers were stored away for spring planting.
Each member of the highest class had a particular plant to take care of and study. He dug around and watered it, took off all dead leaves and unseemly branches, and tied it up. Then he sketched its characteristic parts—flower, leaf, stem, habit of growth, etc.—and took such written notes as would enable him to write an account of his plant and illustrate it with appropriate drawings. On one occasion each of the thirty-two members of the class studied his own clump of asters, there being just clumps enough to go around. The importance of seeing and studying plants growing in large masses is not likely to be overestimated if interest and thoroughness in learning about them are desired. Comparatively, a single cut specimen in hand means but little.
By the aid of the boys a fernery was made in an angle of the school building on the north side, in a shady, sheltered position. They took handcarts into the woods half a mile distant and collected leaf-mold, which they mixed up thoroughly with loam and sand, and then assisted in taking the ferns from scattered places in the garden and locating them by genera in the fernery. The name of each species was written on a flat stick, which was stuck into the ground near the specimen to which the name belonged.
Seeing what one teacher had done, another, by means of a hand camera, made a series of lantern slides, which proved to be of the greatest service for class instruction during the following winter. A solar camera and a twelve-foot screen completed the
equipment for the most interesting and profitable kind of instruction on the subject of ferns.
The pupils of one class studied fifteen species somewhat minutely by means of the slides and pressed specimens. Spores, sporangia, indusia, sori, pinnules, pinnæ, rachis, stipe, general shapes, textures, and relative position of parts were carefully observed, drawn, described, and colored. Notebooks contained characteristic parts of all the different species, which were broken up and distributed for the purpose. This study prepared the pupils to appreciate the development of fern crosiers in the fernery in the following spring. Twenty-two pupils out of the class of thirty-eight introduced ferns into their own gardens at home.
Other classes studied composite flowers, distribution of seeds, roots, corms, tubers, bulbs, and other material supplied by the garden.
In the spring of 1895 the development of fern crosiers was studied with great interest by the pupils. The collection of lantern slides soon included representations of the crosiers of the principal species in various stages of growth. In some respects the pictures of the crosiers served a more useful purpose than the crosiers themselves, because their representations on the screen were very large, and could be seen very easily by the whole class at once.
At present there are more than one hundred and fifty different species of native wild plants in the garden. No attempt has been made to arrange them in ornamental beds, since they can not be studied so well in that arrangement. When over fifty pupils at a time are to study growing plants, such plants must be easily accessible, and therefore scattered as much as is consistent with other conditions,
especially that of caring for the plants and mowing the grass about them. Three or four times as many children can examine twenty plants set in rows as can examine them arranged in a bed; and the work of weeding the plants and cutting the grass in the former arrangement is not half as much as in the latter. The useful arrangement always takes precedence of the ornamental.
A great many insects have been observed upon the plants—beetles, wasps, flies, moths, and butterflies. In the last class nine species have been seen: Pieris rapae, Colias philodice, Melitæa pharos, Cynthia Atalanta, Grapta interrogationis, Cynthia cardui, Danais Archippus, Papilio turnus, and Lycæna americana. Soon the garden will afford the pupils their only opportunities for studying, describing, drawing, and painting such insects.
How the garden is supported, and how the necessary work is done, are interesting questions to those who think of starting a garden. Since 1891 the Massachusetts Horticultural Society has offered every year a premium of fifteen dollars for the best school garden, in connection with the best use of it. This garden has competed with others, and won the premium every year. Five dollars pays for the annual enrichment of the soil, and ten dollars for the labor of the janitor, who, during the long summer vacation, weeds, hoes, and waters the plants, and cuts the grass periodically. In spring he wheels in and spreads fertilizing material, prepares new beds or rows, and resets old ones with plants changed from other localities. During the school season in spring and autumn teachers and pupils do considerable work in weeding and transplanting; the former being able to distinguish choice plants, however small, from weeds, which many a so-called good gardener is frequently unable to do.
Reasons that are good for introducing the elements of science into elementary schools are equally good for supplying adequate and seasonable elementary science material to work upon. Plants are so available for the purposes of instruction, their structure, uses, and functions are so varied and interesting, that it is generally conceded that the best elementary science material on the whole is found in the vegetable world.
The repulsion that is so often felt in studying animals or animal physiology is unknown in studying plants, and the cycle of plant life from seed to seed furnishes a lesson in biology that is unsurpassed in value. Moreover, living plants, out of doors, are necessarily connected with mineral forms—air, earth, and water—as well as with various forms of animal life—butterflies, moths, beetles, wasps, ants, grubs, and worms—all together furnishing constant illustrations of correlation under the best conditions.
The elements of zoölogy may be studied in the schoolroom with some profit by means of dried and alcoholic specimens, skeletons, diagrams, and books, but visible correlation will of necessity be wholly left out. The same may be said of mineralogy or mineral substances generally. But in the school garden the interdependence of animals, plants, and minerals is always obvious, and teachers and pupils can take advantage of it without taking time and money to go to the country for the purpose of seeing the three kingdoms of Nature properly related. Of course, the excursion is better in many respects, since many instructive things may be seen which are not possible for a school garden; but the excursion at best is seldom practicable. On the school premises, pupils are much more amenable to control and instruction than on an excursion. Without the school garden the great masses of children in cities will never have their attention directed to the great lessons of Nature in any telling way. Some of them may visit the country, but very few will have efficient direction, and the results will be meager.
It is too much to expect that teachers, especially those in city schools, will unremittingly supply fresh material whenever needed for instruction in the elements of science. Even in the country the
most desirable plants are often far from the school. It would be a most extraordinary school district where fourteen golden-rods, eighteen wild asters, and twenty-nine ferns, all different kinds, might be found growing. Probably half of the plants that would flourish in a school garden could not be found in the district at all; or, if they could, they would be scattered and remote from the school, and whether they were in a proper state of development for study could not always be ascertained easily. The nearness of the school garden is one of its most valuable features.
A book might be written on the educational value of a school garden properly used; but mention of its main advantages must suffice. Besides the opportunity for correlation, previously mentioned, it gives the opportunity for bringing together a great number of plants to be classified and arranged in families, genera, and species. The reason for such classification becomes apparent in the grouping of plants similar in form, structure, and habits; and the comparison of many such plants impresses on the child's mind the characteristics of families, genera, and species in the most forcible manner. What cultivation will do by way of increasing the vigor of plants and making them blossom and fruit more freely is fully illustrated every season. Pupils learn that they can be instrumental in starting the wonderful development of plants. They learn how Nature provides for the continuance of species by storing up food in seeds, roots, and fruit, and protecting delicate organs by impervious gums, imbricated coverings, and woolly packings. Lessons in human economy are learned from the study of vegetable economy. The mutual dependence of insects and plants is seen to be characteristic of mutual dependence in the world at large.
The school garden affords by far the best means for the cultivation of the powers of observation. Pupils find excellent forms to draw, colors to imitate, habits to describe, and motives to use in decorative design. They find something to take care of, something that quickly responds to love's labor, and as interest is added to interest they lay up for themselves resources for happiness that should be the heritage of every child, even the poorest city child; and this would be so if school authorities and the people behind them had more real insight into children's best natures, more foresight, more humanity, and more liberality in the purchase and equipment of school grounds.
To spend large sums of money on architectural beauties and stone carvings of historic ornaments—which have but little attraction for children—to make a school building look like a palace, and then to leave the school yard looking like a desert or the top of a bituminous lake, without a single attractive flower or one bit of beauty, are inconsistencies which seem possible only in the modern system of education. Weather-beaten houses in the country, log cabins on the frontiers, railroad stations in the "Great American Desert" and all over our country have their beautiful flower gardens, and it refreshes one's soul to see them; but there is no such source of refreshment, inspiration, and instruction where children are being educated in the "essentials."
Once in a while some discerning man, outside of the regular school interests, sees the inconsistency of educational systems, and gives expression to his thoughts on the subject, as Lowell did in his letter to a student, and as Hamilton W. Mabie has done in his Essays on Nature and Culture. Mr. Mabie says: "Relationship with Nature is a resource of inexhaustible delight and enrichment; to establish it ought to be as much a part of every education as the teaching of the rudiments of formal knowledge; and it ought to be as great a reproach to a man not to be able to read the open pages of the world about him as not to be able to read the open page of the book before him."
If littérateurs have reasons to think and talk in that way about existing educational conditions, how should school men, who profess to study school problems and the highest interests of children, be affected by similar conditions—and what should those who appropriate money for school purposes do to establish proper relationship between school children and Nature? The most promising thing would be to establish school gardens, and see that teachers should be in suitable condition educationally to make the best use of them.
The great enrichments in the educational system of Sweden are gymnastics, sloyd, and school gardens. We have adopted the first two, and they have proved to be very helpful in our system of education; now let us adopt the last and best, and line up with France, Austria, and Russia in establishing school gardens as an essential means of educating children properly.