In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
July, 2005
Regional Report

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You know you're walking into a special place as you pass this entrance plaque to the Reading Garden at Madison Simis Elementary.

School Gardens

School gardens are such fun places to visit. The creativity that springs from the combined imaginations of dedicated teachers and their students has me wishing I could transport their charming efforts to my own landscape, or perhaps just let a gaggle of kids loose to create whatever strikes their fancy.

One special school garden is the Madison Simis Elementary School in Phoenix, which has a variety of different garden elements surrounding the building. One area combines two of my favorite things: plants and books. A delightful Reading Garden sits beneath a young tree that will eventually provide a spreading shade canopy. There are various benches, pillars, and wall murals decorated with mosaic tiles that tell stories. Classes learned tile-making from an artist. Then, choosing their favorite storybook, they fabricated tiles to retell the story. I got a chuckle out of the various Cats in the Hat from Dr. Seuss.

Other panels were equally charming, colorfully depicting books I wasn't familiar with, such as Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco. This mural had lots of delectable-looking layer cakes in bright colors, as well as various versions of Grandma's house, where evidently one learns to make special cake during a rainstorm. Eating cake while reading about plants also falls high on my list of Fun Things To Do, so I felt in sync with the second graders who chose this book!

The Reading Garden overlooks a nearby Wildlife Habitat, filled with desert-adapted plants to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. This area was installed as part of an Eagle Scout project, further involving youngsters in gardening, and providing an on-site laboratory for all sorts of science lessons.

Continuing a tour around the school, there are rows of raised beds filled with flowers and vegetables where kids learn the botany basics of sowing seeds and growing plants. Around yet another corner, oversized truck tires had been painted white and recycled as raised beds. To personalize the big tires, little hands had been dipped in bright yellow, red, and blue paint to leave pint-sized prints all over the tires. The effect was charming, and it brightened an otherwise ho-hum area between a brick wall and sidewalk.

The invigorating colors, yet soothing natural plantings surrounding this campus create an inspirational learning environment. Kudos to the educators, parent volunteers, and students who let their imaginations run free to promote school gardening!


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