In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
May, 2006
Regional Report

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Hamilton Disston third graders and children's librarian Lisa Carpenter plant annual flowers at the Tacony branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Botany at Young Fingertips

"There's a roly-poly!" one third-grader announced, holding up his trowel filled with soil and sow bugs. "I found an earthworm!" yelled a second boy on his knees digging in a garden bed at the Tacony branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Under a sunny May sky, two dozen youngsters from Hamilton Disston Elementary School eagerly worked the earth. Trowels and cultivators in hand, each boy and girl scratched and dug crusty soil, then planted six flats of marigolds, vinca, and celosia. The afternoon was the hands-on culmination of weeks of studying plants in Joan Enders' science class.

The event also was one of six "Gardening With Kids" workshops in this season's Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's City Gardening Series. PHS has 37 City Gardening Series workshops from March through August, many in conjunction with Free Library of Philadelphia branches. All are funded through collaboration with Chanticleer, A Pleasure Garden in Wayne, PA.

The CGS goal? "We hope that city gardeners who appreciate the benefits of urban greening will get to know each other and share the pleasures of gardening," said PHS' Marilyn Reynolds, CGS coordinator. This afternoon the CGS is cultivating youngsters to be caretakers of the land -- perhaps eventually as scientists, artists, environmentalists, landscapers, and gardeners.

The school/library workshop dovetailed with Enders' basic botany lessons. In the classroom, the students learned how green leaves are food factories, packed with chloroplasts that use light, carbon dioxide, and water to make the plant's food. They explore how roots anchor the plant and absorb water and minerals, and how flowers are about reproduction -- their colorful petals and enticing fragrance inviting small creatures to travel among stamens and pistils for fertilization.

In Tacony Library's front beds, the youngsters were quick to put theory into practice. Some worked individually, others in teams. Each carefully placed the flower's roots in a hole, added soil, and patted firmly. Taking turns with the garden hose, students watered the flowers they planted. At first, the soil was very dry so the water ran off rather than soaking in. Reducing flow to a low to medium trickle and using just the hose end, no fancy sprayer, helped. To make water puddle around the roots, the students gently rotated the hose in circles around each flower while slowly counting from 1 to 10.

As the library's first group-planting partnership, the day was a resounding success -- literally and figuratively, noted Children's Librarian Lisa Carpenter, liaison to the school.

"The teachers and the students had an enjoyable time. By the end of the program, the kids were happy and singing. It was great seeing them walk back to school happy and relaxed," Lisa said.

Mission accomplished, added David Payne, Library Branch Manager. "We want to involve students in developing our community reading garden in ways that foster a sense of community pride and ownership in the garden. The children relished the chance to plant flowers in the sunshine and brighten our garden."


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