Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Greening Up a School With Bamboo March 28, 2009

Filed under: grasses,raised beds — greenwalks @ 2:01 pm
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Nobody likes a “portable” classroom, basically a stopgap measure for school over-crowding that amputates the kids and their teachers from the body of the school as a whole. It can be an isolating and disconnecting experience foisted upon a school by a cash-strapped district such as Seattle’s, which can’t find enough money to balance the budget this year without closing schools and cutting staff.

At my daughter’s school, an extra class “bubble” got added last year and there simply weren’t enough rooms left in the school to house them. So, the portable which had housed the music program was re-purposed as a 4th grade classroom and the school had to decide how to help the students there feel really a part of the whole.

Happily, parents and staff worked hard to secure grant money and donations to transform this space into a “green” classroom, and the kids and their families are putting in a lot of sweat equity to make it happen. One major project has been the addition of a bamboo garden to screen the exposed outbuilding, provide shade and help mitigate pollution caused by fume-belching school buses and other vehicles. This ties in directly with the class’s overall theme of study this year, Bamboo and Sustainable Resources.

Back in the fall, the kids visited Boo-Shoot Gardens bamboo nursery in Mt. Vernon, WA, to learn about bamboo, perform tissue cultures, and come home with their very own bamboo plants. Boo-Shoot generously donated further plants for the school garden.

For weeks, the bamboo garden (which had to be made on top of existing playground blacktop) has been taking shape. First, the galvanized stock tanks were delivered.

Behlen Country stock tank

Then, a giant pile of manure-rich soil/compost was delivered (and classroom ambassadors visited the younger grades to respectfully request they not play in it, for obvious reasons). Finally, the tanks were laid out and plastic wood benches (with bases that raise the tanks up off the ground to allow drainage) were attached.

Row of bamboo bench planters

Finally, soil added, the bamboo arrived and students and volunteers planted several varieties this past week. I was there just as they were finishing up (sans camera, alas) – the look of pride on their faces was priceless. Their singing teacher came out with her guitar and they consecrated the garden with a few songs. It was truly inspiring.

When you sit on the bench and breeze comes along, you can close your eyes and feel that you are in the high mountains of China, watching for a panda to come along.

Bamboo and brick

Yellowish culms of Bissets bamboo (Phyllostachys bissetii), a running type so good thing it’s in a container, will eventually turn greener as they mature.

Recently planted bamboo

Another variety with very skinny culms, for now at least. The plant tags had been removed, so I’m sorry that I don’t know what this one is.

Dwarf bamboo

I am so happy that our school places such a high value on community and earth stewardship in addition to the three R’s. I hope other schools will encourage their kids to take up shovels and dig in the dirt a little bit. Maybe the class that is helping out in the White House garden will help to inspire more school gardening projects around the nation and the world!


12 Responses to “Greening Up a School With Bamboo”

  1. Cynthia Says:

    I just love hearing about schools that focus on topics like the one you presented here. It not only inspires the children but the communtiy as well. Sounds like an awesome school your daughter is attending!

    I love the idea of the benches too. I imagine it would not be too hard to construct and could hold all sorts of plants from veggies to flowers!

    Pretty pictures of the rain soaked bamboo too- very peaceful.

  2. Tatyana Says:

    What a nice project! I love bamboo, and these are such healthy good-size plants!

  3. Racquel Says:

    What a great way to help the portable classroom blend in with the environment. Bamboo is such a nice plant for screening & the metal tubs & benches really jazzed it up. 🙂

  4. Jen Says:

    I bet those tubs fill out in no time – it will be such a cool “wall of green”. We have a gardening club going on at our school now – I’m anxious to see what they’re producing. How great that greening is such a priority there!

  5. Catherine Says:

    I love that! I wish my daughter’s school would do more. Her teacher has a little plot outside of her classroom to grow flowers, etc. But the rest of the school looks so bare. I think it’s great they have a green classroom and it looks really nice too!

  6. Matron Says:

    It is just so great to see schools germinating a child’s interest in the soil and how things grow. Hopefully these will stay with them for the rest of their lives. I know it did for me!

  7. kanak Says:

    Beautiful pictures of the bamboo plants. And how nice of the school authorities to take up a project like that. If only this sort of project was taken up by schools around the world…! Loved your post, Karen.

  8. Georgia Says:

    The design is so appealing! The combination of steel planter atop the feet of faux wood benches is simultaneously modern and campy (as is campgrounds aesthetic).

  9. Georgia Says:

    P.S. May I use the 3rd photo as a Photo du jour?

  10. Megan Says:

    I haven’t seen anyone do the bench/platform before with the horse trough containers. I know I’d rather go to school if it was surrounded by bamboo to look at. Who knows, maybe if I had that I would have skipped class a lot less.

  11. Melanthia Says:

    This is great. I think the grade school for our area has a pretty good earth stewardship program, too. Makes me happy to see these things going on.

  12. Ginger Says:

    I just found your blog rather randomly doing a search for sunflowers, and as a crazy parking strip gardener, I love it. (we had an amazing volunteer sunflower last summer, I’m hoping it seeded…) Can I ask where the troughs for this project came from? We’ve been planning on doing this for our vegetable garden, and I’m looking for a good source.


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