I have been trying to pick plants to start from seed for the school garden I tend as part of my garden club advisor job. Last year, I purchased plants from a homeschooled teenager who had his own greenhouse business. They were probably the most healthy plants I have ever had in my gardens! Some I planted at school, namely marigolds, and coleus as edging plants. And, some, such as geraniums, and petunias, I planted at home. The young entrepreneur is willing to start the seed for the plants I choose!
The gardens looked beautiful last year, but there was not a lot of planning involved when it came to picking plants. I needed one plant for each of the 465 students at school to put in the school garden. This means a lot of plants! Although it looked nice, it became kind of hodge-podge when it came down to choosing planting.
This year, I am going to try to break it up into grade levels (pre-k – 5th) and have each grade plant one “type” of plant, so either me or their teacher can do some enrichment on that one plant.
As any gardener knows seed catalogs arrive in droves in January. I’ve been through mine at least twice, circling, underlining and otherwise, noting which plants might serve the dual purpose beautifying the garden and enriching the students.
Ideally, I’d also like the garden to have a “theme.” We have a large (5 foot) peace pole in the front garden that really signifies the international theme of this elementary school. Some plants could be picked to further augment the theme of peace, either for their symbolism or their color. These might be lilies, cosmos, lavender, or poppies, all plants associated with peace. White and blue seem to be the flower colors most associated with the theme of peace.
While this is a nice idea – and certainly could be enriching for the entire school population, I’m not sure the garden will be aesthetically pleasing. White flowers sometimes do not do well in summer heat, and I would also like to keep our focus on providing habitat for pollinators using native plants, as well.
I have found a few plants that could fill both a peace and a native garden theme. One is Rattlesnake Master, which has whitish spiky heads. And, the other is poppy mallow which is a native plant that is pink, low to the ground and a poppy – which as associated with peace. However, both are perennials, and while that is sometimes desirable, I want this portion of the garden to remain a place students can plant annually. If we start mixing in plants that will return on their own, it will be harder and harder to have space for the number of annuals we need.
But, when I think about what was successful in the garden last year, such as the Purple Prince Zinnia, which were still attracting Monarchs in early October, or the coleus, alyssum, and marigolds, that lent so much color to the garden all summer, I am not sure about the themes.
I might do better to pick proven performers that will bloom all summer, survive with a little neglect (finding help to care for school gardens in the summer is difficult at best), and look beautiful to those who visit and return in the fall.
I have to let my high school greenhouse owner know soon, so I guess I need to plan to spend more time with those plant catalogs and dream about next season’s garden.