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Feature

Two kids tossing small buckets of soil into a larger pot.

Students at Riverview Specialty School preparing the soil on their global garden for planting.

Building a global garden

University of Minnesota master gardeners develop a community global garden at a local school.

By Pauline Oo

June 5, 2006; updated June 8

If you don't find Hilde Manuel gardening at home, you're likely to find her tilling the soil, planting vegetables, or pruning flowers in someone else's garden.

"Gardening is something I've always done," says Manuel, a master gardener with the University of Minnesota Extension Service. And this summer is no different. Manuel is helping the Riverview Specialty School in Brooklyn Park, Minn., build a community global garden. The 1,008-square-foot garden located near the main entrance of the school will feature plants and vegetables that mirror the school's 425 students.

When viewed from above, four distinct shapes stand out in the garden: the United States, Mexico and Central America, Asia, and Africa. They circle an oval plot of land that is divided by stepping stones into the Native American and European cultures.

"One of the goals of having this garden is so the students can have a better appreciation of plants from other countries," says Manuel, who designed the garden and wrote the project grant on behalf of Riverview--an environmental science and mathematics specialty school. The garden is an offshoot of the school's three-year-old junior master gardener program, which is part of the science curriculum for fourth and fifth graders. "The master gardeners are really valuable to us--they advise us on everything, from selecting plants to planting techniques," says Margaret Williams, University of Minnesota alum and Riverside curriculum integrator. The grant for that global garden was one of 13 that went to 13 different schools, 12 of which were directly connected to the University's Master Gardener program (see sidebar). "We were thrilled by the [global garden] idea because it offers a learning opportunity for both our children and the community. We will use that site as an outdoor classroom where the children will study phenology, growing techniques, and international perspectives."

U of M Master Gardeners

Since 1977, the U's Extension Service and Minnesota Landscape Arboretum have trained and certified more than 5,000 master gardeners to teach horticulture throughout Minnesota. Last year, the Master Gardener Garden at UMore Park in Rosemount, run by Dakota County Master Gardeners, won the prestigious International Master Gardener Search for Excellence award--the highest recognition achievable by Master Gardeners for volunteer projects.

Master gardeners in Anoka county were responsible for developing the junior master gardener component at the Riverview Specialty School. The program is the only one in the state that is part of a school curriculum. "We would love to see other schools adopt [the U's junior master gardener program,]" says Lynne Davenport-Hagen, county master gardener program coordinator, "because it's great hands-on learning for the children."

To learn more about the master or junior gardener programs, visit the University of Minnnesota Extension Service.

Last week, Williams, Manuel, and two other master gardeners from Anoka county worked with several students from South Asia and their parents to cultivate the Asian plot. The week before, students from a landscape construction class at the nearby Champlin Park High School prepped the land--pulling up sod and laying compost, among other things.

The garden is currently about half finished. Among the Asian bounty are ginger, lemongrass, bittermelon, and bak choy. Parents had donated some of the plants; Manuel, in her own green house, started others from seed. Next on the planting agenda is the Native American and European plot, which will be house corn, squash, and pole beans, and the Mexico and Central America plot, which will be filled with peppers and marigolds.

"One of the delights I've had with this project is researching the plants," says Manuel, who has been a Master Gardener since 2003. "I've learned a lot about the origin of plants and how they grow. It's also been fun to see the students learning a tremendous amount. They're always happy to tell you what they're doing. They love the planting, and they're getting more excited the more they see the [global] garden coming along. In addition to the students, Manuel says that the Riverview teachers have also "really gotten" into the gardening. "And parents love it too," adds Williams. "So many are clamoring to help us garden. [One day last month,] we had about 80 people in the school yard and in our green house, potting and doing all kind of other things." Riverview has six other gardens, each less than half the size of the global garden and part of a grade's (kindergarten to fifth grade) Junior Master Gardener curriculum.

Over the summer, Williams and Manuel, along with several parents and a couple of master gardeners will be tending to all the gardens, including the global garden.

"When the kids come back, perhaps in September, we might have a family night so that we can use some of the produce from our garden in salads or a salsa," says Manuel. "And maybe we can have some parents bring in some of their traditional dishes. Because if there's one thing I've learned, it's that proteins around the world are somewhat similar and the difference in cooking is in the herbs and spices. Different cultures have different herbs and spices."

Manuel adds that three or four more schools in the Anoka school district have pitched the global garden concept to their school board as an educational and beautification project.

"[Our global garden] is a work in progress," says Manuel. "We'll see if what we plant works this year. If they don't work, we'll rearrange the garden next year. I expect the garden to be dynamic and changing, in terms of plants or different countries. We'll take it one year at a time."


Further reading Helping plants grow and gardens flourish Waging gardens