by Jennifer Kinser
City High School is in downtown Tucson and a component of the school is to be active in the community and do place-based education. As such the school takes an active role in the school garden, along the Santa Cruz River. It is a seven-acre piece of land that we lease from the city. It is divided into three parts, the front (or most Northern part) is where we garden mostly annuals. The middle is designed to house sports fields and a playground in the future. The furthest side (or most Southern), is slowly being re-vegetated.
With the grant from UpS we were able to introduce medicinal plants into the garden. We worked with a local herbalist who suggested what plants would work best on our land and with very little water. We focused mainly on the Northern and Southern parts of the garden. We purchased plants from Desert Survivors, a local nursery. The day before we planted the plants we talked about what we were planting and why. Students had fun trying to say the Latin names of the plants and discussed any knowledge they had about the plants. The students that helped plant were comprised of two City Works Classes—the Gardening Class and the Sustainability Class. We all met out at the garden on Wednesday March 11th, 2010 and spent the day learning how to plant these plants, selected places to plant them, planted the plants, and watered them all. All of the students had a great time outside and working with plants they often see in the desert but rarely get to help propagate. I was particularly amazed at what a great job the students did planting the ocotillos and barrel cactus—no one gave a moments hesitation about all the sharp spines and everyone helped out!
The garden class was responsible for researching the plants and deciding what to put on the signs. We worked hard trying to figure out what would be the best information for the community to know about the plants. We wanted to encourage knowledge about the plants, but not knowledge that would encourage neighbors to dig up the roots. It was tricky to decide what to write down and what would be most useful, but we finally figured it out and the students made sample posts on paper for a summer crew to make the signs from. The signs were made out of re-used vertical blinds and a grease pencil—they look quite sharp and appear to be able to stand up to the heat and monsoons (I highly recommend this low-cost method of sign-making). They include the Latin name, the common name a few uses and/or other facts (information about the flowers, etc).
Overall, it was a great project and we really appreciate UpS’s genorosity! We have wanted to incorporate more native medicinals into the garden and include more signs about what is in the garden—the grant allowed us to do both of these things. Our hope is that this project will inspire many other projects that will involve the community and encourage more to be grown at the garden.