Bringing up a crop of nature lovers

Story and Photos by Yvonne Lelong Bordelon

The other day, my brother and I were reminiscing about the wonderful experiences we had as children when we spent time with Mom and Dad in the garden. In today’s hustle-bustle world, many children don’t have the opportunity to delight in the miracles of nature; however, at Marigny Elementary in Mandeville, the pre-kindergarten through first grade children are fortunate enough to have a fabulous garden designed just for them.

A bathtub planter, containing volunteer dill and tomatoes, sits beside the benches and tables of the Outdoor Learning Center. The Northshore Kiwanis gave them a grant for the tables and umbrellas.

Sue McGuire and the ladies who volunteer at Marigny Elementary School have made a difference in the lives of hundreds of children by giving them the chance to experience, first hand, a wonderland of sustainable plants and a diverse ecosystem. The Sensory Garden, a brainstorm of teacher Dixie Steadham, was phase one of the project, which began several years ago. Sue started volunteering at that time and the humble little project soon blossomed into a multi-faceted sustainable teaching garden with eight master gardeners maintaining and adding to the garden on a regular basis – even during the summer.

The three boxes in the Butterfly Garden contain gold lantana, Mexican sage, autumn sage, and tropical milkweed.

In addition to the Sensory Garden, there is the Butterfly Garden, the Gumbo Garden, the “Be Kind” Garden, and two bean tunnels. There are also three Eric Carle-inspired yard art planters featuring the Very Hungry Caterpillar, a Green Frog, and a ladybug the children call “Lacey.” The new native plant area is a work in progress and the benches and tables with umbrellas nearby provide a comfortable place to conduct outdoor lessons.

The ladies responsible for creating and maintaining the gardens are: (from left to right) Robin Phillips, Sharon Hassinger, Karen Martin, Sue McGuire, Dixie Steadham (pre-K teacher), and Diana Cammatte. Not pictured: Sue Stoltz, Carolyn Rault, and Allison Fisse.

Each class is responsible for planting and maintaining a part of the garden. In September, the first graders plant and work in the garden. Later, when the kindergarteners grow up a little, they get to join in the fun. Sue says that, “The children taste everything they plant – even without ranch dressing.”

The boxes in the Gumbo Garden area contain bok choy, ‘Apollo’ cabbage, and broccoli as well as okra and tomatoes. Herbs that can be used in gumbo are in the box on the right in the Sensory Garden.

The three boxes (a square, a triangle, and a rectangle) that house the Butterfly Garden were built as a Boy Scout project to help the little ones learn their shapes. Many species of Salvia, including Mexican bush sage (S. leucantha), black and blue sage (S. guaranitica) and autumn sage (S. greggii) bloom profusely there. Gold Lantana and tropical butterfly weed (Asclepias curassavica), as well as Jamaican vervain (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis) attract a variety of pollinators and other insects.

The master gardeners created the green frog planters from tires, bowls, garden hoses, rubber mats, some spray paint, and a lot of imagination. Plants include Petunia and Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus).

The Gumbo Garden features a donated antique gumbo pot. The children planted most of the ingredients for gumbo – including bell peppers, green onions, tomatoes, and garlic – in the raised beds. The adults planted and pick the prickly okra, but the children cut it up so that it can be frozen for the gumbo, which is cooked in the fall.

The “Be Kind” garden contains sugar cane for “being sweet” and squash for “squashing out bullying.” The peas and carrots are for “please and thank you” and lettuce reminds them to “let us be kind.”

Sugar cane and squash thrive in the “Be Kind” garden. The children planted lettuce seeds in the tabletop bed and peas to climb on the trellis.

The saying, “It takes a village to raise a child” is evidenced here in the multitude of volunteers and donations – from individuals and organizations to grants and corporations. So many caring people have made this garden possible by building hardscapes and donating plants, furniture, and materials.

The Sensory Garden contains rosemary, mint, sage, oregano, native onion (white star allium), basil, thyme, and green onions.

Every child deserves their own little “garden,” even if it’s just a few seeds planted in flowerpots placed on a porch or balcony. Let’s pass on what is truly important in life and teach our children that it can be fun to get their hands dirty enjoying the enchantment of nature and discovering a passion for plants.

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