Garden Journal: Week of 10/3

Free Union Country School's 1st graders visit the TJDG.

Last week at the TJ Demo Garden was chock-full of hands-on learning: UVa students enrolled in our fall short-course, Gardening with Mr. Jefferson, participated in our first useful plants workshop, and groups from Tandem Friends School and Free Union Country School stopped by to learn about our collection. Read on to find out what the local school groups got up to, and stay tuned for more on our plant-based dyes workshop.

Lily and I were thrilled to welcome Tandem’s 7th graders and their teacher, Christine Hirsh-Putnam, to the garden last Wednesday. These young whippersnappers were well versed in TJ’s many achievements, and we gladly added gardening to their understanding of Jefferson’s intellectual legacy. In addition, students learned about the purpose of a botanical garden and were able to compare live plant specimens with corresponding plant products.

Students examine silk textiles that have been dyed with indigo.

Students compare cotton bolls to a cotton towel.

Given that the TFS 7th graders are currently learning about early American history and Native American folklore, we emphasized plants that are known to have been grown and used by Native Americans. This included a lengthy dialogue about corn, which Native Americans utilized for cooking, building, and insulating, among other things. The students were already familiar with the Native American practice of growing companion plants maize, squash, and climbing bean–known as the three sisters–in close proximity. We delighted in showing them our planting, which consists of two of the three sisters (corn and cowpea).

Lily and the students discuss the many uses of corn.

Lily tested the students’ latin skills while discussing plant species from the same genus, Helianthus annuus and Helianthus tuberosus. They readily identified the latin prefix helio, meaning “sun,” and were eager to learn that the native Jerusalem artichoke was cultivated by Native Americans for its edible tuber.

Digging for tubers in the Jerusalem artichoke bed.

Inspecting a Jerusalem artichoke. The question, "Can we eat it?" was heard often that day.

Finally, the 7th graders helped the TJDG by harvesting a bed of peanuts. This itinerant legume originated in South America and found its way to the southern colonies via the African slave trade.

7th graders harvesting peanuts.

One student wrote to tell us that “the peanut digging was fun, but seeing what plants make what things was the best part.”

On Friday, 1st graders from Free Union Country School charmed us while we discussed Jefferson and his predilection for observing plants. It turns out that these students are accustomed to observing the plants that they grow in their own garden, together with their teacher, Joya McMurray. We were happy to teach these old pros about a few rarely-seen species.

Lily shows flax seeds to students and parents.

Students compare our cotton bolls to wool.

The 1st graders readily sampled Lily’s calendula salve, which she made by stewing calendula petals in olive oil and then mixing in beeswax and lavender oil. This decoction helps soothe minor wounds and bug bites, and we learned that the students have had experience with both.

The 1st graders were not afraid to try calendula salve.

We spoke with the students about Jefferson’s gardening practice and extensive record-keeping. Each student was then given a garden journal in which to record observations on the useful plants that we are growing at the TJDG.

Students drawing passionflower vine and marshmallow plant.

The Free Union Country School visit ended with a lively peanut harvest. We look forward to hearing what becomes of these peanuts once they have dried for a few weeks. Will they be planted? Roasted? Ground into butter?

Students enjoy digging in the dirt.

Somebody found a peanut!

Thanks for visiting, everyone!

–Rachael

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