We – the Vegetable Project and two groups of high school students – installed a perennial garden adjacent to our vegetable patch at Albany High on Saturday. With support from Albany Medical College, kids in Albany High English-as-a-new-language teacher Mary Carroll’s classes and participants in a medical college-sponsored STEP (Science and Technology Entry Program) group joined us. We think the heavily used but unmarked North Main Avenue entranceway to Albany High will look a bit more welcoming as our plants grow. And we had a blast!
But far more important than having fun or sprucing up the appearance of what serves these days as the high school’s main gateway, we created opportunities for doing and touching and tasting and experiencing and we placed what we hope will be seen as a useful teaching tool at the disposal of educators.
The particular selection of perennials forms the teaching tool. Everything we planted is native to this part of the world, meaning the plants were here before a certain voyage propelled the idea that we humans could move plants from one continent to another. Five hundred twenty-nine years later, understanding is growing that our choices about what we plant at our homes and schools and parks can contribute to or work against the health of our environment. And that’s pretty important at a time when the climate is changing, species are vanishing and development adds stress to our store of natural resources.
Our schools use biology textbooks that explain the fundamental role of ecosystems and food webs in our living environment. The texts are not so clear, however, about how vital relationships between living things, or the number of birds we might see in our backyards, are disrupted by importation of non-native plants from one far-flung place to another.
We might suggest that responsible custodians of the only planet we have should be thinking about native plants and that educational institutions have a particular responsibility for this. We would be pleased if our new garden, where we have placed red chokecherry, swamp milkweed, butterfly weed, bearded tongue, native hibiscus, Joe Pye weed, false aster, blue sage and coreopsis, offer some opportunity for conversation.
Many thanks to Dawn Foglia of Dawn’s Wildthings Rescue Nursery in Pittstown, Rensselaer County, for guidance in plant selection.