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Do you want to set up a wildlife garden at school?

 

It is a wonderful idea to set up a wildlife garden at school. I am assuming that if you are reading this, that you are either a teacher or a student.

Before starting the garden, it is important that you go to your principal to get his/her approval. Your principal may need to fill in forms; liaise with the maintenance department; discuss the matter with the school parents' council; and win the hearts and minds of the local residents and all other stakeholders. You will need the principal's support. I would suggest that you start by writing a proposal for the principal to read. You are welcome to copy the guiding principles and the rationale below into your proposal. To prevent headaches down the road, it is important that your wildlife garden have a set of guiding principles that are agreed upon. A lot of parents and teachers have gardens at home and they need to understand that the school wildlife garden may not be like theirs.

Guiding principles:

1) The garden should only be made up of locally native plants.
2) The garden should be treated as a local oasis for wildlife and not just as a bunch of plants.
3) The garden should be educational and useful for teaching purposes
4) The garden should be simple to manage
5) The garden should have some logical design to them
6) The garden should have some visual impact
7) The garden should be managed without exposing students, staff or wildlife to pesticides and herbicides
8) The greening of the school grounds should be expanded in the future.

Rationale:

The teachers, the administrators, the caretaking staff and the students do their best inside the building to adhere to practices that are best for the environment.  It is time to extend the same principle to the areas outside the building.  The rate of species loss has never been greater in human history. The tens of millions of acres currently labelled a “garden” in North America could be of great help in preventing the further loss of biodiversity.   In some cases, these gardens are currently ecologically poor lawns.  In other cases, they are a collection of exotic plants or cultivars.  Many exotics are invasive and do not support herbivores. Many cultivars lack sufficient pollen or nectar to support pollinators.  Native plants that have not been genetically modified from the wild populations, have coevolved with herbivores and produce large amounts of pollen or nectar since their very survival is dependent on pollinators.  Native plants support hundreds of different species of animals by being at the bottom of the food chain.  Exotic plants probably support less than one per cent of their native counterparts in gardens. Exotic plants are also far more likely to become difficult to control resulting in the need to devote many work hours to weeding.

General costs involved in getting a garden up and running:

You are going to need a small army of volunteers to help maintain the garden and they will all need gardening gloves. You will need a set of shovels, hand troughs, pruning clippers, and rakes. A wheel barrow is helpful too. You will also need watering cans or hoses in case of a drought.

Seeds and plants can be bought at the suppliers listed on this website if you are in Southern Ontario.

You will need mulch to help control weeds and for pathways and you may need to hire a student over the summer to do some basic maintenance. On the other hand, you may be able to get volunteers to do this for you. I strongly suggest that you intersperse flowers with lots of prairie grasses to reduce the time required for weeding.

You should investigate whether any grants can be obtained in your area for the initial costs and whether any local hardware companies will donate some equipment.

Ongoing maintenance

Once you have a garden, you will need to maintain it. Even if you have random flowers and grasses scattered over an area, you will still need to get weeding done. The easiest way to do this to start a gardening club. Bear in mind that a garden of randomly planted grasses is no easier to maintain than a simple ornamental garden because students have trouble discriminating between weeds and desirable plants. In ornamental gardens involving patches of plants, they can easily recognise the plants that are supposed to be there. On the other hand, you could argue that there are only a few virulent weeds and students are capable of recognising them if given a little training. In a gardening club with regular attendees, this would be possible.

Apart from weeding, students will have to prune; remove dead material where necessary in the spring; apply mulch and replant or seed as appropriate. Of course, a club can also be used to raise funds and awareness of the benefits of wildlife gardening. And most importantly, involving students in school projects gives them a sense of ownership and turns the garden into an educational tool that will encourage more wildlife gardens to be started.

If you have a school wildlife garden and you think I have missed something worth pointing out , then please do email me.