Becoming a gardener (or a writer) – someone who learns

14beauty-arena-flowers-slide-6KFC-jumbo“To become a gardener means to try, to fail, to stubbornly plug away at something, to endure serious disappointments and small triumphs that encourage you to try and fail again. But it means, above all, perking up your ears, sniffing, identifying the rhythm and the secret voice of a place, so that you may abandon yourself to and indulge it. To make a garden is to surrender so completely that you forget yourself. It is to obey.”

-Umberto Pasti

This quote from Pasti ends with the line. “It is to obey.” It sounds like a mean school teacher or an upset parent. Really what he is telling us is to watch, listen and follow the rhythms that mother nature sets out for us. He wants us to be observant!

It is watching the light in your garden. Did you notice today that the sun has moved further south in the sky. The light coming into your windows will be more at an angle.

It is noticing the temperatures over a long period of time. Are you recording the highs and lows in your garden journal? He is not saying look over this last week or month but can you follow year to year.  When was it warm enough to plant last spring and when did the frost take over your garden last year?

It is watching the moisture in the ground. Yes, it is wet in the garden after two days of rain but do you know how much we received? Do you know if that is to much or not enough for our August plants?  With this in mind you can either track the moisture on the internet or searchget personal and place a rain gage in your garden.  My garden got one and 3/4 inches of rain in the last two days. We have had two and half inches so far for the month of August. I thought that was a lot and to much but when I looked at averages over years we usually get 4 inches or more. So really we are a bit dry for August. Who knew!!

It is watching, then recording (so you can remember the facts) and working with the land and plants in your garden. It is learning to listen, and be willing to plant and move plants to locations that work for them not for you.

Now that cool weather is peaking around the corner it is time to record what worked and did not work in your garden. It is time to go out and look and listen carefully to what happened in your garden this summer. What changes need to be made? What did you like or not like about this years growing season?  Are you adding more garden space – be sure it works for your whole garden and the plants you wish to grow?

To become a gardener, to learn about your personal garden or the wild gardens around your community you need to watch, listen and record.

Hmmm… that is what good writers do. It is what all good learners do!

What have your observed and record in your garden on this glorious August day? IMG_2251

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Bumble Bees that are not Bumbles Bees – compare and contrast


It is a perfect day – the sun is shining, there is a cool breeze and my grass is growing like crazy. So I pulled out the power mower and pulled the cord. It roared to life and we were off cutting that grass but I had also disturbed about 100 buzzing bees, and beetles and butterflies who were partying in my flower bed. I was engulfed in flying insects. I was not happy and yet wasn’t that part of why I have this garden – to provide food for insects, especially the bees.

Here in my garden the August insects are having a great time – just what I had wanted. The bees especially are busy. They are collecting pollen from the flowers that are in full bloom. My garden has Hyssops, Echinacea, Rudbeckia, Balloon Flowers, Calendula and Celosia. The bees love all of them but they seem to be most happy when buzzing around the Echinacea and the Hyssops.

I loved the bees but I soon discovered that this great group of bees had also created a home in the ground by my vegetable garden in the back yard. There was no mowing near that underground nest. I did a bit of research and decided I had bubble bees nesting. I was sure there were bubble bees all over my flowers.IMG_2295

I call the Bee Guy to come and clear the nest. His job was to open the ground pull out the nest with the queen bee and eggs. Her colony would then follow her into the plastic container and he would move the whole family to a better location. Great!  I didn’t want to harm the bees just didn’t want to have them living in the ground where we are alway walking.

I quickly discovered I was not the best entomologist (a person who studies insects). I had not identified the bee correctly. These were not Bubble Bees but Carpenter Bees. I was in a hurry and did not stop to really look at my bees closely. Scientists are great at observing.  They compare and contrast – which is what my Bee Guy did and I did not. He looked closely and thought about what he know about the bees. He also did it very quickly. He knew his bees.

First he compared – How are these bees the same?

  • they are both yellow and black
  • they are about the same size
  • they are both pollinators
  • they both nest in the ground

He then contrasted – How are these bees different?

  • Bubble Bees have a small colony that is just under the ground
  • Carpenter Bees have a larger colony and can tunnel further underground- they drill through wood. It is how they got their name.
  • Bubble Bees have hairy abdomen with yellow stripes
  • Carpenter Bees are a bit smaller and have a shiny abdomen that is black
  • Bubble Bees are harmless – although can sting
  • Carpenter Bee can drill holes in your house to lay their eggs (not a good thing) – the male bee does not sting but the female queen can

IMG_2304My Bee Guy then took this knowledge and was able to decide what to do with my nest of bees. We had hoped to remove them from the yard but that was not the case. This queen bee had tunneled deep into the ground where there had been old tree roots. The colony was large and well established. Since these bees drill through wood and can cause lots of damage to the house and deck we needed to clear the nest completely. This meant using a poison to kill the queen and her colony. Something I would have preferred not doing but also needed to think about the people in our yard and the house.

There are so many things to learn about our natural world. It is important to use the skills of comparing and contrasting help us to slow down and look closely. We need to be able to identify our insects, birds, and flowers.

If you have a nature journal this might be a great activity to do – head out and look closely at the insects in your garden. Take a few pictures to add to your notebook. Can you name them? To be sure you have the right name you might want to create a compare and contrast chart.  You can draw a chart in your journal called a Box Chart. At the top of your page draw a rectangle. In this box you write all the things that are the same. Underneath that box you draw a vertical line and write the differences on either side. Unless you are really knowledgable about insects you are going to need to do a bit of research. There are lots of web sites and identification books (at your library) to help you. Once you have named your insects what more can you learn about them? What more can you write in your journal. Can you draw a picture of each of your insects?

Who knew that moving the yard would lead to so much learning!


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Bees and More Bees

I am a gardener. I am an organic gardener. I garden in the middle of a large city. It is a wonderful thing to do. On a glorious morning like today – sunny, cool fresh air, dew covered grass – I walk out my front door bare foot and pull a few carrots for lunch, pick tomatoes and check on the new planting of beets. In the back garden I water the new plants in the rock garden that I am developing on the old fire pit patio. Life is good.

I have an over abundance of pollinators in my garden. They are everywhere and that is a good thing. Right?  Well, I thought so until I realize that one group of my friendly pollinators has taken up residence in the ground. We are now the proud owner of a large bubble bee colony. IMG_2295

I know there are stories to be written about these wonderful guys. I know we need these small critters in our world. I know I want to do the right thing but we have a problem –

  • there is no mowing near the colony
  • there is only very careful walking in the back yard due to bees – everywhere
  • there is no watering and picking cucumbers that are near the nest
  • there is no digging up the new potatoes near the nest
  • there is the issue that I am mildly allergic to bees – lots of swelling, not fun, hard to breathe

So I made the call. They are coming! I am sorry bees but you need to live out in a more open area not in my back yard.

The live trap bee removal guys will come and help find a new home for my bees tomorrow!

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Summer Patterns

IMG_1905Everywhere I look there are colors and patterns. It is summer and the world around us is showing off. The flowers are in bloom, the early veggies are ready for picking. It is time to look closely at our summer world.

The word pattern means a repeated decorative design or things that are arranged following a rule or rules. Nature follows patterns and our brain likes to sort things we see into patterns. Look closely at how the leaves grow on a branch, or the petals on a flower. As gardeners we set up rows of plants or
IMG_1621flowers creating a pattern in our garden.

Today would be a great day for a walk to look at patterns – large and small.

In my area I can find:

  • the 6 garden beds in my neighbors yard – neat and in rows
  • the summer flower garden wild and crazy but if you look closer there are wild daisies at each end, holly hocks next and cone flowers in the middle
  • IMG_2086the clematis flower has six petal circling
  • the beet has a spiral pattern when you cut it open
  • the apple has a star pattern inside

Take your nature journal and camera then head out to list and draw patterns in our neighborhood.

When you head to the library next or your local book store look for these picture books on patterns.
61sBqHNNKgL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Plant Pattens by Nathan Olson (he also has books on Animal and Food Patterns)

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman imgres

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Earth Day, Gardens and Books for the little folks

search-1Our earth is old but continues to grow. Today is considered Earth Day. A day to honor our earth, our plants, animals and the globe we live on. It does seem a bit odd that we find one day each year to show our gratitude for all this world gives to us.

Although I think it needs to be thought about everyday I appreciate taking a day each year to remind ourselves and other about how to care for our earth. As a teacher it is a huge task to engage our students in so we need to think small and locally. This means helping them find the little things they can do each day. Little steps like

  • Reminding them to recycle at school and at home
  • Lunch boxes instead of bags
  • Taking re usable bags to the store when getting food


  • You can add to this list or have your students create lists of all they are already doing

It also means helping our students learn about growing their own food or flowers for the bees. Gardening can be a big task or just a little one – a few pots outside a front door with flowers in them.

In the classroom this might be a great time to start seeds that could be sent home for Mothers Day gifts in May. Herbs like rosemary, thyme or parsley grown easily and quickly. Paper cups, a bit of soil, seeds, a window with light and you are ready to go.

There are so great books to share as you begin your indoor garden:

(Although these books are for the very young when starting plants it is always fun to share picture books with all elementary students.  Have your 4th and 5th graders read them to the little folks around our building.)

  • The Carrot Seed by Krauss
  • Growing Vegetable Soup by Ehlert
  • Planting a Rainbow by Ehlert
  • From Seed to Plant by Gibbons
  • The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle ( new May 19th)
  • Plants that Never Bloom by Heller ( new September 5th 2015) – a story of mushrooms
  • Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt by Messneer
  • If you Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson
  • Handle with Care – An unusual Butterfly Journey by Burns

What are your favorite spring growing books or earth day books?




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Gardening means I need to know my math



It is spring the leaf buds are pushing open on the lilac bushes and my indoor garden has been growing for a few weeks. It was great fun to start spring inside but I discovered I had lots of math to do before I could begin planting.

Who knew growing plants meant we would need so many math skills?

Here is the math I used just to get started:SONY DSC

I started by thinking about the cost of a new grow light, heat mats to warm my new plants and a thermometer to help me keep track of how hot is gets in my little greenhouse in my basement.  I decided to spent the money on a grow light I could just assemble instead of building one. The home built is cheaper but requires tools and time I did not have this year.

Once the grow lights, the heat mats and the thermometers arrived it was easy setting everything up and it was great fun. I did quickly realized I needed to do some more thinking. I had one tray where I can plant 72 seeds and another that has 36 places for plants to grow. Right off the bat there was adding to do. I can plant 108 plants. Then I needed to think about how many varieties or types of plants I wanted to grow and how many plants for each variety. Then I  divided them between the trays.

I was still not ready for planting. Now I needed to look at my calendar and see how long it took to germinate (how long it take for each seed to start growing) each type of seed. So I made a chart to see when was the best time to plant each seed.  I needed to know when I should start them inside and when I will transplant them outside in the garden.

SONY DSCMy next step was to order seeds. What was that going to cost me?  I do have lots of old seeds in a box that I could grow this year and save a bit of money. This means I needed to see if they were viable (will they still grow even though the seeds are 2 or 3 or 7 years old?). This led me to figuring out the percentage of seeds that might grow in each packet.

As you can see we have added and subtracted money, and seeds. We have divided seeds for planting and figured out the percentage of old seeds. Once the weather calms down I will need to know the area of my garden and the perimeter to know how much fencing I will need to keep the rabbits from eating the lettuce and other plants.

I am also starting 2 new garden beds that are called raised beds. They sit above the garden with a wooden frame around them. I will need to fill those with soil and compost so now I need to know how to find the cubic area so I know how much to buy.

Teachers and parents – look what learning can be found in just planting a few seeds. You can just throw a few seeds in a ground and hope for the best or you can take the time to learn a bit of math along the way.

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February First – winter gardens

1476208_665774330139694_362244001_nGarden Learning has been in hibernation for the last few months. For two reasons one a broken wrist made it hard to type and take pictures but more importantly  in Minnesota the ground is white and frozen, the air is cold and nothing is growing. It doesn’t mean that things are not happening in the garden. My home garden is full us animal tracks.

The rabbits and squirrels are seeking food daily leaping across the snow and frozen ground. This week as the weather continued the January thaw the squirrels were very playful in the high branches. The trees from my window looked like brown dead sticks but when I went out to walk the edges of the yard it was surprising to see tight small buds just waiting to spring into growth once the weather stays warm.IMG_1763

February also brings us closer to home gardening season and this year I am expanding the home garden to include new raised beds for vegetables along with my wild flowers, and not so wild flowers.

Since Minnesota is so far north our growing season is short. If I want to grow vegetables and some types of flowers I will need to start them inside. Their growing season is just to long for those of us who live in the northern part of the United States. Growing inside in the winter means I will need a good light source, the sun is not high enough in the sky or shinning long enough each day to start young plants by a window. I will also need a heat source since young seedlings need a steady temperature to grow.

There are lots of ways to do this but I have taken a easy way and ordered a grow light and 2 mats that will work as heating pads for my new plants. We excitedly waiting for these things to arrive in the mail. Once they and the seeds are here I will being my garden for 2015. I will keep you posted on this inside garden as we watch our outside wild garden slowly wake up.

In my garden journal:

I have created a phenology chart to track the weather and when I see plants begin to grow. I am also recording what animals I see and the changes from winter to spring. Phenology is the study of seasonal natural phenomena or events. In other words – the watching of the world around us in relationship to climate, plants and animal life.

In my journal I record the following

  • The time I am writing
  • The temperature for the day
  • The sunrise and sunset (we are gaining about 2 to 3 minutes of light each day right now)
  • The wind speed
  • I also write a short description of what the day is like – sunny, cloudy, snowing, raining
  • I then write things I notice like the animals, changes in plants or big weather events – snow storms or extra warm days. This is also where I am planning my new garden and what seeds I will plant this spring.   I will share parts of this with you as the year progresses.IMG_1771(My journal and a few seed pods from the False Indigo plant. It has beautiful purple flowers in the summer.)

Welcome to 2015 and Garden Learning!    Are you planting a garden this year?

What will you be growing and watching as the days get longer and the weather gets warmer?


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Sleeping for the winter


Closing down for the winter!

The Garden Learning sight has actually been sleeping for most of the summer and now winter is just around the corner. So I am just making it official. Although I have been in the garden I have not been posting here. I am currently working on a new book project so have found the need to focus my energies.

(also the need for focus comes when you break bones in your wrist – typing is not as easy as I would like)

If you wish to see what I am up to you can follow my writing on Words From JL –

You will find children’s book reviews on Mondays and Slice of Life reflections on Tuesday.

Thanks for stopping by – Hope to see you over at Words from JL.

Have a restful winter and I hope to see you next spring when the garden opens again.


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Spring Rains – story starters


Buffalo Current Bush

Buffalo Current Bush

It was a long winter here in Minnesota and we were all looking for spring sun and warm temperatures. We have instead cool temperatures and days of clouds and rain. It has not been what our emotions have wanted but it is what your plants have needed.

The rain over the last few days has really reached the roots of our dormant plants. They have suddenly sprung to life. The bushes and trees are brown with green buds on them. The early spring flowers are showing their colors. The grass is bright green and small plants that will bloom later this summer are pushing themselves out of the ground.

It is a wonderful time to take a camera (the one on your phone is great) and go hunting for new life. What can you find to take a picture of?  What can you find to draw and write about in your science journal?

In a quick walk around this morning I found:

Jack in the Pulpit

Jack in the Pulpit

  • a big, fat earthworm crawling across the garden path
  • a bright red Cardinal singing high up in the tree,
  • a wildflower plant called jake-in-the- pulpit – lots of them – last year there was just one – what happened over the winter?
  • a huge rabbit trying to get into my fenced in vegetable garden
  • a tiny new Spirea bush just beginning to grow under the hanging branch of an older bush
  • the very small tops of lettuce and spinach just peeking out of the ground
  • the Buffalo Current bush is changing from green leaves to bright yellow flowers that smell like nutmeg
Bleeding Heart blowing in the wind

Bleeding Heart blowing in the wind

It is spring. It is wet but still a great time to go for a walk and explore. Be sure to date you journal – add your photos, drawing and then take time to write a few descriptions about what you saw and how you feel. These short phrases are great starters for poetry or short stories. A rain storm is a perfect time to write.

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Oh, No Fire! Wait, this fire is a good thing

If you take a walk in Eloise Butler Wildflower garden and climb up the big hill to the prairie land you find a big surprise. The land is darkened and burned. 

At first it is easy to worry and think oh no there has been a fire and we lost all the prairie plants. But if you stop and look closely you will find that the path ways are not burned. This has been a special fire. A fire that was very controlled.

Fire is not always a bad thing. In fact for the prairie land it can be a very good thing. Our wild garden just completed what is called a controlled burn to help the prairie plants. This fire is done in the early spring.  A group people who are trained in creating this special type of fire came to the garden and carefully burned the hills leaving an open area for new plants to grow. SONY DSC

Prairie fires help rejuvenate plants in many ways.  They help by burning away the excess leaf litter and allowing more plants to flower, produce seed, and grow taller. It also increases available nutrients or food through stimulation of microbial activity in the soil and releasing nutrients from the ash. Burning also exposes the darkened soil and allows sunlight to warm the earth quicker and extend the growing season for warm season native plants.

In contrast the fire can stop many weeds and non native grasses from growing. Fire also damages or kills many woody invasive plants, which, if left unchecked can quickly over take a prairie.

Controlled burning is one management tools used to preserve the prairie. Mowing, hand cutting, and chemical treatments are some others. However, burning helps large areas to be managed more efficiently and effectively. Our wild garden plans on controlled burns about every 2 to 4 year.

If you return to the burn area in just a few short weeks you will see the new plants quickly growing again.

You might want to go on line and read more about controlled burns in our countries National Forest, like The Yellow Stone National Forest.

Or you can read more about fires with:

  • Fire: Friend or Foe by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent. Clarion Books, 1998. (Grade level: 4th-6th)images

Words to look up and know:

  • invasive species
  • microbial
  • controlled burn
  • rejuvenate
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