Spring has sprung – can you name that flower?

Eloise Butler April 8th


Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden in Minneapolis, Minnesota opened last week (April 15th). It means that spring is really here. It may still be chilly but so much warmer that two months ago. It is time to put on your jacket, a good but old pair of shoes and head outside.

This picture may look like nothing is happening but if you look closely you will discover the beginning of new plants. Now is the time to watch all the spring wildflowers to begin to grown.  It is fun to walk with a friend and play a guessing game with the plants as well.

  • Can you name the plants as they just start to grow?
  • Can you guess what colors the flowers might be?
  • What plants will be the first ones up in your garden or nearby park?

It is a great time to draw the early flowers as well. These spring flowers are called ephemerals. It means they last for a very short time. If you don’t go out now they may be gone. It is a perfect time to take your science journal out with you on a walk so you can record what flowers are blooming and sketch a picture to go with it. Remember to put the date on your images so next year can you see if the flowers are blooming at the same time. (Beware the ground is pretty wet so old shoes and a waterproof pad to sit on might be a good idea.)

Use you close observation skills as you begin to draw – there is so much to look at with each plant. Many of the spring flowers look similar so your job is to watch for the differences. This is a skill you use in reading as well – compare and contrast. How are things the same and different? Scientist, as well as good readers are always making comparisons.

Thinks to look for:

  • How many leaves are there on the plant?
  • What shape are they?
  • Do the leaves have smooth or jagged edges?
  • What are the colors of the flowers?
  • Are the stems different colors?
  • How many petals do the flowers have?
  • Look closely at the center of the flower – is it yellow, or white or a different color?
  • Are the stems fuzzy or smooth?
  • Record what the plant is growing – swamp, wood land, hill side, sunny, shade,etc

Here are a few of the plants that are up in the wild garden this week – If you can’t get out to a garden or park this week you can play the guessing game with the plant images below. (Next week I will post their names so you can check your answers.)

  • Can you name all four plants? (What resources can you use to help you name these spring wildflowers if you are stuck?)
  • Now draw them in your science journal and label them?
  • Go on-line and see if you can find out more information about these spring ephemerals.                                                              Skunk Cabbage











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Winter Reflections

imagesThis year our winter garden has been almost to cold to go out and visit ( – 50 is really cold). The last few weeks we have been apart of the great Polar Vortex. The winds of winter have kept us inside looking out.

Lorraine Ferra, a writer and poet, has provided us with some great ideas of what to do with our nature journal when we can’t be walking in the woods. Her book is called A Crow Doesn’t Need a Shadow: A Guide to Writing Poetry from Nature.imgres-1

She begins with teaching about weather poems. This is perfect for us since weather is all we seem to be talking about these days. Start by dating a clean page in your notebook and make a list of all the words you have thought about when looking out at the cold, crunchy snow.

  • cold
  • frozen
  • crunchy

Sometimes the weather reminds us of other things – so begin a list those things.

Things snow reminds me of:imgres

  • crystal ball shining in the sun
  • icicles look like sharp daggers hanging from the roof

Next gather a list of action words (verbs) that you might use with people or things other than snow.

  • erase
  • yawns
  • weaves  (the wind weaves the snow through the legs of table on my deck)
  • paints
  • skips

Now look out your window, and look through your list of words. What you poem can you create? Describe the winter scene outside.

Here is a poem taken from Ferra’s book.

Walking in the Winter                                                                                                                               by Keith Bateman    ( age 14 )

I love to walk in late December

in the first fury

of winters wrath

in the whirling snow.

It settles on my cold coat

and my breath turns

into white wandering winds

like a train trudging

through the mountains in the morning –

my white winter dreams…


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Questions for you

The Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden


Winter has come to this northern garden.  Last year at this time I posted that this blog was going into hibernation for the winter. My teaching schedule was crazy and the garden was closed and locked for the cold Minnesota winter.

This year I am teaching part time and am wondering just what path this blog should go down. I have been writing with little folks in mind.  (you know who you are elementary students – ages 7 and up)  BUT – I am guessing the folks reading and checking this blog are older. Maybe you are teachers, homeschool Moms with kids reading together or just outdoor and garden lovers – I am not sure.


I have questions for you – help me sort out which path I should take

  • What is it that you have liked about this blog?
  • What would you like to see here?
  • Should this just be about wild gardens/nature and not a student focus?
  • Should I review children’s books that relate to nature and gardens? ( there is a great one coming out March 2014 about butterflies)
  •  Is it important to keep adding activities to the science notebook?
  • Would it be helpful to add more writing prompt ideas for kids or adults?

I would love your feedback. Please use the comment section to share your thoughts.

Can you also tell me who you are?  classroom teacher, student (age), Homeschool teacher, a person who likes gardens

Thanks for your help in sorting out the next steps for Garden Learning.


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How do gardens change? Looking for Cause and Effect

Each year a garden experiences many changes. Just like us it grows and develops. A garden is expected to change each year and so are we. We get taller, stronger and our body change. These changes also happen in the garden. Plants grow, get stronger and expand to take up more area in the garden. Sometimes there are changes in the garden like leaves turning colors in the fall. These are changes we expect. Then there are changes that we cannot plan for. These changes happen due to nature itself and due to people.

What makes the changes? Lots of things.SONY DSC

The garden may be changing due to the seasons changing – leaves growing on trees, flowers blooming and leaves falling from trees in the fall.

It might be the weather. A year or two when it rains all the time or does not rain at all can make a big difference in our garden. Plants are picky and need a certain environment to be healthy. This environment is called an ecosystem. When that system changes then plants might not survive. Each plant needs a special amount of light, a certain temperature and a certain amount of moisture or water to be healthy. It is why you see plants growing in special places in the garden. The bog plants need lots of water but the prairie plants need it to be drier and sunny.

Weather could also bring storms. Big storms like tornados and high winds. These winds can break or tear trees and bushes from the ground. Once the trees are gone the amount of sun light in the garden changes. Now there are plants that are getting to much sun and will slowly die away but others who needed more light will begin to flourish (to grow and be healthy).

Changes to the garden might be from animals or insects. If a group or population of beetles becomes too large they might eat and destroy a plant species so next year we will not find it growing in the garden. At times it might be to many large animals, like deer, that will eat a plant until it is gone. We are lucky at Eloise Butler Wildflower garden because there is a fence that helps protect the plants from larger animals that might do damage to them.EBWF 2

Another big source of change for a garden is people. We can be helpful in making changes in a garden but we can also do lots of things that hurt our garden environment. One example is when people move plants to new places where they might not belong. These new plants might harm other native plants by growing to much and squeezing then out.  (Native plants are those that grow naturally in a location. New plants that are brought to a place are called introduced species.)

Time to Explore:

Take time to look at your garden and neighborhood.  Think about how it has changed over the last month, year or years.

Make a list of the changes you see in your science notebook/journal.

When things change there is always a cause. A cause is a reason something happens.  After the cause there is an effect. The effect is what happens as a result of the change. When we see causes and effects in our environment it helps us understand why things happen.

Ask your self these questions when looking at changes:

  •  What happened?
  • Why does this happen?

Remember that there might be several effects and there might be more than one cause.

Make a cause and effect chart in your notebook to help you understand the changes. Make three columns on your page. Title them (see the chart below) and then go on a walk around your garden or neighborhood looking and recording your changes.


Change I found:                                Cause:                                     Effect:


Books to read for more information:

  •  Changing Ecosystems by Michael Bright
  • Aliens from Earth: When Animals and Plants Invade other Ecosystems by Mary Batten
  • A Logs Life by Wendy Pfefferfall colors
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Thinking of Fall – colors, leaves? No Seeds

Fall 2013It is now really fall. The leaves are changing to beautiful reds, oranges and yellows. The weather is cooler and there is a bit more rain. (even some snow if you live in the Dakotas or western mountains of the USA)

This is what we think about when someone says its fall or autumn.

BUT if you are an animal in our wild garden you probably don’t care what color the leaves are. What you care about is that you are hungry! Fall is a time for animals to begin storing food both by eating lots of food and hiding it in a den or burying it in the ground for later.  It is also the time for plants to develop seeds. Perfect! Food for the animals. These seeds are also a way for our trees, flowers and bushes to reproduce.

Each plant wants to be sure there will be new plants just like them next spring so they create lots and lots of seeds. Some of these seeds will be eaten by our animal friends or by us. Do you like walnuts? They are seeds. Nuts ARE seeds. A fruit is the part of a plant that contains the seeds. So the nutshell is the fruit, and the nut is the seed.

Some of those seeds will fall on the ground and rot. Some will land in places where they cannot grow and a few of the seeds will land in a perfect spot, rest in the ground all winter and grow into new plants next spring.

When walking through Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden I found lots of seeds but I needed to use my close observation. Seeds hide very easily so I needed to walk slowly and look high and low. There were seeds on the ground – like the acorns. There were plenty of those and they were easy to find. They are the seeds from the oak trees. SONY DSC

As I kept walking and looked closer I found some larger shiny seeds call buckeyes. They are the seeds of a Buckeye tree.  They have an outer shell to protect them and are harder to find if that shell has not been broken.  SONY DSC

In the open prairie there were plenty of flowers that were developing seeds as well. The False Indigo (a dark purple color) has big seed pods on it that rattle in the wind. There was the bright pink seeds on a bush and the Cattails seeds ( fluffy brown tall seeds) were flying in the wind as well down in the marsh. There were also bright red berries on the High Bush Cranberry.  All seeds waiting to be eaten or to settle into the ground to grow next spring.

high bush cranberrySONY DSCcattailsfalse indigo

These are just a few of the seeds that are in and around the garden.

Now take your science notebook/journal and head out into your garden, woods or neighborhood to look for seeds. Remember if you want to gather seeds you need to ask first. In parks and protected garden we always leave the garden as we found it. So no collecting in these protected areas. You might ask your neighbors if you can collect seeds from their plants. Seeds are fun to draw in your notebook and label them. You might want to read more about specific seeds to see how you might grow them in your home garden.

Happy Seed Hunting!


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Summer of Bugs

Bee in flightIt is August and I am tired of these bugs! I don’t need any more mosquitoes or flies or beetles or spiders or worms!

But wait before we get rid of all these crawly things we might want to know something about them. We might also like to know that they are not all bugs. We use the word bug to name any little thing that bites and “bugs” us but most of the time those bugs are really insects or spiders.

So what is the difference between bugs, insects and spiders?

Bug is a name given to many invertebrate animals, or animals that do not have a backbone. It is used to describe those animals that have a segmented, hard outer skeleton and jointed legs. They have their skeleton on the outside of their body. It is called an exoskeleton.

Stink Bug

True bugs have this exoskeleton and they have a mouth that is called a rostrum (also called a proboscis). The rostrum is a long narrow tube that is stuck in its prey and used like a straw to suck up liquids such as nectar from a flower or liquid from another critter. Some true bugs are Aphids, Bed Bugs, Squash Bugs and Stink Bugs.

beeInsects are also bugs but they have different types of mouth structures depending on what they eat. They have three body parts – a head, thorax and abdomen. Insects are also recognized because they have six legs. There are the critters we see so often – butterflies, bees, ants, beetles, mosquitoes and flies.

Our other critter is the spider. It is part of the bug world but is not an insect. It is in a class by its self called Arachnids. This critter has eight legs, and it’s body is divided into two parts.   spider

There are lots of other things we call bugs that have more legs or no legs and look very different from our typical bugs or insects.  They are the centipedes, millipedes, worms, slugs and snails.  These guys fit into other classes of bugs.

Although these bugs, insects and spiders may drive us crazy once in a while. They are so important to the world we know.  They help pollinate the flowers that produce food, they feed on other pest that help keep things in our world in balance. They are also the sole food source for so many other animals like birds, or reptiles.  They are pretty important to our world.  We need to be careful and think before we decide to get rid of them.  They are needed.


Now it is your turn to take your science notebook outside to see if you can spot some of our creepy crawly critters.

  • Can you find one of each critter? We have named three today.
  • Take time to look closely at this little guy you find.
  • Draw a detailed picture of it.
  • Once you return home you can see if you can find out its name by looking in an insect guide or researching the on the internet.


Books to Read:

  • Insects by Robin Bernard (non fiction)
  • Everyday Insects by Bobbie Kalman (non fiction)
  • Wings of Magic by Sandy McCartney (non fiction – story of butterfly)
  • insectiopedia by Douglas Florian (poetry)


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A Walk in the Woods

Walking in the Garden in June

Walking in the Garden

We often go walking and see plants, trees and animals. What is the difference between a group of trees and a forest or woods? Why do we call a place a forest and what will we find when walking there?

A forest is a natural area where many, many trees grow. Not just one or two or five. In this area you will also find shrubs/bushes, flowering plants and animals. What kind of trees, plants or animals you will find depend on where you are in the world. There are many different types of forests because there are thousands of types or species of trees.

The species of trees fit into two groups. One is called Conifers. They are the trees we think of as Pine trees. They have needles instead of leaves, have woody cones and are often green all year.SONY DSC

The other type of trees are called Deciduous trees. These trees have broad wide leaves. In some areas of the world these leaves that do not stay on the tree all year. The leaves will change color when day light becomes shorter and the weather turns cold. These leaves will fall from the tree. If the deciduous tree is in a tropical forest the weather does not change very much and the leaves will stay on the tree all year.

EBWF garden

When walking around my area I will usually find what we call a mixed forest. It means there are both confers and deciduous trees growing in the same location. Each forest has three layers.  There is the canopy – the area way up in the trees where the leave and needles are.  There is the understory which has the shrubs and bushes and last is the forest floor with small plants and flowers.

A forest is a community of plants and animals that depend on each other for survival.  The trees provide food and shelter for the animals. The animals help by spreading the seeds of these plants, and other very small animals help break down the dead plants into nutrients and minerals that help feed the trees. These small animals are call decomposers.

The Eloise Butler Wildflower garden is a mixed forest. As we walk around we can find different types of confers and different types of deciduous trees. This garden has many small shrubs and lots of wildflowers on the forest floor. The animals in our wild garden are squirrels, birds, ground squirrels, some wild turkeys and once in a great while you might see a coyote walking along the fence line but not very often. Large animals are rare in our garden because we are in a large city and the garden is fenced in to give the plants protection. So we won’t find deer who like to eat so many of the forest floor plants.

What will you find when you go walking in the woods? Can you make a chart in your science notebook and record the species of trees you see? If you stop by a library and check out a field guide (a book about specific plants or animals) you could begin to learn the names of your trees. Are they oaks, maples, elms, white pine or blue pine?  There are lots of trees and so many names. Carefully draw a picture of the shape of  your tree and one of their leaves. Then write the name next to it.  Also be sure to label it either a confer or deciduous tree.mixing colors

Have fun walking in the woods!

Books to Read:

What is a Forest? by Bobbie Kalman

Walk in the Woods by Kevin Beals and Gina Cervetti

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So Many Names for the Garden

The Eloise Butler Wild Flower Garden

The Eloise Butler Wild Flower Garden

The garden can have a lot of names. There is the name that is given to the location by the people who created it or take care of it. The wild garden that I visit is called the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden but there are other names that scientists use to help describe the garden or land when they are talking and writing about it. When we wish to tell someone about the natural places we visit we want to be sure they can make a good picture in their mind. We want them to know what we saw so we use lots of different words.

We want to use specific names that help make a clear picture when we visit. These places can be called forests, prairies, deserts, savannas or a marsh. Each of those places are also called biomes. A biome is a natural area that includes a specific set of plants, animals and non living things, like rocks soil, and sun. Scientists refer to nonliving things as abiotic and the living things, like plants and animals, as biotic.

We also might want to talk about the connections or interactions that happen in each of these biomes and then you will hear people use the word ecosystems. You can find an ecosystem in a puddle of water, under rock or in a large area like the ocean.

We have used lots of new words today:

  • biomes
  • ecosystems
  • abiotic
  • biotic

The garden I visit has three different biomes – a forest, a marsh and a prairie. In the forest biome some of the things I will find are oak trees, pine trees, ferns, birds and squirrels.  In the marsh I can find water, cattails, moss, skunk cabbage and the prairie has no trees but tall grasses, coneflowers, bees, and butterflies.

The prairie at the edge of the woods.

The prairie at the edge of the woods.

The marsh

The marsh

The forest

The forest

What will you find when you walk in your neighborhood or area? Can you head out to a local park to explore a forest or lake? Take your science notebook with you and see if you can write several sentences about your area using our new science words. Can you describe what you are seeing?  Draw a picture or take one with a phone camera to add to notebook later.

Make a list of abiotic and biotic items that you see when out exploring.

Books to read:

Ecosystems by DeltaScience ( Content Readers)

Explore the Deciduous Forest by Linda Tagliaferro

Exploring Earths Biome by Claire O’Neal

What is a Biome? by Bobbie Kalman

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Wet and spongy – The mosses are happy!

This June has been one rainy day after another. It was been great for our plants since last summer and fall were very dry. There is one group of plants that is really enjoying all this moisture. It is a group of plants called mosses. This plant is soft and green and grows low to the ground.  You might find it in cracks in the sidewalk, along creeks and any place that is wet.


It is a plant with very shallow roots and likes to grow where it is wet and shady. Mosses, like other plants, make their own food through photosynthesis. Although this plant is different from many of our garden plants because it does not have flowers or seeds. It has a stem that grows up with spores on it. These spores will blow away in the wind and help produce new moss in wet soggy places.

In the garden we can found mosses growing on rocks, old wet logs, boards and under the trees and bushes.   Take some time to walk around your garden and see what you can find in wet or damp places.

Take your science journal along with you and see if you can answer some of these questions:

  •  Where does the moss not grow? Why?
  • Does moss grow where it is always dark, like underneath rocks?
  • Does moss grow where it is sunny?
  • Will moss grow on wood? stone? dirt? plastic? glass?
  • Look carefully at the moss and see if you can draw a detailed picture of it.  Does the moss you are looking at have tall skinny stems?  If so it is producing spores.

After you have explored your yard, neighborhood or garden for mosses try making a moss garden under a tree or bush where grass is not able to grow.moss 2

To learn more about mosses look for these books in your local library:

Ferns, Mosses and Other Spore Producing Plants by Steve Parker  (non fiction)

For some reading fun about mosses:

Anansi and the Moss Covered Rock by Eric Kimmel

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Flowers and Bees and Honey

observational drawingIt is summer and the garden is wild with flowers and green plants. The spring rains have made a big difference but we need more than just sun and rain. We need some friends to help our plants along the way. These little friends we sometimes think of as enemies and we run from them or try to kill them – yes, you guessed it our friends are the bees.

Bees are not the bad guy – although I know it hurts if you are stung. Bees really are what the scientists call pollinators. They have a big job to do during the plant-growing season. The bees we are talking about are the most important pollinator and they also make honey.   There are lots of kinds of bee but the honey bee is so important.

Let’s start by understanding what a pollinator is.  Each flower has powdery stuff on it that is needed to make fruit, seeds or new plants.  You know this stuff – it rubs off on you when you touch the flower or rub against it.   This is pollen.  This powder needs to travel from plant to plant so fruit and seeds can be made.  Since our plants are rooted to the ground they need a group of friends to help them.  This is where the bees (and other insects and birds) come to help.  They are the pollinators.

Our honey bees are out looking for pollen to make honey.   They fly from flower to flower collecting nectar and pollen for themselves but also leave bits of pollen from others plants behind.  This helps out our flowers as they grow.  This process is called cross-pollination.   Some plants will pollinate when the wind blows and others can self-pollinate but about one third of the food we eat come from plants that need cross pollination.  They need the bees and the birds to help them out.

If you like apples, pears, nuts and tomatoes then you might want to make friends with our honey bees.  They all need cross pollination to produce the fruits and vegetables we eat.

Take some time to read more about pollinations and our friends the bees :

  • What is Pollination? by Bobbie Kalman
  • The Reason for a Flower by Ruth Heller
  • From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons
  • The Magic School Bus Plants Seeds: a Book about How Living Things Grow by Patricia Relf

DA drawing Now get out your science journal and pencil and head out to the garden.   Take time to look closely at the flowers.  Can you find the pollen?  Can you name all the parts inside the flower?   Practice drawing the flower – look very closely and draw what you really see not what you think a flower looks like.  We are not make cartoons today – we are using our close observation skills.  We are doing observational drawing.

Here are the parts of the flower you might see and then can label on your flower :

petal, stigma, stamen, style, ovary, stem and leaves (where the seeds are made) – we won’t see the roots but you know where you can find those, right?

Have fun drawing and reading in the garden.

Next we will learn more about our friends the bees!  There are two bee hives in the garden for us to learn about.


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