The Smart’s Mill Middle School Ecology Club, sponsored by Natalie Pien (pictured), a science teacher, had an exciting year with the addition of two new gardens. Last fall the club spearheaded their first Native Plants and Grasses Demonstration Garden. It was inspired by Douglas Tallamy’s book Bringing Nature Home. The garden includes a variety of native plants and grasses to support the local ecosystem by providing food and habitat. As Tallamy explains, the typical turf grass lawn is an ecological desert. The garden will have an educational sign encouraging viewers to transform some of their lawn to native plants in order to reap ecological, health, and fiscal benefits.

The garden was funded by grants from the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, the County of Loudoun, Water Resources Division’s EPA Chesapeake Bay Watershed Grant Program, and Smart’s Mill Middle School.   The garden was designed by Jeffrey Wolinski, Landscape Ecologist and has a beautiful sign designed by Melodie Baxter graphic design artist and a school parent who donated her time.  250 7th and 8th grade students planted the garden as part of their science lesson.

The second garden just broke ground for the Smart’s Mill Middle School Community Garden (funded by a grant from the SMMS PTA) with the installation of raised beds built by pre-cut Trex boards provided by Denise Palmer, Master Gardener (pictured) & her husband.  “During the building process I was very surprised by some of the students wanting to know how the building materials were actually put together.  They were enthusiastic and wanted to participate in the mechanical processes and not just the theoretics of “building a food garden”. One female student wanted the experience of driving the screws with a power drill through the Trex to make the beds. It is hopefully to me who grew up learning the practical skills first to see our youth wanting to connect in a real way,” said Palmer.

In addition to raised beds, the garden will feature gardening techniques such as straw bales, containers, Earth Boxes, and sacks to address the needs and constraints gardeners may encounter.  This part of the project was designed by Leslie Solitario and Loudoun Master Gardeners are providing the expertise for proper organic gardening.

The school community is looking forward to serving fresh vegetables in their cafeteria and school parents can also enjoy the harvest by participating during summer season.  Ecology club is aiming to demonstrating the value of growing your own food to encourage families to start their own garden at home.