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California Native Plant Society

Santa Clara Valley Chapter

School Gardens

The Santa Clara Valley Chapter brings members with native plant expertise together with local schools, teachers, and PTA members interested in establishing outdoor classroom gardens with native plants as an aid to instruction about botany, biology, and ecology. The chapter maintains a discussion forum of educators and parents interested in school gardens and exchanging ideas and notes. Sign up below to join this mailing list.

 

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Outdoor Education

Natural Areas and Native Gardens

Local Educational Resources

Peterson Middle School Nature Area, 1380 Visalia Avenue, Sunnyvale

Originally planted approximately 30 years ago, the Nature Area contains well established native plantings from eight biological communities; grassland, pond, swamp, redwood forest, riparian community, deciduous forest, chaparral and bog. TeacherThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. established the two-acre science study area in 1970 and recently established a new pond area. Mr. Osborne is a mentor teacher who has developed curriculum materials and labs for the Nature Area. Peterson Middle School is located in Sunnyvale, within the Santa Clara Unified School District.

 

Hacienda Science Magnet, 1290 Kimberley Drive, San Jose

Originally planted in 1971, the one-acre Outdoor Classroom is used to introduce children to the natural sciences and horticulture. The Outdoor Classroom was initiated by teacher Edy Young, her husband Joe, and parents. Teacher Carolyn Flanagan has been responsible for programs since Edy's retirement. Beginning in 1992, the San Jose Water Company, the corporate Adopt-A-School partner of Hacienda Science Magnet School, parents, and some 30 Bay Area businesses completely renovated the Outdoor Classroom. These renovations included the construction of new ponds and a stream, a programmable irrigation system, and a 625 square foot covered outdoor study area with benches and tables. Biological communities represented in the Outdoor Classroom include redwood forest, oak woodland, chaparral, grassland, streamside and pond habitats. Hacienda-Valley View School is a K-5 school in the San Jose Unified School District.

 

Cheeseman Environmental Study Area at De Anza College, corner of Stelling & McClellan, Cupertino

The Cheeseman ESA, located next to the Kirsch Center for Environmental Studies on the southeast corner of the De Anza College campus, is a lush natural garden containing some 400 species of plants representing 12 California natural communities. In addition to the native plant communities, there is a waterwise native plant display at the entrance.

 

Native Hill, Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills

Begun in 1982 by former faculty member Robert Will as a teaching aid for students, this small patch of land has grown under the care of CNPS members to house 170 species of native plants.

 

Dan Lairon Elementary School (formerly Seven Trees School), 3975 Mira Loma Way, San Jose.

The school garden started with a few plants in about 1997. It has slowly evolved into an extensive wildlife habitat and pollinator garden. The students have so much fun helping maintain the garden while observing the critters that visit our school paradise. Many of the school’s classes tour the garden throughout the school year to marvel at and learn from the wonderful things our garden has to offer. There are many habitat plants like elderberries and toyons that also provide berries for birds. The garden also contains dozens of different kind of flowering plants that provide nectar sources for pollinators throughout the year.

 

 

Oak School Native Plant Garden, 1501 Oak Avenue, Los Altos

The quarter-acre Native Plant/ Creative Play Garden was completed in August 2005 and features California native species such as redwood, incense cedar, big leaf maple, western sycamore, western redbud, valley and coast live oak, and buckeye trees and an extensive array of bushes, grasses and flowers representative of several California Native Plant communities. With meandering paths, boulders, a sand play pit, play area, a redwood amphitheater, and an old fashioned hand-pump and dry creek bed, this is a popular play area during recess as well as a valuable educational garden used for the study of ecology and habitats. The garden and neighboring redwood trees also provide an official Western Bluebird Trail and features cavity nester bird boxes, which are monitored each spring by students. The boxes have been used by many bluebird and chickadee families!

 

To add your school or a favorite outdoor education site, please contact Nora Monette: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Outdoor Education: Natural Areas and Native Gardens

 LOCAL EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES

Osborn Nature Area at Peterson 
Originally planted in 1969 by teachers Bryan Osborne and Dan Baer, the two-acre Nature Area contains well established native plantings from eight biological communities; grassland, pond, swamp, redwood forest, riparian community, deciduous forest, chaparral and bog. Peterson Middle School is located in Sunnyvale, within the Santa Clara Unified School District. 

Hacienda Science Magnet
Originally planted in 1971, the one-acre Outdoor Classroom is used to introduce children to the natural sciences and horticulture. The Outdoor Classroom was initiated by teacher Edy Young, her husband Joe, and parents. Teacher Carolyn Flanagan has been responsible for programs since Edy's retirement.

Beginning in 1992, the San Jose Water Company, the corporate Adopt-A-School partner of Hacienda Science Magnet School, parents, and some 30 Bay Area businesses completely renovated the Outdoor Classroom. These renovations included the construction of new ponds and a stream, a programmable irrigation system, and a 625 square foot covered outdoor study area with benches and tables.

Biological communities represented in the Outdoor Classroom include redwood forest, oak woodland, chaparral, grassland, streamside and pond habitats. Hacienda-Valley View School is a K-5 school in the San Jose Unified School District.

Environmental Study Area at De Anza College

The Cheeseman Environmental Study Area is located next to the Kirsch Center for Environmental Studies on the southeast corner of the De Anza campus. It's a lush natural garden and a living classroom, containing some 400 species of plants representing 12 California natural communities. In addition to the native plant communities, there is a xeric native plant display at the entrance.

To add your school or a favorite outdoor education site, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Native Trees to Plant at your Home or School

Our locally native trees deserve to be cultivated more often in the San Francisco Bay area. Many are beautiful and easy to grow--they are well adapted to our climate and soils. Native trees offer special values for wildlife as well.

Blue Elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea) is a fast growing deciduous tree with summer fruits that attract a wider range of birds than any other tree. Songbirds favor it highly for food and nesting. It is easy to grow and can adapt to both dry and moist conditions. A stump-sprouter, it is amenable to pruning, which may help keep it presentable.

The valley oak and coast live oak, two beautiful heritage species, grow fairly quickly and are easy to cultivate. While ancient trees which grew to maturity under summer dry conditions may resent irrigation, young oaks adapt to garden watering. Indeed, under garden conditions seedling oaks may reach 25 feet in ten years--they actually grow faster than many commonly planted trees! Our native oaks deserve to be planted far more often than they are.

Big-leaf maple is a very attractive species, and also fast growing--it deserves a place in more landscapes.

Cercis occidentalis (Western Redbud)Cercis occidentalis (Western Redbud) is a deciduous tree that is covered in stunning pink flowers just before leaf emergence in the spring. It is a small tree - growing up to 20'. It is fairly tolerant of a wide variety of soils, including clay. There are some beautiful specimens growing near the CNPS SCV Nursery at Hidden Villa.

Arctostaphylos 'Dr. Hurd' (Dr. Hurd Manzanita) is a lovely choice if you need a small tree. While most manzanitas are closer to shrub in size, this is one of the tallest and can grow up to 15' tall (and wide). It originated in a garden in Portola Valley and does well in a wide variety of garden situations.

The gray pine is a quite ornamental tree in cultivation and more drought tolerant and more resistant to air pollution than most pines.

Another small tree is Ceanothus 'Ray Hartman'. This one can grow up to 20' and is covered in beautiful blue flowers in early spring. It grows fairly quickly and is a good choice if you need a small, well-behaved tree.

Our California laurel becomes a stately tree. It is slow growing, but well-situated specimens are a fine gift to future generations.

The coast redwood is met with too often in cultivation locally. It does best when planted in cool areas with significant fog drip. The temptation to plant this lovely tree in dry inland areas has resulted in many dead or dying trees. Unless you live in an area where these trees grow naturally, resist the urge to plant one.

Many people long to grow the madrone, one of the world's most beautiful broadleaf evergreen trees. It can be challenging to cultivate, but if you like a gardening challenge, try this treasure!

The California nutmeg is an unusual conifer and not difficult to grow, though a bit slow. Its needles are extremely sharp, so it should not be planted near a path.

 

A Year-round Elementary School Native Plant Gardening Program

This section is adapted from a handout prepared by CNPS member MaryRuth Casebeer, the author of Discover California Wildflowers and Discover California Shrubs. MaryRuth did not have a teaching credential, but loved working with young children, and taught gardening at Curtis Creek School in Sonora, California for a number of years. Her year-round program has been a tremendous success, which she attributes to the following:

  1. The gardening classes are small, only five or six students each, and are intergrade, each class has at least two students from the upper grades (4-6) matched with three or four students from the primary grades (2-3).
  2. The program has received strong support from the District Administration, the teachers, the Parent-Teacher organization, individual parents and most importantly, the students. The latter beg to be included in a new gardening class.

Classes are conducted for 40 weeks of the school year. Each student attends a weekly class for six to eight weeks, each class being about 40 minutes in length. Each new class parallels the academic quarter, more or less. Teachers release the students during their class time.

December and May plant sales pay for supplies purchased, mainly seeds and a few plants, labels and potting soil. Plants are sold to parents, employees and students at the school. The plants sell for about half the nursery price; students pay half of the adult price. And, do they buy!!

Class topics cover the following subjects:

  1. Identification, Use and Care of Tools
  2. Soil
    What is it? Observe and compare the color, texture and drainage of clay, loam, sand and potting soil. What is a good growing soil for seeds, seedlings and garden plants?
  3. Plant and Flower Parts
    (As much as possible, use garden grown plants).
    Indicate the important function of each of the parts of the plant. Using hand lens, identify the various flower parts. Explain the function of each of the flower parts. Observe the colors of the various parts and the number of petals, sepals, stamens, etc.
  4. Basic Needs of Plants
    The necessities for successful growing of plants, either in pots or garden soil: light/darkness, water, heat/cold, nutrients, space.
  5. Plant Diversity and Adaptation
    Discuss how plants change to meet their needs, how color, shape and position of leaves help California natives withstand a six month drought period or why some native plants go dormant with the advent of the hot weather. Indicate the importance of plant diversity in relation to both plants and animals
    Discuss the importance of growing California native plants as compared with growing non-native, water-thirsty plants.
  6. Pre-cycle, Re-use, and Re-cycle
    Define terms. Explain the food cycle from single-celled microbes, plants, animals, to humans to food garbage.
    Observe cafeteria garbage at various stages of decomposition. Use end product in garden soil and indicated its importance in soil building.
  7. Care of Plants
    Discussion of the most important reasons that plants fail to thrive. Generally, it is as simple as over watering or under watering.

Activities

  • The students have grown California wildflowers from seed in 4-inch pots to transplant into six-packs. Cuttings are also taken from native plants (purchased from CNPS plant sales) as well as plant divisions of suitable materials--iris, blue-eyed grass or other perennials and bulbs.
  • Plant Communities can be studied throughout the year--observing during the summer dormant period through September-October, the beginning of the California native plant's spring---after the first heavy rains in October-December and the burst of growth and bloom in the full native plant spring that comes with the advent of warm weather.
  • The uses that the Native Americans made of the California native plants can also be included in the curriculum. The collection of greens, such as miner's lettuce and red maids, seeds used for pinole and meal, and bulbs can be studied and the various plants grown on campus. Furthermore, the study of the care given our earth by the Native Americans is a good beginning for a pre-cycling/re-use/re-cycling lesson or program.
  • Native plants used as larval or food sources for butterflies or nectar sources for hummingbirds can be planted on the school grounds. Butterflies prefer plants in sunny areas. Plants that attract other birds can also be a focus of classroom studies. Students can observe wildlife in the garden and their appearance at various times of the year.
  • MaryBeth suggests the following publications for more ideas and other plant-related activities:
    • Botany for All Ages
    • GrowLab
    • Activities for Growing Minds
    • Growing the Classroom Life Lab
    • Project Learning Tree
    • The Kids Gardening Book.
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