Stuart Hall for Boys garden offers first-hand learning experience

A Stuart Hall fifth grader picks cilantro his class grew in the tasting garden in front of Stuart Hall for Boys. The cilantro was recently used in salsa for fajitas cooked by Taste, the school cafeteria service.

Emma Herlihy
assistant news editor

A recently planted “secret garden” off the deck of the Stuart Hall for Boys science classroom on the third floor of the Siboni Arts & Sciences Center compliments the new tasting garden in front of SHB with its semi-circle of clay ceramic pots filled with nasturtiums, sunflowers, basil and thyme, offering another hands-on nature experience in a urban setting.

“I truly hope to make this a sustainable garden in the sense that the students begin to do the planning, the planting and maintaining of the garden,” said Theresa Foster, a Convent Elementary School and Stuart Hall for Boys parent volunteer. “Only by actually doing an activity does one really learn it and in turn, by teaching the younger students, the older kids will have learned the lessons and truly internalized them.”

A greenhouse structure in the garden holds more of the flowers and herbs, along with newly sprouted seedlings. The greenhouse has a roof designed to collect water through a gutter system, leading to a large container to water the plants.

“I think the coolest thing is the water system because it is all rain water,” said fifth grader David Niehaus. “It’s also easier because with this water system, water is right on the deck so we don’t have to go [get water from the faucet] inside. It helps save water.”

“The intent is to create a sustainable garden that we can use as a teaching garden and that can enliven the senses,” said SHB science teacher Lauren Richardson. “We want it to be a place where the boys can connect with nature.”

The garden is home to herbs such as basil, thyme, cilantro and spearmint and forget-me-nots, as well as snap peas, carrots, radishes and several types of lettuce.

“We are trying to get as many edibles and butterfly-attracting plants as we can,” said Richardson. “Soon we will get the onions, garlic and potatoes growing as well. We have vines such as jasmine that we hope will add a wonderful scent to the garden. The plan is for this to be a sensory and teaching garden.”

Richardson began talking with Head of School Jamie Dominguez about starting a school garden last June and was put into contact with first grade parent Jim Sergi, who made calls and sent e-mails to fundraise for the project.

“They are an amazing group of parents who had a vision to create a ‘green’ and sustainable place for their kids to learn about nature,” said Richardson. “The parents were organized and focused. Jamie [Dominguez] was supportive and Theresa Foster and I were eager to get seeds in the pots as soon as we could, so we all worked fairly quickly.”

To that end, each classroom was given one of the 35 mini-greenhouses, involving the students by giving them the opportunity to observe the plants as they sprouted.

“[The mini-greenhouses] were so well received that people were sad when we took them back to the greenhouse after their four to five week stay,” said Richardson. “Now, we are in the process of re-potting the sprouts so they can grow to their full potential and then we plan to get some of the plants back to the K-8 classrooms so each room has some greenery creating more oxygen for each of these classrooms.”

The garden is also designed to teach the boys about the cycle of plants coming in and out of season and how crops need to be planned so they can thrive in the climate.

“Someone has to plan what people will eat in the summer the winter before,” said Foster. “I hope the respect this engenders for those in the field of agriculture will follow the boys throughout life.”