garden compositions—a guiding gardening principal

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h&h&g gardening – by Barbara Wise – garden compositions—a guiding gardening principal

Before you pick up the phone and report what appears to be a glaring spelling error, read on…

Walk toward the elementary school entrance at Christ Presbyterian Academy any time of the year and you’ll be greeted with an array of botanical pleasures.


Outside the kindergarten classes are ABC gardens—asters, baptisia, coreopsis, dianthus, and on through the alphabet you’ll find a plant with a corresponding letter. Along a wall are espalier fruit trees, in spring hundreds of bulbs come bursting through, and an arbor with a cozy bench holds silver lace vine and hummingbird-encouraging cardinal vine. There are pots filled with flowers and the spokes of an old wagon wheel on the ground divide the different herbs. One almost gets the feeling that you are walking into kinder-garden!

This horticultural treat didn’t just happen—this elementary garden was an intentional effort of a teacher who saw that gardening reflects many fundamental principles of both life and academics.

Anne Purdy began teaching in the 1970’s and in 1985 began teaching first grade at Christ Presbyterian Academy. Anne has been a life-long gardener with a strong interest in organic and eco-friendly gardening and even a fleeting interest in starting a worm farm as a composting business venture. With her history of eating fresh picked veggies and spending sun-soaked free time working in her garden, Anne quickly noticed the growing absence of outdoor awareness in her students. She used hands-on techniques such as cooking to teach her students to read, to measure (math), and to work together, and soon found that growing their own vegetables provided a natural resource. Lettuce was  planted in the fall and Indian corn was planted in spring to provide ground meal for the students’ pioneer days during their second grade history class.

As early as the 70’s Anne saw the rising use of television and video games created a need to encourage children to spend time outdoors.  She noted that many children had little idea that vegetables didn’t just come from a can. To ensure that these children were aware of the wonder and beauty of creation Anne established a children’s garden that could be explored and maintained by the students themselves. In 1988, Anne Purdy became the elementary principal of CPA, a role that allowed her to support other teachers in developing garden time in their curriculums.  Second grade teacher Dot Zellner incorporated seeds, weed pulling, and seed gathering into her class’s science studies. Anne also helped elementary PE teacher Beth Sheridan develop a program that incorporates gardening maintenance into the athletics schedule.

Anne returned from an educational tour of the Michigan State University 4-H children’s garden several years ago inspired with ideas for a Pizza garden, a sensory garden, and a bushel full of other ideas that she hopes to implement. This year the playground will be revamped to include raised garden beds for the students to plant and maintain. (Anne encouraged me to check out MSU’s website to see where all the inspiration came from

A conversation with Anne reminds me that garden lessons speak of so much more than science or math or history. With espalier fruit trees, a child learns that training is needed to direct growth and bear fruit; that pruning is needed to thrive in a small space, and that time spent doing something difficult can have delicious results.

Gathering seeds speak of benefiting from things that seem old and past their stage of beauty, but offer us tokens of beauty and purpose for the future. Pulling weeds remind us of how quickly bad habits take over if left ignored. Daffodil bulbs bring a message of hope—that spring will come even when all else looks so dreary and cold.

These guiding gardening principles remind us that nature teaches us about life and that God uses nature to reveal Himself to man.
Editor’s Note: Barbara Wise, a horticulturist with Southern Land Company, brings her gardening expertise and experience to readers of House & Home & Garden™.  You can now read more of Barbara’s plant musings at E-mail your questions to her at

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