Bright Green Future Grant Report
Project Name: Renewing Maplewood’s Courtyard Pollinator Garden
Project Coordinator: Jennifer Potter-Miller
Our school courtyard has a beautiful garden under a heritage live oak with a pond that has been lovingly maintained by community members for 20 years. It’s always been popular with students and a great place to spot pollinators, lizards, and fish. A year ago it featured huge rose bushes, wild passion flower vine, and turk’s cap, but also lots of hackberries and Bermuda grass. Most problematic was that there was no clear path to walk through it or around the pond.
We partnered with a volunteer from the Travis County Master Gardeners Association who advised us on plant selection, solicited donations of plants from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and mulch from Keep Austin Beautiful, and implemented the courtyard renewal project at four community work days. We also worked with five classes and the school’s student Green Team over the course of the school year, involving more than 165 volunteers, 120 of them students.
We installed paths with limestone pavers, removed 20+ hackberries, pruned the roses and tamed the passion flower, created garden beds with short cedar fences, made butterfly mosaic stepping stones, and planted a variety of native plants providing nectar and larval food for butterflies and other pollinators. Parent volunteers organized a watering schedule for parent volunteers to care for the garden through the long hot summer.
We used our grant funds to purchase a long-lasting metal sign with information about the different kinds of pollinators in Central Texas and the plants they need. It is being manufactured now and will be installed in mid October. We hosted information tables about the project at our Spring Fling Community Picnic, and organized a scavenger hunt so families could explore the garden together. Our garden is registered as a Monarch Waystation and Schoolyard Habitat, and enjoyed by members of our school community every day. It’s become a vibrant wildlife habitat and we can’t wait to see it burst into bloom this fall.
What makes this project unique?
We started with a wonderful but wild garden in the heart of our school, and partnered with three important local environmental organizations to plan and execute this project, expanding the expertise and resources we had access to. We were also able to involve a significant number or students because we worked directly with teachers during the school day. Students came to the courtyard to work on specific tasks – planting, mulching, installing fencing, creating butterfly mosaic stepping stones and designing signs asking people to help care for our young plants by staying out of the garden beds. It was a true collaboration that resulted in a more accessible space with more biodiversity and plenty of the wildness our school community loves.
How many students participated in this project? 120
Personal Observations from the Project Coordinator
It has been such a pleasure to see the garden evolve over the course of the year. The courtyard alternates between a quiet oasis outside of school hours and a hub of noisy activity during the school day. There’s always something to discover, whether it’s a new flower in bloom, or a creature hovering in the air or scurrying under cover. I’ve grown to appreciate this special place more and more bringing community volunteers and students to work in it, and am so grateful for the hard work they put in to every corner of the courtyard. It was delightful teaching students as young as five how to take a plant out of its pot, “tickle” the roots to loosen them a bit, and make a home for it in our garden with some compost. Now those students walk by every day and see the maturing plants blooming and welcoming pollinators of all kinds to our courtyard. The courtyard garden is a much richer habitat for wildlife, and a more accessible and fascinating place for kids and adults alike.
What do students think about the project?
Susan W. (4th grade) says
[The courtyard] was a little boring and it wasn’t like it is right now. There were a lot of extra weeds and lots of extra plants we didn’t need. [Now] if I ever need to walk through that garden or looking at the fish I use the rock path so I don’t step on the plants. But some kids like to play on the path. It makes them like it more because now it’s a fun way to look at the fish, and they can jump on the rocks.
When I go by there I look at all the beautiful flowers and I think other people like looking at the flowers, and the fish, and the lily pads and all the plants in the water. I’ve heard a lot of birds, and I really like the fish, they’re really cute. Sometimes I see some butterflies flying around. Sometimes I see a bird or two fly by. It’s a very peaceful place, I like it.