September 17th’s 60th Anniversary celebration of the Children’s Gardening Program gave us the touching experience to see current participants, alumni, and instructors come together to reminisce about old memories and to create new ones. We had the opportunity to interview a few attendees to learn the impact the program had on their lives.
Esther Jackson is the Public Services Librarian at NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library where she manages Reference and Circulation services and oversees the Plant Information Office. She spends much of her time assisting researchers, providing instruction related to library resources, and collaborating with NYBG staff on various projects related to Garden initiatives and events.
B is for Bear is the newest addition to the Mertz Library’s collection of juvenile literature*. This is the third book from paper artist Hannah Viano, who has also written the books S is for Salmon: A Pacific Northwest Alphabet and Arrow to Alaska: A Pacific Northwest Adventure.
B is for Bear is an alphabet book featuring plants, animals, and other ecological features in North America. The illustrations were created by cutting away black paper “to reveal the essential shapes and lines” of the elements of nature profiled by Viano. The “revealed” areas were then filled in digitally with subdued pastels. The result is simply beautiful. Examples of Viano’s work, including several illustrations from B is for Bear, can be seen on her website.
Upon opening the book, the reader sees one letter to a page, with the exception of “A” and “Z,” which bookend the collection with two-page spreads. Viano picks an eclectic set of organisms and concepts to illustrate, which makes reading the text unpredictable, echoing the adventures promised by the outside world. Each page includes an uppercase and lowercase letter in the upper left corner. The associated word, all in capital letters, appears in the upper right corner. An illustration dominates the central part of the page which finishes with a short, factual sentence about the plant, animal, or natural phenomenon depicted.
Because of its format and beauty, B is for Bear is appropriate for readers of varying ages. Very young readers might use the text to learn the alphabet, while slightly older readers—the young and the young at heart—can use the book to learn interesting facts about the natural world. This is a children’s book with artistic sensibilities, dedicated to “all of those who let children run a little wild” and appealing to all who are looking for a reason to be lured into an outdoor adventure.
*This collection circulates to Members and Volunteers
Patricia Caracappa is a Spanish Teacher at Howitt Middle School in Farmingdale.
I am a teacher certified in both Art and Spanish who visited the FRIDA KAHLO: Art, Garden, Life exhibition on three separate occasions. As I experienced the show in three different ways during a five month period, both with my students and on my own, each visit left me speechless. Here I hope to give voice to my special experiences at the Garden.
My students at Howitt Middle School first experienced the rich offerings of Children’s Education programs related to the exhibition when FRIDA KAHLO opened in May. During the Poetry for Every Season: Mexican Poetry Walk offered by the GreenSchool, my 7th grade Spanish students were challenged to find the connections between the lives of two significant contemporary Mexican artists: the painter Frida Kahlo and the poet Octavio Paz. Examining the thematic images in Kahlo’s artwork and comparing them to the written themes they identified in Paz’ poetry—in Spanish, too!—my students discovered for themselves the significance of the specific choices artists make to communicate ideas they care deeply about both visually and linguistically. This facilitated program revealed seamlessly the artists’ close observation and symbolic uses of plants, their Mexican nationalism, and their deep appreciation for the natural world.
Celia Baldwin is a GreenSchool Educator at The New York Botanical Garden.
The Frida Kahlo exhibition that graced the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory from May until October offered visiting GreenSchool students an inspiring way to get inside the head of a wildly talented artist, and make some revealing connections—and art—of their own. As students entered the vivid Casa Azul and strolled alongside the shiny green Swiss cheese plants, smelled the sweet bougainvillea, and examined sunset-hued marigolds and sunflowers up close, they responded with smiles to the color, texture, and forms they noticed. When they saw the papaya-colored pyramid adorned with cacti and succulents, they looked closely, and tried not to touch. This was not some sleepy garden show their teachers were bringing them to, but something bold and fun and relatable.
On October 23, a group of students from Waldwick High School in New Jersey came to view the exhibition with Spanish teacher Vanessa Monell. Their goal was to immerse themselves in the living world of Frida Kahlo after being introduced to her life story in the weeks since school began in September. These high schoolers said they were drawn to Frida’s story of suffering and fortitude, of her strong need to define her life on her own terms and to find a way to communicate her emotional intensity through art.
In early March, I posted a primer on the Garden’s Citizen Science program, focusing on the biotic water quality testing workshops offered to visiting students at NYBG’s own GreenSchool. Presented in partnership with the New York City Department of Education STEM Matters, Citizen Science workshops aim to educate children from all five boroughs about ongoing, “crowd-sourced” scientific research that is accessible to amateur scientists and laymen alike.
Over the course of the month of March, I had the pleasure of working with the students of P.S. / I.S. 87 Middle Village as they sorted leaf packs, bravely handled and identified macroinvertebrates, and ventured into the Thain Family Forest in order to perform site surveys. Under the guidance of science teacher Ms. Vivian Alforque, sixth, seventh, and eighth graders were all given the chance to participate in meaningful scientific research on the grounds of our historic institution.
Now, on to what I’m sure you’ve all been wondering: which macroinvertebrates did we find?
On a recent misty Saturday morning, I found myself boarding a Garden tram bound for the Ruth Rea Howell Family Garden along with 96 children enrolled in the Edible Academy’s Children’s Gardening Program for Crafters, an opportunity for kids ages six to 12 to experience gardening first-hand and to learn about the science behind plants and food.
Parents waved as their kids claimed their seats on the tram, one girl quickly asking whether her mom had packed her a change of clothes for later. She had, and told her daughter, “Have fun. Get dirty!”
The tram pulls away and steers us through low hills and around age-old trees until we arrive at the Family Garden. Eager children disembark and head toward the main garden gates, beyond which they gather with their small groups, divided by age.
It is in these small groups that they do special activities—learning about Gregor Mendel and plant genetics; writing in field notebooks they bound earlier in the program; and making crafts.
To the delight of all visitors, two giant caterpillar topiaries—dubbed Frida and Diego—have recently been designed and planted by NYBG gardeners, Diana Babbitt and Katie Bronson, in the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden.
“We thought it would be fun to try to make a Frida caterpillar,” explains Katie. “So we looked at a lot of her pictures where she is wearing flower headdresses and we tried to make one of those.”
Frida is filled with deep purple-red coleus punctuated by bright pink Zinnia elegans that contrasts with nearly black Salvia discolor on her body. Her raised head is softened by green ‘Round Leaf’ Hedera, and her eyes look straight ahead, portrait-style, under those famous bushy eyebrows.
Our lettuce transplants are getting bigger every day, snappy radish roots are turning red under the soil, and the peas are starting to vine. It’s time for Salad Days at the Ruth Rea Howell Family Garden! Shakespeare called a person’s youth “salad days” for a reason: these are the sweetest days of the year, when everything seems possible. Especially a delicious salad! We’re in our last week of this wonderful program, which ends on Friday, June 5.
To learn more about all the crops in our plots, dig in with the staff in the Family Garden. We’re excited about our first harvest of the season and celebrating salads in all sorts of ways. Visitors can create a paper plate salad to learn more about plant parts as we make art. Measure and mix the dried herbs you need to take home a salad dressing to finish and enjoy at home. Explore the garden with a scavenger hunt learning more about the plant parts that make up a salad.
Joyce H. Newman is an environmental journalist and holds a Certificate in Horticulture from The New York Botanical Garden. She is the former editor of Consumer Reports GreenerChoices.org and a blogger for several home and garden publications.
Every week during the school year, more than 1,200 young children participate in specially designed school programs developed and taught at the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden (ECAG). And that number swells to about 1,600 during New York City’s school testing weeks in April when more students stream into ECAG’s gardens and facilities because upper grades are taking tests.
“During the spring we see a big uptick in the number of school field trips. Our facility can serve over 2,000 students per week, allowing us to deliver programming to more children than any other children’s venue within NYBG,” says Fran Agnone, Coordinator of the Adventure Garden.
A flock of migrating birds fly from one end of the Ruth Rea Howell Family Garden to the other, flapping their wings and erupting with birdcalls as they go. They’re migrating from New York to Mexico and back again.
There’s one in pink shorts, and another in a NYBG t-shirt. One in a sunhat swoops past a bed of lettuce. These “birds” are actually children participating in a nature activity in the Children’s Gardening Program.
One of them, young gardener Adena Zitrin, and her mother, Debra Asher-Zitrin, have participated in the Sprouts program, for kids ages 3 to 5, for the past two years.
“It’s unlike any class we’ve ever taken—and we’ve taken music, art, and gym classes,” Debra said. “There’s something very bonding that goes on between the parent and the child in CGP. It’s very sweet, the working together that goes on.”
Debra’s two older children also participated in Sprouts and are now Crafters, the program for kids ages 6 to 12.