The Burbank Garden Classroom is an interactive outdoor environment for learning and appreciation of nature. The community of Burbank Elementary School in Belmont, Massachusetts, collaborated to turn an underused area outside the school into a living classroom.
Burbank Vegetable Garden
The Burbank Vegetable Garden is a place for students to explore the science, culture, and joy of growing food from seeds. The Veggie Garden is supported by the Burbank Parent Teacher Association and offers learning opportunities during the school day, in after school workshops, and on weekends and during the summer to our volunteer families who tend the garden.
On a chilly November day, the 4th graders visited the gardens to harvest potatoes and help prepare the garden for the coming winter.
A week before Thanksgiving, seemed like a fitting time to learn about the potato. This plant was first farmed in Peru by the Incas and was brought to Europe by the Spanish.
It later made its way back across the Atlantic to North America, but not in time to be eaten at the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth. We learned about the parts of the potato plant and that while it can be grown from a seed, most potatoes grow from other potatoes underground.
We dumped out the sacks of potatoes that had been planted in the spring by last year’s 4th graders and found that they had spread underground!
There were so many of them! We dug the potatoes out from the dirt and saw all shapes and sizes – from the size of marbles, up to a few inches.
We also talked about our responsibility to the environment, and how important our immediate surroundings are. We collected the painted stones that students made last year for the “Only One You” exhibit and put them in a safe place for the cold, snowy months ahead. Look for them outside again in the Garden Classroom next spring!
The second graders were very enthusiastic this fall, braving the elements to learn outside!
The students were very keen to share their knowledge of the changing seasons, in particular discussing the signs of autumn. They were encouraged to search for those many different signs of fall and share with the other members of their group.
It was wonderful for them to make the connection of the life cycle of plants and insects, specifically going back to their lesson from first grade, that of the milkweed plant and the important part it plays in attracting monarch butterflies. The herb garden is always a popular area, the students enjoying the smells of the different herbs!
With the many different signs of fall, the notion of seed dispersal was prevalent in their discoveries. They loved learning about the different ways seeds travel and finding out that the creation of Velcro was inspired by the bur!
In the vegetable garden, we found seeds in the flower buds of the giant weeds, in the dried up flowers of the garlic chives, and where the flowers used to be on the dill. We also saw tiny baby dill plants growing where the seeds were falling on the soil.
We even saw some tomato plants that grew from where tomatoes had dropped to the ground last year.
Thank you to all of our parent volunteers for making these garden visits possible!
It was a great time had by all. The students loved getting their hands in the dirt, planting crocuses, and are already looking forward to the spring to see their flowers bloom.
The children discovered the many varying types of seeds, learned about how similar or different they were and where to find them in fruit, vegetables and flowers.
They became little scientists when asked to draw their favorite, showing where the seeds were.
The students loved exploring the garden classroom searching for all the wonderful items on their scavenger sheets such as seed pods, mushrooms, ferns, fall colored leaves and dried up flowers.
In the vegetable garden, we did a few of the tasks that farmers do in the fall. We harvested some lettuce and radishes. Then we planted garlic. Most of the food we grow is planted in the spring, but garlic, like crocus bulbs, is planted in the fall. We made sure to plant our cloves with the shoot end pointing up and the root end pointing down. We can’t wait to see the green shoot start to come up in early spring!
Thank you to all of our parent volunteers for making this possible!
First graders had a great time examining pumpkins, gourds and squashes. They especially loved exploring the seeds and the process pumpkins go through from seed to pumpkin. They measured, described, and drew a pumpkin, squash or gourd and answered more scientific questions.
They also explored the gardens for signs of fall. Many students found leaves, moss, sticks, and decaying vegetables. They also learned the process a maple tree goes through from season to season. They especially found it interesting how maple sugaring happens in March. They also loved the beautiful colors we find during fall.
In the vegetable garden, they got to see what happens when you can’t get into the garden to weed all summer long. Those tiny weeds we see in June are taller than them by October!
We also looked for bugs and signs that bugs had been there. After noticing some holes in the radish leaves, we guessed that there may have been some caterpillars there. We turned over a few of the leaves, and found a caterpillar egg!
Thank you to all of our parent volunteers for helping to make this possible!
On September 28th the second graders got to investigate some incredible plants brought by the “Plantmobile,” a visiting plant science program from Mass Horticultural Society. Mass Hort’s Director of Education, Katie Folts, presented a program on Habitats and Ecosystems to each second grade class to kick off their science curriculum
Students reviewed what plants need to grow and what makes a habitat. They observed several plants that grow in very different habitats – tropical, desert, forest, and wetland – and made a nature journal to record their observations.
Working in groups, students thought about how a plant’s shape or special features might help it to grow well in its habitat.
They learned about some incredible plant adaptations, such as tropical plants with leaves shaped to shed excess rainwater, and desert plants that store water inside their leaves and stems. Did you know that the pitcher plant traps and digests insects because it needs more nutrients than are available in wetland soils?
The second grade classes look forward to practicing their plant observation and nature journaling skills again when they visit the school gardens this fall.
Thank you to all the parent volunteers who came in to help the classes, to the Foundation for Belmont Education (FBE) for funding this visiting science program, and to Katie Folts of Mass Horticultural Society for an engaging science investigation.
This October, all of the 3rd grade classes came out to visit both gardens. To go along with their studies of the Native Americans of this area, we looked in both gardens for plants that the Wampanoag use for food and medicine.
We learned that some of the giant weeds (taller than the kids and parent volunteers!) that took over part of the vegetable garden this summer are Pigweed, which is a type of Amaranth. Amaranth is valued for its edible leaves and seeds. The seeds are very high in protein and nutrients and have been eaten for thousands of years by many, including the Wampanoag. We rubbed the flower buds between our fingers to find the tiny black and brown seeds.
We talked about how the “Three Sisters” (corn, beans, and squash) are a great combination of crops to grow. They all store well through the winter, they nutritionally complement each other, and they help each other grow.
The corn provides support for the beans, to help them get more sun and up off the ground, away from hungry animals. The large squash leaves shade the soil to prevent weeds from growing and keep water in the soil. And the beans are able to take nitrogen from the air and put it into the soil, to help fertilize the other plants.
In the Garden Classroom we found several plants used by the Wampanoag, including sage, coneflower, milkweed, bee balm, and yarrow.
Then, we picked some dried corn off of a corn cob to grind with a mortar and pestle.
Food preparation was a lot of work! With the help of everyone in the class, we would have had just enough ground corn for one batch of cornbread.
Thank you to our amazing volunteers for helping to make all of this possible: Karl Scherrer, Florence Wang, Narine van Hal, Kareem Feagin, Seetha Burtner, Harriet Wong, Liane Brecknock, and Jidong Liu.
The 4th Graders explored the Garden Classroom and planted potatoes and nasturtium seeds this spring.
They planted nasturtium seeds in our herb boxes as well as in two of our our clear-sided planter boxes. They all knew that herbs are used for beauty in the garden, to attract pollinators, to flavor food, and for medicine.
The leaves, flowers, and seeds of the nasturtium are all edible. The seeds can be pickled and eaten like capers! Nasturtium have more lutein than any other edible plant, which is good for your eyes. They also contain vitamin C and were used to help with chest congestion. We talked about how the seed’s hard shell protects it from predators and moisture.
Scraping at the seed coat with sandpaper and soaking it overnight allows the water in to soften the shell, so it can germinate more quickly.
They also planted potatoes in some fabric sacks right above the garden classroom. While potatoes do form seeds in the berries that grow from the greens, we usually grow potatoes by planting actual potatoes! Roots and shoots will grow from the eyes and new potatoes will grow off of the roots.
You never want to eat a green potato, because that means it’s been exposed to sunlight. When exposed to sunlight they create a toxin called solanine. The green color is actually just chorophyll, which is not dangerous, but it gives us a clue that they must have been exposed to sunlight.
We also had fun smelling all of the herbs in the herb boxes. Check out the lemon thyme and chocolate mint!
Thank you to Jeanne Caldwell for helping with the garden visit!
On May 18 the third grade classes and many parent volunteers enjoyed a multi-sensory experience learning about Colonial herbs in our school Garden Classroom.
This was a new activity during Colonial Day, a highlight of the third grade social studies curriculum.
Experts from Mass Audubon Habitat’s Herb Study Group explained why herbs – fragrant edible plants – were so important to the Colonists, and how they were used in cooking, cleaning, and staying healthy. Students got to touch, smell and identify some important Colonial herbs, such as thyme, sage, rosemary, lavender, and mint.
Students learned that the early Colonists brought many herbal plants with them from Europe, and grew them close to their houses in a herb garden so they could easily find the herbs they needed.
Each small group of students helped to plant and label a new herb in our school herb garden. Check out the herbs in the raised beds under the arbor – they are a feast for the senses!
Using what they learned about herbs and their fragrance and healing properties, students selected a combination of fresh herb leaves to make their own herbal tea bag to take home.
Thank you to the teachers and volunteers who helped plan and run the herbs activities on Colonial Day: Phyl Solomon and Edie Engel of Habitat’s Herb Study Group, Lori Anderson, Deirdre Walsh, Jim Reilly, Kim Foster, and Harriet Wong.
All of the first grade classes came out to visit both gardens this spring. After learning so much about insects in class, it was a great opportunity to see some in their natural habitat.
There were ants, bees, and cabbage white butterflies. One group spotted a swallowtail butterfly and another group discovered a millipede. We also saw a lot of holes in leaves, so we knew that there must have been caterpillars on those leaves, even though we didn’t see them.
In the vegetable garden, they saw leafminer trails and eggs on spinach leaves, and planted Alyssum flower seeds. When the flowers bloom, they will draw good bugs into the garden to eat the bad bugs. Like ladybugs, to eat the aphids.
In the Garden Classroom, they learned about the different plants in our butterfly garden. We have flowers that the buttterflies like for their nectar like Coneflower and Phlox, as well as plants whose leaves their caterpillars can eat, like Yarrow for Painted Lady butterflies and Milkweed for Monarch butterflies. We hope that if butterflies come by for the nectar, that they will lay some eggs on their host plants!
All of the groups helped to plant Zinnia seeds around the school to attract butterflies who love their nectar. The picture below was taken last year, but we hope to see many butterflies on our Zinnias this year too!
Thank you to our parent volunteers for making this possible: Yi Chen, Winita Hoffman, June Lattimore, Erika Meldrim, Taylor Neilsen, Katherine Poulin-Kerstien, Jennifer Rosenbaum, and Feng Wang.
Second graders headed out to the school gardens, imagining they were aliens from another planet on a mission to find out what soil is made of, so they could start growing food on their planet.
In the Garden Classroom they dug soil samples and identified some components they could see. Students wondered what might be in soil that we cannot see, and observed that soil is a mixture of dead and living things.
They compared soil samples from two different sites (a garden bed and a bare slope under trees), and discovered that soil varies in color, texture, and composition from place to place. To help separate out the components, the soil samples were put in a jar with water and brought into the classroom to settle into visible layers: humus will float at the top, and rock/sand particles will sink to the bottom.
Students investigated compost at different stages of decomposition, and learned how dead plants return nutrients to the soil to help other plants grow. They observed worms and centipedes and other decomposers that help with breaking down the compost.
In the vegetable garden they pulled up and composted the winter cover crops to get the garden ready for spring and they also planted peas. Peas, and other legumes, have the special ability to take nitrogen from the air and turn it into nitrogen in the soil that the plants can use to help them grow. In the presence of a certain bacteria in the soil, they grow nodules on their roots in which they make their own fertilizer. So in a couple months, we’ll have tasty peas, and healthier soil!
These hands-on investigations provide memorable connections to support students’ science learning. Thank you to the volunteers who helped make the activities possible: Doug Brenhouse, Xinqi Gong, Gail Barry, Candace Webb, Katie Sbay, Kim Foster, and Harriet Wong.
Sponsor the Burbank Gardens
Many generous donors made the garden classroom possible, but there are many expenses related to maintenance and replacing plantings that haven’t thrived. Please consider making a donation to the Burbank PTA to help us keep the garden blooming. You may designate your donation for the gardens, or allow us to apply it where most needed. Thank you for your support!
The plants for the Garden Classroom have been carefully selected by Elizabeth Gourley, Landscape Designer, in consultation with the PTA Landscape Committee. We are unable to accept donated plants, but greatly appreciate your monetary donations. Thank you.