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 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.
Seeds! Both in the classroom and in the garden, the kindergarten classes are learning about seeds. We examined some dormant and sprouting beans seeds, looked at a felt model of a bean seed to see how all the parts of the plant unfold out of the seed coat, drew pictures of bean seeds sprouting, and planted some bean seeds to watch grow in the classroom.
We looked at seeds from different types of plants along with pictures of what they grow into. There were big seeds like potatoes and garlic. Seeds we see when we eat the foods, like tomato, cucumber, and peas. And tiny seeds that we never see because we usually pick them to eat before the seeds form – like basil and lettuce.
We also planted some of our own seeds in the veggie garden and the planter boxes in the garden classroom. Check out the sprouts that are coming up for lettuce, spinach, and radishes!
Thank you to all of the parent volunteers who came out to the gardens with us: Christine Burke, Alise Schwartzlow, Megan Palmer, Rachel Pinto, Katherine Poulin-Kerstien, Shelley McCann, Carrie Palmer, and Valerie Belitsos.
This year’s 4th graders got to harvest the potatoes planted by last year’s 4th graders. They learned about how a “potato seed” is actually just a potato. When planted, shoots grow up so the leaves can help make food for the plant, and new potatoes grow along the roots underground. We dumped out the potato sacks and they searched through the big pile of dirt to pull out all of the potatoes they could find. We didn’t find all that many and most of them were small. Hopefully, some of the classes can do some research to help us figure out why the potatoes didn’t grow well and let us know what we need to do differently to have a better crop next year!
We used the soil from the potato sacks to plant some seeds that were saved from the vegetable garden. Each class planted seeds for dill, garlic chives, marigolds, and beans. They also brought back one of the potatoes to observe as it starts to sprout.
We’re looking forward to watching everything grow in their classrooms over the next few weeks!
Over the past two weeks, all of the Kindergarteners have come out to explore the gardens. They looked for signs of Fall on a scavenger hunt in the garden classroom, they examined the seeds of some flowers and vegetables, and they harvested carrots and kale in the vegetable garden.
While learning about farms in the classroom and on their field trip, the kindergarteners also got to BE farmers in our vegetable garden. Since carrots grow underground, they can be hard to find at first. It’s exciting because you never know how big or small or crazy looking your carrot is going to be until you get it out. They also learned that sometimes you have to be pretty strong to pull those carrots out of the ground!
It was fun to see what each plant looks like on the inside. Our scientists made careful observations of different plants and their seeds: tomato, marigold, pepper, milkweed pod, sunflower, and runner beans. They noticed how the plants and their seeds were all different shapes, sizes, and colors.
There were lots of things to look for in the Garden Classroom: blooming flowers, herbs, red and brown leaves, moss, mushrooms, and seed pods. Students talked about how this garden might look different during different seasons.
On Fridays afternoons, we displayed the vegetables that our young farmers harvested at our Garden Harvest tables. At school pick-up times families could choose something to bring home and cook for dinner. We had carrots, herbs, a few cherry tomatoes, and plenty of kale.
Thank you to all of our parent volunteers for making this possible!
The 1st graders came out to the gardens to see what’s growing, observe different kinds of seeds, and help harvest.
In the Garden Classroom, students talked about how the garden looks different in different seasons. Plants that just had tiny buds when they visited the garden last spring, now have large leaves that are changing to fall colors and starting to fall off. They went on a scavenger hunt to look for blooming flowers, dead leaves, seeds pods, and other interesting things. There was even a monarch butterfly that came to visit!
In the vegetable garden, they remembered planting small bean seeds last spring that are now very tall vines that made it all the way up to the top of the bean teepee. There were large bean pods growing and we saw that the beans inside were seeds that could be used to plant more vines. We saw carrots, popcorn, tomatoes, kale, and jalapeno peppers. We smelled garlic chives and lime basil. Everyone helped to harvest some vegetables that were put out at our free veggie table for families to take home at the end of the day.
The students also got to be scientists and make careful observations of the inside of some vegetables and flowers. They each chose their favorite item from a selection of cut open bean pods, marigolds, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and milkweed pods. They described, measured, and drew a picture of their plant and it’s seeds. Everyone worked very hard on their observation notes.
Thanks to all of the Burbank families that have helped care for our gardens over the summer, everything is growing well and looking beautiful! We appreciate all of the hard work put in by so many members of our community.
As we move into Fall, we could use some more help in caring for them. In order to ensure that they continue to look great through the next couple months, we are looking for families to sign up to water and weed over the weekends. Fall is a perfect time to spend an hour in the garden!
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.