Students Plant Native Garden at Museum

* As published in the Campbell Express newspaper, September 16, 2016 *

Delphi students plant a native garden for pollinators at the Campbell Historical Museum.

The landscaping at the Campbell Historical Museum is transforming into a drought-friendly exhibit this year as the museum, City of Campbell and students at Delphi Academy collaborate to create an environmental learning experience for museum visitors. California native plants are thriving in a demonstration garden on S. Central Avenue, a native wildflower meadow blossoms along Civic Center Drive and most recently, 4th grade students planted two pollinator-friendly, native plant garden beds in the museum’s parking lot.

Kerry Perkins, Senior Museum Specialist for the Campbell Historical Museum & Ainsley House, came up with the idea to remove the museum’s thirsty lawn and extend the museum experience outdoors. She coordinated with the Santa Clara Valley Water District to receive a rebate for switching to water wise landscaping which helped pay for the project.

Perkins visited Delphi Academy in February this year to brief students in 4th - 8th grades on the landscaping project and to invite them to participate. She outlined her vision for a fully native, demonstration garden that would enlighten the public about low-water gardening and provide ideas for planting and irrigation in residential yards.

Her plan was strongly supported by Alex Mordwinow, Superintendent for the City of Campbell, who assigned city employees David Olson, Charles Porter and Blake Bassetti to complete most of the irrigation and planting. Another city staff member, Michael Scott, built the wooden bench where visitors can sit and admire the garden, and the wooden bridge that takes visitors over the dry bed creek designed to capture rain water.

Beverly Cuellar, a 4th and 5th grade teacher at Delphi Academy, was enthusiastic about the project and the chance for her students to connect with city and museum staff and to contribute to an outdoor museum exhibit. "It's so easy for schoolwork and classroom education to be disconnected from real life. This project allows students to use their skills to participate in the real world in a meaningful way," she said. "Meeting with experts in the community, talking to them, finding out what's needed and figuring out how to produce that has been an empowering experience. They've not only learned a lot about plants and xeriscaping, but also learned communication, research and professional skills that build a lot of confidence at a young age." Cuellar's students researched each of the plants in the main garden and self-published an illustrated, hard-bound book titled A Visitor's Guide to Campbell Historical Museum Plants. The opening reads, "Dedicated to Kerry Perkins, Chuck Porter, Dave Olson for your help, guidance, mentoring, friendship and for the opportunity to be of service to the wonderful City of Campbell."

Students received a list of all the plants used in the garden, then researched their Latin names, common names, planting information and fun facts. Each plant in the book has a double page spread with an illustration on the left and information about the plant on the right.

Natalia Patel, a 4th grade student and Campbell resident, researched Mahonia Repens, also known as Creeping Mahonia. "I liked how we got to draw what the plants look like," she said. "Mrs. Cuellar gave us a packet of all the plants used in the garden and we also researched in The New Sunset Western Garden book. I learned what you can use from plants - you can make medicine or jelly, bitter tonic or dye - and how the Native Americans used these plants."

Students presented Perkins with a copy of the book that is now kept at the museum as a reference for visitors. The students regularly utilize another copy at school to identify native plants growing around their school campus at the Campbell Community Center, which has both native and non-native plants. "It's gotten them very excited about botany," says Cuellar, "They are each so proud of their contribution to the book and have learned a lot from each other's work."

Delphi Academy students have also lent a hand in the garden itself. In May, a team of eight students tackled the curbed garden beds in the museum's parking lot, removing a dense growth of Agapanthus (African Lily). The beds welcome visitors to the main entrance of the museum and also flank the outdoor demonstration area where visitors learn how early settlers washed their clothes and hung them to dry on a clothesline. Colorful benches and a large chalkboard create an outdoor learning space and together with Perkins, Delphi students wanted to make the garden beds part of the experience.

Olson, Porter and Bassetti provided shovels and tools to dig out the heavy clusters of Agapanthus, while students provided the muscle and teamwork, managing to clear the area in one morning. On a subsequent visit in June, a team of Delphi Academy Middle School students installed drip irrigation and learned that this system is ideal for native plants -- the slow delivery allows water to seep close to the roots with minimal evaporation and loss.

More recently, on August 31, Cuellar's 4th grade students met Olson and Bassetti at the museum to add plants to the waiting beds. New native plants were chosen for this area, specifically to highlight California natives friendly to pollinators such as butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. Students first toured the main garden with Bassetti, where they found the plants thriving, with many of them spilling out of the beds and into the pathways. Meanwhile, Olson worked with two students, Andrew Huang and Paromita Dani, to decide how to place the new plants in the two garden beds. Height, proximity to irrigation heads and predicted plant growth were all taken into account, along with aesthetic choices such as creating a pleasing mix of leaf colors, textures, flowers and scents. All of the plants in these beds enjoy full sun and very little water.

Olson and Bassetti demonstrated how to dig the hole for the plant's new home, carefully nudge the plants out of their containers, gently loosen their roots and correctly insert, cover and press their roots into the soil. The students worked in groups of two or three to place each plant in the garden beds. A covering of wood chips was added at the end to keep moisture in and with a final test of the irrigation system, the job was complete. "We'll have to be watchful with the water," explained Olson, "These native plants are very sensitive so we'll actually need to be careful not to over water them."

Most of the museum grounds have now been transformed with California natives and the next step for the students will be to create signs about each plant that provide information to visitors.

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