Yard-of-the-Month: The Garden At Travis Elementary School / by Michael Graves

While there are many lovely flower-filled front beds to choose from in our neighborhood this month, I am overwhelmed with the variety and range on offer in our own elementary school garden! Many of us shuttle along the garden path five mornings a week to see our kids to school, but it's worth taking a few extra moments to absorb the nature there.

The Travis Garden has been under the guidance of neighbor, teacher, grandmother, and Army veteran Christina West for nearly two years, with the help of volunteers, teachers, and students. When I asked her if we could choose the Travis Garden for May Yard of the Month, she was delighted!

Ms. West says every morning she loves riding her bike to Travis Elementary School along the leafy streets past her neighbors' flowering gardens.  The Travis gardens are at the east end of Redan and have a fence covered with muscadine grapes and bordered by fig trees.  Inside, there are 30 beds, one for each class at the school and five others that are filled with wildflowers and small trees.

In the fall, as soon as it is cool enough, students plant vegetables and herbs, and continue planting throughout the winter months.  They plant broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, chard, beets, lettuce, arugula, bok choi, cilantro, onions, potatoes, chives, dill, and carrots.  Many are planted from seed and students watch them grow week by week until they can harvest and eat them. Their favorite eating experiences are: kale smoothies, broccoli pasta, blanched broccoli, salads of cabbage, carrot and lettuce, herb butter with chives/rosemary/oregano, mashed potatoes, chard roll-ups with apples and sun butter, and, of course, raw carrots. In spring, each class garden plants a tomato and some peppers, cucumbers, and beans.

Ms. West tells us "Perhaps the students' favorite part of the garden is the pond, that has a small cascade of water and a marshy area with purple lotus flowers and a slightly deeper pool visited by toads each spring that leave hundreds and hundreds of eggs in long strands.  Turtles also visit our pond, as well as many migrating birds, such as American goldfinch, Cedar waxwings, and American robins.

"Around the edges of the Travis garden are "pollinator gardens", sometimes called "insectiaries".  Many of our vegetables depend on pollination, so it is important to invite bees, wasps, and butterflies into our garden.  Students enjoy watching these insects that are so helpful to our community.  Gardens also need compost piles which can manage the waste from gardens and then provide rich soil.  Students love running over to the compost bins and tearing up the spent leaves of our broccoli, kale, and chard.  (Just a reminder: tomato and potato leaves should never go into compost piles)." - Christina West

"A garden is a grand teacher," naturalist Gertrude Jekyll wrote. We are so fortunate to have this rich resource here in our neighborhood, for our kids, birds, beetles, butterflies and more.

Stay tuned for an opportunity to tour the garden with Ms. West and learn more. The Travis Elementary Garden is supported by the school's PTA, grants, donations, and volunteers. If you are interested in helping in some way, please contact beautification@woodland-heights.org and we will put you in touch.

And an honorable mention goes to 923 Teetshorn, nominated by a neighbor for their nice flower beds. Well done!