“I was amazed to learn that the Ginkgo biloba tree, which is thousands of years old but extinct in the wild, was saved by Buddhist monks who planted this tree in their monasteries so the species would live on!”
“We thought we would only hear the Latin names of a multitude of obscure plants,” she said, “but instead we heard amazing stories of survival and cooperation in nature.”
These were just two of the observations made by freshman and sophomore students who took one of the free guided tours at the Washington Park Arboretum. The students were encouraged to take these tours with the promise of extra credit to boost their grades in the Biology class taught by Stacey Hall, their science teacher at H.M. Jackson High School in Mill Creek.
“I think it is so important to get kids out of the classroom to see how nature works,” says Hall of his Arboretum incentive program. “When the learning is outside and hands on, it just sticks better.”
Hall offers the extra credit when the students participate in the guided Arboretum tour and then write up what they learned and present it to the class.
“You would be amazed at how many “aha” moments the students have had taking these tours,” adds Hall, “the guides have a great way of connecting to people and the kids always come back with insights and connections to the learning we do in the classroom, whether it is plant diversity, ecology, genetics or evolution.”
UW Botanic Gardens offers free public tours at the Arboretum every Sunday at 1pm, as well as private tours which explore the various gardens and plants in our collections. There are also specialty tours such as the family program “Park in the Dark,” Twilight Tram tours for adults, tours of other area gardens like the Woodinville Lavender Farm, and tours highlighting those species that shine in summer or in winter.
“Six knowledgeable guides volunteer their time to lead tours,” says Tour Program Assistant Catherine Nelson. “The tours take place primarily in the Arboretum, but also in the Union Bay Natural Area and the Center for Urban Horticulture.”
“Our plant collections are constantly evolving,” says Nelson with evident pride, “and feature diverse plants from around the world.”
There are miles of fantastic trails to be found throughout the UW Botanic Gardens—a boardwalk through Yesler Swamp, the Pacific Connections Garden at the Arboretum and a stunning fragrance garden at the Center for Urban Horticulture; there is also great bird watching in Union Bay Natural Area.
“We even have the UW Farm which gives students and visitors a place to learn about sustainable urban agriculture, and provides food for dining halls at the UW,” Nelson adds.
Clearly, the many trails found at the UW Botanic Gardens provide an amazing urban escape in the heart of Seattle.
One of the Arboretum guides, Kyra Kaiser, a freshman at the University of Washington’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, has made special connections with the high school students in Stacey Hall’s biology class.
“The main goal of my tours is to encourage people to appreciate the natural world around them,” she says, “and I encourage young people to keep pursuing opportunities and new experiences because they might be surprised about what they like and what they learn about themselves.”
Good advice for about any age one might say.