My First Free Weekend Walk

July 31st, 2015 by Jessica Farmer, Adult Education Supervisor

This is the first in a series of blog posts we will be sharing from our summer communications volunteer, Saffrom Hepta-Gaub. Saffron is a sophomore at the Bush School in Seattle, Washington, and we are delighted to share her perspectives on UW Botanic Gardens’ spaces and programs. 

July 19th, 2015

Hydrangeas

On this lazy, hot, summer day, I embarked on my first event with the UW Botanic Gardens: the Free Weekend Walk. The great things about the tour are that it’s free, every Sunday, and open to all ages. The walking was brisk, and despite the heat, our guide Catherine kept us entertained. The theme of this day was Hydrangeas and Other Summer Bloomers. Themes like this switch every month to best fit the season.

Because I can’t drive, I was dropped off at the Graham Visitors Center, just before one o’clock. After inquiring at the desk, I waited until our guide came right on time, starting us out with a few introductory facts. I learned that the park was 230 acres, the majority of the land being owned by the city with the collections belonging to the Botanic Gardens. We were a group of twelve, including me, horticulturalists  and tourists alike. To begin, we circled around the parking lot, stopping by the greenhouse to see the large-leafed “dinosaur food” bog plant native to South America, with long, almost Pinecone-esque petalless  flowers. Behind the greenhouse was a gorgeous pomegranate tree, which, with the warm season we’ve been having, bore fruit.

After we looked at the various trees in the bright sun, we circled back around to the main path, which thankfully had patches of shade. It was 90 degrees out, mind you, and I had stupidly forgotten a water bottle. Our guide was good at keeping our minds off the heat, though my thirst for water preoccupied a third of my thoughts. The rest of my mind filtered through facts and phrases for this post, while another small section wanted to be binge watching my favorite show, though I shouldn’t mention that here, have to be professional. 😉

The tour, after all, was focused on the blooming hydrangeas, and the first one we accounted on the path was drooping from the drought. In fact, many of the plants we passed had brown, forgotten leaves. Facts from my 9th grade biology class kept popping up, an unplanned refresher in photosynthesis and the food web. The dead leaves on the underside of the trees were the plants’ way of conserving energy and water; leaves with less light had more energy going into growth than coming out of photosynthesis. We also spotted snag trees, dead plants that had become homes for insects, decomposers who feed off the bark. The insects attract hungry birds and bats, and soon you have full ecosystems on one dead tree.

Back to the hydrangeas: interesting tidbit, there are three kinds of hydrangeas: lace top, mop top, and the cone-shaped paniculatas. The flowerettes around the base of the lace top, when lifted up, are a signal to the bees that pollination should occur, and drop once there is nectar. Nature is amazing!

Next in our walk up the shadow scattered hill were the magnolias. Yet another thing that I learned was that because magnolias, evolutionarily, predate bees; the flowers are shaped and hang in a way so that they can be pollinated by ants and beetles. The magnolias have a nice citrus smell, and because of the unusual heat, many of the trees we passed were on there second bloom of the season, which our guide had never seen before. The magnolias also provided a much needed shade. Another tree we saw was the sassafras tree, the origin of root beer. The cool thing about the sassafras  tree was that was only one of two trees with the three kinds of leaf shapes: mitten, flame, and ghost. Seeing all the differently shaped leaves on this tree and the other species we passed was strange and interesting.

Magnolia

Finally, we got to the large collection of hydrangeas. There were many beautiful bushes, colored blue and white. Catherine informed us that these hydrangeas did in fact change color based on the PH of the soil. We also spotted a hydrangea that grew vine-like on a tree, but in a safe way. By now, it was time to turn back, and we headed on a gravel path through the forest, where it was shady and cool. The final fascinating fact I learned was that many of the magnolias and other “tropical” plants that thrive in the southeast United States are related to the plants of Asia, an offshoot from back when the land was all one continent.

All in all it was a great way to spend my afternoon. Our guide Catherine made it entertaining, educational, and we got in some exercise! All three e’s! The Botanic Gardens have my interest, and I am sure they will have yours if you take the chance to visit. The Arboretum is beautiful, the paths are easy to use, and with these guided tours, navigating and fact-learning is easier. I’d highly recommend it. :)

 

Big Big Flowers

July 16th, 2015 by Catherine Nelson, Adult Tours Program Assistant

maggrandifloraflwrThe Magnolia grandifloras in our collection are blooming now!  Who doesn’t love a 12-inch wide flower that smells great?   The commonly named Southern Magnolia or Bull-Bay is native to the SE United States from Eastern Texas, along the lower Gulf Coast to the Atlantic where it grows in loamy soils near water.  It has proven to be very adaptable to different soils and this has allowed for its ability to be cultivated in many different climates.  The largest M. grandifloras in their native habitat have been measured at up to 125′.  In non-native climate gardens they tend to grow to about 80′.

This tree is a valued ornamental in gardens around the world because of its large flowers and dark green glossy evergreen leaves.  It is used industrially for its beautiful hardwood to make furniture and cabinetry.  The seeds are food for native southeast squirrels, possums, quail and turkeys.  The leaves, fruit, bark and wood also are valued for their pharmaceutical properties.

Our collection M. grandifloras are located on either side of Arboretum Drive in the Magnolia section of the arboretum.   These trees are quite large and most of its flowers are high up, but there are a few on the lower branches accessible for smelling that nice citrusy scent.  Tour visitors from the Southern US assure me that this scent can be smelled at a distance down there, but up here in the Pacific NW one has to get up close to enjoy the scent.  And, speaking of tours, these trees and other summer bloomers like the Hydrangea are featured in our Free Weekend Walks for the month of July.  Join us any Sunday; we meet at 1:00 pm at the Graham Visitors Center.

 

 

Glimpse into the past – Dreams of an Arboretum at the University of Washington

July 15th, 2015 by Jessica Farmer, Adult Education Supervisor

By John A. Wott, Director Emeritus

Recently, I was browsing The Long Road Traveled by Henry Schmitz, from 1973, in preparation for a presentation about the Washington Park Arboretum.  I believe it is important to review how the leadership of the University of Washington was the catalyst to create the Arboretum. Almost all of this “glimpse” is the writing of Dr. Schmitz, but in a very condensed form.

The University of Washington seems to have wanted an arboretum from very early in its history. Shortly after his election in 1891 as a member of the State legislature, Edmond S. Meany became chairman of the legislative committee concerned with the acquisition of a new campus for the University. There are indications that he promoted the project in part by claims that it would provide an arboretum for the State as well as a campus for the University. If this is true, it was undoubtedly a method to elicit support from the lumber industry, which was not entirely without influence at that time in the state legislature. The late Herbert Condon used to relate a delightful story about a member of the legislature whom Mr. Meany was attempting to interest in the selection of the Union Bay area for the new campus-arboretum. The legislator listened to the arguments and then said, “Meany, I will help you get the area, but tell me-what in hell is an arboretum?”

Professor Edmond S. Meany

Professor Edmond S. Meany

It seems clear that for some years after the University moved to the new (and present) location selected by Dr. Meany’s committee, the development of an arboretum on the campus remained an important aim. The text calls attention to gifts of trees from the Seattle City Parks Department for planting on the new grounds.  On Arbor Day 1898, the Parks Department had presented the University with fifty assorted oaks and honey locusts. Later, Parks contributed an additional 2200 fine trees embracing almost thirty species new to the grounds, as well as a donation of a thousand perennials. These donations, along with a collection of five hundred more perennials from other sources gave impetus to a plan for the beautification of the campus.  These donations were said to “represent 42 natural orders and 179 species.”

A seed and plant exchange with eastern collectors was established by Dr. Meany to secure for the campus “as many rare and desirable species as possible.” Contributions of seeds were received from California, the Canadian Department of Agriculture, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Dr. Meany’s home garden was used entirely for growing seedlings of tree seeds received through the seed exchange. Since the city water mains had not yet been extended to his home, it was necessary for him to carry water in pails to the nursery beds. He was especially proud of the relations he had established with Kew Gardens and was greatly concerned that the seedlings survive.

College of Forestry Dean, Hugo Winkenwerder

College of Forestry Dean, Hugo Winkenwerder

Sadly, when the campus was cleared for the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition, many of the trees planted in the early days by Professor Meany and others were destroyed. Nevertheless, the idea of an arboretum on the campus did not completely die. A few years later, Hugo Winkenwerder, Dean of the College of Forestry, with the enthusiastic support of Professor Meany, proposed to President Franklin Kane that the entire area below the railroad tracks be set aside for arboretum purposes. This proposal was approved by the President and the area was designated “Arboretum” on maps of the campus of that period.Progress was slow, and as the years went by, pressures developed on the campus for the construction of a golf course in the arboretum area. It was argued by the proponents of the golf course that the area could serve both purposes – the fairways and greens would occupy only part of the space and the remaining area could still serve as an arboretum. However, the golf course eventually took possession of the entire area and in late 1923 Dean Winkenwerder gloomily said that he “lost all hope of ever developing an arboretum on the University campus.”

Henry Suzzallo, UW President 1915-1926

UW President Henry Suzzallo

Although he recognized that an arboretum on campus was impractical because of the ever-changing patterns of land use by a growing university, Dean Winkenwerder did not for a moment give up the idea of developing an arboretum somewhere, and he conferred with President Henry Suzzallo to explore other possibilities. Even though it was President Suzzallo who had transformed the last campus arboretum into a golf course, he had a clear concept of the importance of a highly developed botanical garden and arboretum as a resource to the natural science departments of the University and to the people of Seattle and the State. He believed that the Arboretum should be developed jointly by the University and the City of Seattle.

Shortly after his conference with Dean Winkenwerder, Dr. Suzzallo addressed the Seattle Rotary Club to enlist the support of this important group of business and professional leaders for an arboretum in the Washington Park area. He said in part: “to the Board of Park Commissioners, that Board seems to have prepared Resolution No. 40 setting aside the entire area of Washington Park for a botanical garden and arboretum and giving the University of Washington certain privileges” (6th Day of February 1924).

Want to read the rest of the story? The Road Less Traveled is available for borrowing at the Elisabeth C. Miller Library.

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July Color Appears at the Washington Park Arboretum

July 12th, 2015 by UWBG Horticulturist
Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum (July 6 - 20, 2015)

Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum (July 6 – 20, 2015)

1)  Itea ilicifolia                Holly-leaved Sweet Spire

  • Native to western China
  • Evergreen shrub growing up to 16 feet tall and 10 feet wide
  • Bears fragrant racemes of greenish-white flowers in late summer and fall
  • Located west of the Magnolia Collection near the south end of the Asiatic Maples

2)  Lomatia myricoides                Long-leaf Lomatia

  • Native to New South Wales in southeastern Australia
  • One of the hardier members of the Proteaceae
  • Honey-scented white flowers are much visited by bees in summer
  • Located across Arboretum Drive from the New Zealand Focal Forest

3)  Pterocarya stenoptera                Chinese Wingnut

  • Native to China
  • Deciduous tree to 70 feet or greater, with a trunk diameter as large as 8 feet
  • Located west of Azalea Way, north of Loderi Valley

4)  Quercus vacciniifolia                Huckleberry Oak

  • Native to western North America, mountains of the Sierra Nevada and southern Cascade Range
  • Leaves and acorns are an important food source for birds and mammals within its native range.
  • Located atop the rockery at the east end of the trail above the Gateway to Chile

5)  Rehderodendron macrocarpum                Mu gua hong

  • Native to Mt. Emei, Sichuan Province, China
  • Small deciduous tree 20 to 30 feet tall, related to Styrax
  • Located east of Azalea Way on the north end of the Rhododendron Hybrid bed

June Color Appears at the Washington Park Arboretum (Part II)

July 2nd, 2015 by Pat Chinn-Sloan
Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum (June 22 - July 5, 2015)

Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum (June 22 – July 5, 2015)

1)  Quercus gilva                    Evergreen Oak

  • Native to China and Japan
  • Reaches heights of 90-100 feet in its native range
  • Located in the Oak Collection along the South Oaks Extension Trail

2)  Rhododendron calophytum           Beautiful-face Rhododendron

  • Native to China
  • Large species rhododendron capable of becoming a tree
  • Located along trail between Loderi Valley and the Woodland Garden

3)  Sequoia sempervirons  ‘Cantab’                     Coast Redwood

  • A cultivar of the coast redwood with unique needles
  • Specimens vary in form from shrubby to tree-like
  • Located in the north end of the Pinetum, along the Pinetum Trail

4)  Thujopsis dolobrata                    Hiba Arborvitae

  • A Japanese native
  • Capable of reaching 100 feet or more in Japan, yet large specimens are rare in the Seattle area
  • Located along the south slope of the Woodland Garden

5)  Viburnum rhytidophyllum                    Leatherleaf Viburnum

  • Native to China
  • Large evergreen shrub recorded to heights of 30 feet
  • Located along the trail through the Viburnum Collection

June Color Appears at the Washington Park Arboretum

June 15th, 2015 by UWBG Horticulturist
Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum (June 8 - 21, 2015)

Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum (June 8 – 21, 2015)

1)  Cornus controversa           Giant Dogwood

  • A rounded deciduous tree bearing spreading, tiered branches and alternate, elliptic leaves, C. controversa can potentially reach 40 feet in height.  White flowers are borne in large, flattened cymes in early summer.  Following the flowers, masses of deep red fruit develop, changing to blue-black.
  • Native to China, the Himalayas and Japan, C. controversa is less cold tolerant than our native dogwoods.  This specimen is located along Azalea Way near the Hybrid Bed.

2)  Kalmia latifolila           Mountain Laurel

  • A dense, bushy shrub with glossy, dark green leaves and large corymbs of cup-shaped flowers, Kalmia latifolia is native to North America.  Thought by many to be our country’s most beautiful flowering shrub, it is the state flower of both Connecticut and Pennsylvania.
  • This specimen is located along the lower trail, near Rhododendron Glen.

3)  Quercus robur  ‘Concordia’           Golden English Oak

  • A standout specimen amongst the late spring flush of green, Q. robur ‘Concordia’ offers us bright yellow young foliage which will eventually turn color in the fall.
  • It is located on the east side of Azalea Way near the Woodland Garden.

4)  Pterocarya stenoptera           Chinese Wingnut

  • A large spreading tree with long pinnate leaves and winged green fruit produced in pendent spikes up to 12 inches in length.  Wingnuts are a member of the plant family Juglandaceae.
  • This specimen is located at the south end of the nut flats, just west of Azalea Way.

5)  Staphylea pinnata           Bladdernut

  • A deciduous shrub up to 15 feet high, S. pinnata is known for its curious bladder-like fruits in late spring and early summer.  This specimen is located amongst the True Ashes, west of Azalea Way.

Meet Our Summer Education Staff

June 9th, 2015 by Sasha McGuire, Education Program Assistant

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Once again our Summer Camps have grown. Now spanning 10-weeks, we will host hundreds of budding scientists and naturalists at the Washington Park Arboretum and the Center for Urban Horticulture. Our amazing staff comes from all over North America and possesses tremendous experience and knowledge.

Michelle_BrownellMichelle Brownell, Garden Guide

Michelle grew up in Springfield, IL and earned her bachelor’s degree in wildlife ecology from Michigan Technological University in Houghton, MI. For the last two years, she has lived in St. Petersburg, FL and recently relocated to Seattle. While in Florida, she worked as a substitute teacher and taught robotics classes for the Sylvan Learning Center. Her two summers in Florida were spent working as a summer camp instructor for Mote Marine Laboratory and the Florida Aquarium. She has worked for seven seasons at various Boy Scout and YMCA camps throughout the US and Canada. Michelle loves the outdoors and enjoys hiking, backpacking and camping.

Bailey_CraigBailey Craig, Garden Guide

A lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest, Bailey loves nothing more than learning in the outdoors with students of all ages! She graduated from the University of Washington in 2011 with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology: Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation and has since earned graduate certificates in Museum Studies and Education for the Environment and Community. Bailey has enjoyed conducting Biological research in South Africa, the San Juan Islands, and in laboratories at the UW, but she has found that working with kids is what she enjoys best. Since the 9th grade she has been combining her love of science with her passion for education and conservation by working and volunteering with the Seattle Aquarium, Pacific Science Center, Woodland Park Zoo, and IslandWood. Bailey is currently coaching gymnastics and pursuing a Master’s in Education from the University of Washington and she is thrilled to spend her summer exploring the gorgeous Arboretum with Seattle’s youth. Bailey loves reading, dancing, teaching, eating tacos and grilled cheese sandwiches, and meeting invertebrates.

Katy_JachKaty Jach, Garden Guide

Katy grew up on the east side of the mountains in Yakima, Washington. She enjoys hiking, rafting, swimming, and just about any activity where she can be outside! In addition to exploring nature, Katy also loves to explore other parts of the world. In fact, she has lived in two South American countries; both Ecuador and Argentina. Katy is a current junior studying Spanish and Education at the University of Washington. Last summer, she worked as an assistant instructor at the Yakima Arboretum and is very excited to continue to do similar work here in Seattle!

Morgan_LawlessMorgan Lawless, Garden Guide

Born and raised in Syracuse, Morgan went to the University of New England in Southern Maine and stayed in New England several years after graduation. She has worked outdoor education through a program called Nature’s Classroom. Teaching outside is the reason she decided to go to Islandwood and get her Master’s in Education. She is excited about working at the Arboretum this summer! Morgan really enjoys spending time outside near any body of water.  She loves looking for creatures that live in the water. She also likes hiking and reading.

 

Casey_O'KeefeCasey O’Keefe, Preschool Garden Guide & Extended Camp

Casey studies Biology at University of Washington and has been involved with science education since she was in high school. For the past two years she has taught summer camps at Pacific Science Center. Casey has experience volunteering with Mountains to Sound Greenway and works on undergraduate research at UW. She is excited to share her love of nature and wildlife during her first summer at the Arboretum!

 

Morgan_WrightMorgan Wright, Preschool Garden Guide
Morgan was born in British Columbia and lived at WindSong Cohousing until moving to Seattle in 2000. She graduated last year from the Community, Environment, and Planning program at the University of Washington. Since then, Morgan has traveled to Israel, ridden her bicycle from Seattle to Yellowstone, interned for YES! Magazine, and continued the work she loves best: teaching and caring for children of all ages. She is passionate about community, education, and ecology. In her free time, Morgan loves to bike, cook, make art, and spend time with her family and friends in Seattle.

 

Dave_GiffordDave Gifford, Camp Coordinator
Originally from Philadelphia, Dave has been exploring and teaching in the Pacific Northwest for over seven years in a number of different programs. Recently he taught at the University Child Development School and at environmental education programs in the Seattle area including Islandwood on Bainbridge Island. Last Summer Dave was a Garden Guide at the Arboretum and is excited to return as the Camp Coordinator. Dave loves hiking the Cascades and exploring the beaches of the Sound. He also enjoys working on community projects and volunteering

Plant Profile: Stewartia monadelpha

June 5th, 2015 by Jessica Farmer, Adult Education Supervisor

This small tree, commonly grown for its stunning reddish-brown bark, offers exceptional features throughout the year. Stewartia monadelpha, otherwise known as tall stewartia or orangebark stewartia, is just getting ready to come into bloom this month. Its white camellia-like flowers burst forth in early summer, followed by interesting brown seed pods and rich russet fall color. This species is planted in UW Botanic Gardens’ collections at both the Washington Park Arboretum and Center for Urban Horticulture.

Stewartia monadelpha is a member of the Camellia family. The small, white cup-shaped flowers last up to four weeks and have petals with smooth edges. This tree is best grown in partial shade but can handle full sun in the Pacific Northwest. It makes an excellent specimen tree for the home landscape.

Common Name: Tall Stewartia or Orangebark Stewartia
Location: Washington Park Arboretum: Camellia collection, Winter Garden; Center for Urban Horticulture: Event Lawn
Origin: Japan
Height and Spread: 20-25’ tall, 15-25’ wide
Bloom Time: June

Summer blooms of Stewartia monadelpha

Summer blooms of Stewartia monadelpha

Exfoliating bark of Stewartia monadelpha

Exfoliating bark of Stewartia monadelpha

Stewartia monadelpha fall color

Stewartia monadelpha fall color

Stewartia monadelpha in winter

Stewartia monadelpha in winter

May Color Appears at the Washington Park Arboretum

May 15th, 2015 by UWBG Horticulturist
Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum (May 11-24, 2015)

Selected cuttings from the Washington Park Arboretum (May 11-24, 2015)

1)  Cytisus x praecox ’Luteus’           Warminster Broom

  • This broom is a hybrid of C. multiflorus and C. purgans and is located on Arboretum Drive in the Legume Collection.
  • Many of the brooms are blooming now or soon to bloom, including the pineapple broom, Argyrocytisus battandieri, whose fragrance earned it its common name.

2)  Erica arborea var. alpina           Tree Heath

  • While non-alpine tree heath can reach heights in excess of 20 feet, the alpine variety is the “short” one, reaching only 10 to 15 feet.
  • Alpine tree heath has white flowers versus light-gray, and the scent is reminiscent of honey.

3)  Hydrangea luteovenosa           Sweet Hydrangea

  • In full bloom now, this semi-trailing Hydrangea is located on the Ridgetop Trail in Rhododendron Glen.
  • Though widely distributed in western Japan, this species of Hydrangea is critically endangered in Korea.

4)  Rhododendron ‘Snow Lady’ x Rhododendron degronianum ssp yakushimanum

  • Hybrids are often created to blend two or more outstanding traits from two separate taxa into one single plant, e.g. flower color and leaf indumentum.
  • There are several areas in the Washington Park Arboretum, including Azalea Way, Loderi Valley, Rhododendron Glen and the Puget Sound Rhododendron Hybridizers bed, showcasing many hundreds of hybrids of Rhododendron.

5)  Syringa reflexa           Nodding Lilac

  • The buds of Syringa reflexa start out a rosy–red before opening to pink and eventually fading to almost white.
  • The specific epithet “reflexa” refers to the nodding habit of the flower heads.
  • Lilacs are located throughout the Washington Park Arboretum, though many are found just south of the Woodland Garden along Azalea Way.

May Dispatch from the Forest Grove

May 7th, 2015 by Kit Harrington

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      Who doesn’t love spring? It’s the earth’s bright green answer to winter’s dreary grey; when all the world begins to grow anew. If autumn is a time for introductions and winter for exploration, then spring is the season for culmination. In autumn we ground the students in the important, fundamental lessons of the forest grove: clearly identifying the boundaries (both figurative and literal) of the classroom; teaching an awareness of self, social expectations, and emotional responses; guiding newfound interest in the natural world. Throughout the winter we build on these lessons through experiential learning, and when spring comes they have already taken root. So now it is May and already we’ve begun encountering the result of all this preparation—new tendrils of independence, exploration, and self-direction emerging from a solid foundation of confidence and respect. The children know what their needs are and they know how to get those needs met.

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     Confidence and self-control empowers the students to engage with the environment in new ways and overcome unexpected challenges. When the tree nest was accidentally dismantled, the children approached it as an opportunity and not a setback and have worked on it as a team almost every day during the weeks since. And now that the kids are adept at managing transitions, we get to spend more time exploring the surrounding area in small groups and taking short “field trips.” Currently, we are making a point of getting down to the garden at least once a week with the help of our wonderful interns and volunteers, but we look forward to adding in a story time or two at the library come June and possibly even a trip to the Center for Urban Horticulture. When Sarah and I left to speak at the BGCI Education Congress the children felt excited to have Joanna, Kate, and Alicia in the classroom and were able to continue to learn and engage and not feel overwhelmed at the change in teachers. From an adult perspective, these steps may seem small, but in early childhood they are huge accomplishments, reflective of many months of hard work and cooperation. The underlying self-regulatory skills that propel these achievements will play a crucial role in the success of both graduating and returning students next year as they encounter new peer groups and personal challenges.

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     Cognitively, the preschoolers in both classes are at point where they are considering the lessons in a more abstract way, making connections between ideas and experiences and considering the implications of what they are learning. Over the past few months we have begun gently encouraging the children to strive to engage in more extended exploration and study on a particular topic, and to stay regulated and attentive throughout circle. In addition to being empowering, this level of concentration and control is allows the students to gain a deeper understanding of the topics we are learning about.

Learning to associate numeral and quantity with reptile countingOur natural science theme this year is “vertebrates” and the students are enjoying connecting their lessons at circle with their experiences in the field. We moved from mammals to birds and over the past two weeks began studying reptiles and more recently, amphibians. The children learned that reptiles are cold-blooded, lay leathery-shelled eggs, and have scales. We discussed and read books about common reptiles including snakes, lizards, and turtles. A number of the children built their own reptiles from the bones up, adding scales to cover the body and using materials from the forest floor to make a nest. A “Reptiles of Washington State” matching work provided fodder for discussion and gave children the opportunity to match pictures as well as words. A sensory tub with sand, eggs, and reptiles became a center for socialization and imaginative play. At circle time the children learned silly and informative songs about turtles and boa constrictors. A walk to the Azalea Way pond allowed for some first hand experience with reptiles here at the arboretum. Upon our return from the Education Congress the children shared their delight at discovering two painted turtles swimming around a large koi fish! We hope to return there soon for more discoveries.

     Last week our wonderful stand-in teachers Joanna and Kate introduced our new amphibians unit. The children listened to stories about amphibians and enjoyed a new amphibian sensory tub with water. Over the next week and a half we will continue to learn about amphibians and their life cycles and contrast their characteristics with those of reptiles. We will keep our eyes peeled for salamanders both in the water and out and are hoping that we can find some chorus frog tadpoles to examine as well. In addition we will be further exploring camouflage among amphibians and reptiles and do some experiments to help us better understand why clean water is essential to the life of a healthy frog.

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     Another new material in the forest grove is the beautiful scrapbook Joanna started last week with the help of the children. Since then drawing pictures of our classroom and areas we visit around the arboretum has become a hugely popular, collaborative effort. It is a wonderful way for the children to reflect and remember and it helps us grown-ups better understand how the students perceive their world. We look forward to continuing this project throughout the rest of the school year and in the coming years as well, and see it as an important tool for documenting the learning that goes on up in the forest grove.

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     When Sarah and I returned from St. Louis we brought with us a new book, the aptly named How to Find Flower Fairies by Cicely May Barker. We chose to introduce it because of the creative way the authors use the pop-up book format to encourage children to peer into, under, and around objects in their environment. It immediately became an incentive for engaging with the environment in precise, very thoughtful ways. In small groups, the children enjoy discussing their own perspective on fairies and whether they are real, and these conversations provide an opportunity to practice listening to and respecting different opinions.

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     “Are fairies real?” is a common question in the forest grove, and more than just encouraging imaginative play it has provided the children with a basis for using scientific principles to develop hypotheses, gather evidence and arrive at conclusions. We encourage the students to explore and experiment and come to their own conclusions, and the group is about equally split on where they stand in this regard. Too often in early childhood education we try to inhibit debate among young children, but Sarah and I believe it is impossible to teach conflict resolution without allowing the students to practice differences of opinion. When children freely express their own opinions and are encouraged to consider other’s, they develop a sense of self while simultaneously building empathy. Whether or not they “believe,” the process of searching for, discussing, and constructing elaborate new dwellings for these imaginary creatures wherever we go is enthralling. It is the shared journey, the tiny discoveries, and the potential of the unknown that lie at the heart of this experience and make it so compelling. Both Sarah and I consider the experience of magic during childhood as a provision for the grown-up conviction that anything is possible, and so it is wonderful to watch our little fairy scientists questioning and engaging with the natural world.

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    Over the next few months there is still much more to do, more to learn, more to explore. We will finish our vertebrates theme by studying fish before moving on to an in-depth study of wetlands and habitats here at the arboretum. The garden will continue to play a central role in our natural science curriculum. Students will study plant life cycles, learn about native plants and noxious weeds, and come to understand the role of different insects on plant health. We will take our time learning and make sure to follow the children’s lead whenever possible. The depth of their learning is so much greater when they guide the process themselves.

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     As an educator, I try to take the time to step back and just observe when I can. When the opportunity arises I will sit back on my heels for a moment and watch the kids at work; hands digging in the dirt, eyes peering intently into the undergrowth, lips curled into a faint smile. From this vantage point, it is clear that the past two years of learning and living in the forest grove have culminated in a group of children who are capable and empowered to do anything they set their minds to. At moments like these, I am absolutely certain that it is going to be an absolutely wonderful spring.

Tune in next time for more news of Fiddleheads and the Forest Grove….

All the best,

Kit and Sarah