The front entrance of École Henry Kelsey is welcoming nature as well as students thanks to a garden project that has transformed the area and created an environment for native plant and animal species, as well as student learning.
The new permaculture garden is a fitting way of bringing nature into the school yard in a sustainable manner, said teacher Heather Lake-Henderson.
"We are transforming a landscape into something that follows the principles of permaculture. It's about sustainability, so we are making the soil and the landscape healthier by amending it with compost and mulching it to retain moisture," she said. "Permaculture is about caring for the earth, so by making the landscape healthier we are going to be increasing biodiversity in the area."
After a planning process that included a plan created by designer Shannon Dyck, a day-long blitz on June 19 saw students from all grades come together to remove dead vegetation, save and replant existing plants, lay down mulch, dig a dry riverbed that was then lined with rocks, and create art and signs to complement the garden.
The new design and front-of-school location represents a replacement and expansion of the school's previous garden, which had to be relocated. The project received funding through a Saskatoon Public Schools community garden grant.
In part, the plan for the new garden grew out of work done by students who participated in the Student Action for a Sustainable Future program and their project that focused on water and biodiversity.
"We thought what a beautiful way to meet those targets of reducing our impact on the environment but also creating a space where we as an entire student body can be more connected to nature right in our school yard," Lake-Henderson.
The scope of the garden project allowed for an integrated, cross-curricular approach to student learning, research and experience that drew together areas of study including science, math, art and language.
The garden features food-producing perennials and the plantings focus on native plants that are well-suited to the soil conditions and will attract birds and other species.
A commitment to making the garden sustainable includes a rain water harvest system that collects water coming from the roof in large tanks. The water will be used to irrigate the plants and shrubs in a unique manner.
"Once it overflows from the storage tank it goes into a dry-stream swale, which then directs the water to where it needs to go so it can feed into the garden beds," Lake-Henderson said. "The whole idea behind what we are doing is reducing water consumption."
There is still some work to do on the garden, such as the addition of edging and other plants. Outdoor furniture will be added once school resumes in September and the hope is the space will provide a unique outdoor learning environment for students.
The one-day blitz saw students of every grade involved in some aspect of the project, and Dyck said interest in transforming the school's landscape with a sustainable garden has been strong among the students, who are already talking about an extracurricular garden club in order to take advantage of the space.
"It has been so amazing to see the buy-in from all these students," she said. "They are even using their recess to dig out a dead tree. That's a pretty good indicator that kids like to do this kind of work. Not only do they get to enjoy the results, they can say they were a part of it. That's what makes this their garden."