On May 15-16, 2013, the seventh-grade life science class at Fredericksburg Academy planted a native perennial garden on the campus next to the Middle School building. The 71-foot by 5-foot garden was planted with wildflowers and grasses that are native to the Chesapeake Bay region. It served as a capstone project for the Chesapeake Bay watershed unit taught to the class by their teacher Katie Laskey. The plants help filter water coming off a turf area that has compacted soils and provide habitat for wildlife. In addition, the garden can be incorporated into the sustainability theme that Robert Franz, FA’s Head of Middle School, is including in the Middle School curriculum for the future.

The idea for the native plant garden originated when, as the owner of Brent’s Native Plantings, I spoke with the class about the local Rappahannock River watershed, the challenges it faces, and the ways we all can help to protect the river. I was happy to volunteer to help the students install a native plant garden on the school’s property, a project that fit perfectly with the Fredericksburg Academy’s desire to provide the students with an experience that would allow them to take ownership from start to finish. .

Ms. Laskey divided the students into groups to research the topic of

native plants, and each group submitted a list of proposed plants for the project, based on such current site conditions as soil type, soil pH, and plants’ light requirements. Ms. Laskey and I then reviewed their suggestions and formed a final plant list to ensure all students that at least one of the plants they recommended would be included. The garden bed was prepared over a two-week period during which turf was removed and soil was tilled and augmented with compost.

On the morning of the planting, the plants were placed according to required growing conditions, and the students planted them after I presented a brief tutorial on planting. The native plants that were selected will provide a variety of colors and have bloom times from early spring through fall. The use of native plants requires less watering and fertilization and attracts a diverse array of birds and butterflies to feed and reproduce in the garden.

In the future, Fredericksburg Academy hopes to expand its sustainability initiative in other ways, including conducting a native shrub planting and creating an organic garden and outdoor learning space. FOR aided the installation of the garden by providing educational materials about the watershed and tools for the planting day and the Academy looks forward to exploring additional ways to partner with FOR.

Written by Brent Hunsinger, owner of Brent’s Native Plantings

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