ISSUE 89  |  Back in Business

A Manhattan Nursery School Where Gardening is in the Curriculum

September 11, 2013 10:00 AM

BY Michelle Slatalla

In Manhattan’s Greenwich Village where space is tight and gardens rare, the First Presbyterian Church Nursery School recently transformed a “baking hot” rooftop playground into an edible garden. And yes, the kids are eating the green vegetables.

“We used to have a baking hot rooftop with a play structure and climbing blocks, and the presence of plants has transformed the play area,” says Cordelia Lawton, a mother at the school who took on the job of head gardener in the spring.

Photographs by Nicole Franzen for Gardenista.

Above:  The age of the school’s students ranges from 2 to 5 1/2. To make the garden easy for small gardeners to tend, the school invested in Woolly Pocket Planters that hang from the chain link fence and four planter boxes at ground level. “The Woolly Pockets are great for kids, because the 2 year olds can reach the lowest ones and the 5 year olds can pull up a block to get to the highest ones,” says Lawton.

Above: Students Hugo Appen and Alma Lawton-Mull water the strawberries.

Above: “It’s quite amazing how the kids are constantly grazing in the garden. As soon as a strawberry turns red, it’s gone,” says Lawton. Even the vegetables get gobbled: “These are the same things that children would say no to if their parents presented to them. They’d say, ‘No, it’s green,’ but here they’re constantly testing things out, things that surprise me. They really like chives.”

Above: The next phase for the garden will be to install an irrigation system. In the meantime, the students are happy to help.

The idea behind the garden, dubbed Project APPLE (an acronym for A Place for Planting, Learning, and Eating), was to introduce the preschoolers to the idea that food comes from plants. The edible garden has tomatoes and herbs, in addition to strawberries.

Above: The garden has a four-tier compost box, and the students treat the worms like pets. “They feel like caretakers,” says Lawton. “We wanted to teach them about reducing and recycling and to give them a sense that what happens underground is as important as what happens above ground.”

 

Above: Student Camille Davis helps water the herbs.

Above: “Just after we planted sugar snap peas, I looked around one day to see a child snapping off the stems and eating them,” says Lawton. “He said, ‘Why not, they’re sprouts,’ and I thought: we’ve succeeded.”

Above: Lawton, whose daughter graduated from nursery school this year, has passed her head gardener duties on to another parent and is now working full time on her design business and furnishings shop Lawton Mull.

“This was my last hurrah, but for the garden, it’s just the beginning,” says Lawton.

For more innovative school gardens, see Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard.