Elizabeth Archodominion, who moved to Portland in July is a botanist, a new Menlo Park Elementary School student teacher and a mother of two MPE kids, one in kindergarten and one in fourth grade.

As a garden coordinator, she is also the creative force behind the school’s grant-funded, student-worked, biodiverse school garden that literally breathes life into a formerly shrubby U-shaped cubby between classroom wings.

The garden features espalier apple trees, fruiting shrubs, raspberry and strawberry bushes, a pea trellis, a bean tepee, a worm farm, a drip irrigation system, a bird sanctuary, eight separate “five-senses” raised vegetable and edible-flower gardening beds and an elderberry bush.

According to a joint press release by Alaska Fish Fertilizer and Cornell University Lab’s Birdsleuth K–12, a grant funds the school’s educational garden “to promote healthier, nutritional eating habits to students while providing multiple opportunities for science-, math- and literacy-associated, project-based learning.” The school’s grant application, written by Archodominion, stressed the school’s student population’s diversity (represented by 20 different spoken languages) and its students’ lack of ready access to nutritional food sources.

All students learn life sciences including botany, horticulture and gardening sustainability; for instance, they learn how to measure and graph the bean tepee’s growth curve. Fourth-graders learn literacy from their Oregon Trail Unit reading material that includes stories about early homesteaders. The students learn to provide the product for consumption to fellow students at the cafeteria and their families at Friday afternoons’ Menlo Park Food Pantry.

There is a raised bed for each grade of the school’s 568 K–5 students, a high-walled Special Education bed and a community Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) bed—totaling eight raised beds in all—and all beds are laid out and planted at the students’ and teachers’ direction. Special Education’s planting was delayed by rain but should start the third week in April. The kids are planning kale and green onions, followed by eggplant, peppers and tomatoes in May. Kindergartners planted their “Five Seasons” bed in mid-April and started basil indoors at the grow station; they’re planning a pizza garden for April–May.

When they approach the garden, according to Archodominion, “kids’ eyes just light up!”

First-graders planted the first thing in the new garden: pea starts that are now crawling up the rectangular trellis, with pea seeds now sprouting a couple of inches. Fourth-graders recently planted cabbage, broccoli, kale and lettuce. Second-graders planted seeds of various types and did an Earth Day unit in mid-April, and they will plant bean seeds the first week of May.

Archodominion, a single mother, enjoys the luxury of time that other parents might lack. So she is realistic about parental participation. Still, she hopes it improves over time as the idea and benefit of the educational garden becomes better understood.

Archodominion told the Memo that the school gardening project also includes restoring a native garden in an adjacent cubby. That cubby now encloses three cherry trees, a maple tree, and some shrubs not well served last year during peak dry season. The restoration includes the addition of a soaker hose to encourage happier natives this summer. Third-graders are charged with improving bird habitat by deciding what should be added, such as a more bird houses or a bird-feeding station. The degree of restoration over the next few years, according to Archodominion, will depend in part on the success of future fundraising efforts.

The school’s principal, Kellie Burkhardt, gave Archodominion all the credit for obtaining the grant. Burkhardt also said that she is very satisfied with the level of parental involvement, which she estimated at 50–60 active parents. She also pointed out that local non-profit organizations like Grow Portland are contributing time and expertise. As for the students in the 22 classes involved in the project, Burkhardt said the nature of the education garden is such that “every child can succeed.”

This school year’s fifth-graders planted three types of cucumbers in early April: bush, pickling and lemon. Next school year’s fifth-grade class will harvest the cucumber crop and pickle the picklers in the Fall, forming an intergenerational student cooperative.

SUN is scheduled to plant espalier apple trees mid-April in the large spaces between raised garden beds. It also planted a mounded bed of strawberries the second week of April.

Coming soon: third grade does pole bean planting on the tepee May 2, and a vermicomposting system goes in May 3.

A family picnic is set for June 3 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the school’s educational garden, and the public is welcome.

For more information, contact Archodominion at elight5@yahoo.com, or contact Burkhardt at 503-256-6506 or visit the garden website: mn.ddouglas.k12.or.us/our-garden/.