A Dream Green Team

By Elizabeth Tremante, Secondary Visual Arts Teacher + Karl Frank, High School Science Teacher And Sustainability Coordinator

Published in the The Good Magazine (Winter Issue, Volume 15). View the article here.

On December 10, an enthusiastic contingent of high school students and parents joined together outside the Ahmanson Library to participate in a Native Plant Gardening Workshop hosted by the CH Green Team, a student club that tackles initiatives on campus with the intention to improve sustainability and reduce the school’s carbon footprint.

This year, the club has undertaken several ambitious projects and the Native Plant Gardening Workshop was a collaborative effort between club leaders and Secondary Visual Arts teacher Elizabeth Tremante and High School Science teacher and Sustainability Coordinator Karl Frank. Ms. Tremante has a wealth of experience and knowledge about native plants and has a stunningly beautiful and diverse native plant garden at her home. She and Mr. Frank are working with the landscape designers for The Viking Center to select and plant exclusively native vegetation in the garden beds outside the new building. These new gardens will include teaching and demonstration gardens which will enable the community to learn hands-on about the ways in which native plants are critical to our ecosystem. The Campbell Hall Sustainability Plan was created by CH alum Evan Bowser ’15 two years ago. It calls for increasing biodiversity on campus, sequestering carbon in our soils where possible, and reducing water usage. Native plant gardens help achieve all three of these objectives. A recent global analysis of insect population trends found that more than 40% of species are declining and a third are endangered. Replacing non-native planted areas with natives can help curb this loss.

During the planting workshop, the hardworking volunteers moved three cubic yards of leafpost into the garden and mixed it in thoroughly with the native soil to improve aeration and drainage. During a short break, Ms. Tremante explained the design of the garden and gave the group a chance to ask general questions about native plants, after which the effort switched to laying the new plants out in the garden according to the design. Once all plants were in place, Ms. Tremante showed the group how to properly put native plants in the ground. This includes creating a natural berm around the downslope side of the plant to help it retain water, especially during the earliest stages of its development. HIgh School Computer Science teacher Jason Mills and his wife Wyndie provided additional help with placing four cubic yards of mulch around the new plants which helps improve soil moisture.

One exciting aspect of the new garden design is that there will be something in bloom by the Library during nearly every month of the year. While some of the plants go through a period of dormancy in the winter or summer months, others will stay active and even produce flowers during our colder season.

With so many busy hands, the difficult work went quickly and soon each of the 75 new plants had been planted and watered in. Fortunately, a storm system came through LA that weekend to provide a thorough watering of all of our newest members of the CH community!

Native gardens provide critical food and habitat for insects, birds, and other animals that have coevolved for millennia with our local flora. Native plants sequester carbon and fight climate change. Although California makes up only 4.3 percent of the total US land area, it is home to 32% of plants found in the US. Over one third of its native plants, some 2,153 species, are endemic to the state, meaning they are found nowhere else on earth. 96% of all cultivated landscapes in LA are non-native. According to the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund: “Human population pressures have rendered California one of the four most ecologically degraded states in the United States of America. Native grasslands and vernal pool habitats in the hotspot have been reduced to about one percent of their original extent by the conversion of natural lands to agricultural fields and livestock pasture, urban development, and the invasion of exotic grasses.”

More and more, individual people, communities and schools are gardening with native plants in California and indeed around the entire country as a means of re-connecting with the land, encouraging pollinators to return, and helping air quality and soil nutrients to improve. In doing so, they are fighting back against climate change by dramatically increasing numbers of invertebrates and microbes in soils. These organisms all contain carbon. Increasing soil carbon is one of the most promising and invigorating means of curbing climate change. It is something that nearly everyone can participate in. As part of this effort on campus, students in CHAI Environmental Science honors will work with CSUN Associate Professor of Geological Sciences Dr. Scott Hauswirth (husband of CH Science Department Chair Dr. Amanda Dye) to monitor soil carbon on campus over time.
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Campbell Hall is an independent, Episcopal, K-12 all gender day school. We are a community of inquiry committed to academic excellence and to the nurturing of decent, loving, and responsible human beings.
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