Sunday, August 11, 2019

Welcome to the Garden, Fall 2019

Welcome to the WBHS Literary Garden, Fall 2019
By Literary Garden Club President 
Olivia Cannella, Class of 2020
Olivia takes pictures of the Garden after our August clean up. In the left foreground, guarded by Poe's raven, is the sedge.
The garden means patience to me. I was never a huge reader which then makes it very odd for an abstaining reader, as I was, to join a club about literature let alone subjugate myself to a whole year of reading old American literature in Honors American Literature. It might have taken me 15 years to get there, but that garden was waiting for me. I became enthralled with Edgar Allan Poe's “The Fall of the House of Usher” as the months passed, and I finally stopped making excuses for disliking every book we read. Poe was the first author to take me to visit the garden, to see his sedge. Sure, the garden had been there beforehand, but it was only then that it meant something to me, where I began to savour the time it took for his sedge to grow and his roses to bud. The garden had patience, it knew the plants would bloom when they were meant to and it knew I would arrive (in my own time) when I was meant to see it. I know the last thing I want to do is wait for something to come, but what a better way to teach me the beauty of time than a garden seeped in years of hard labor and tough love. 
Kurt Vonnegut's heart-shaped hydrangea from Cape Cod, MA. 
My goals for the club and the Garden this year are as follows: Increase the following and support the garden has throught the school on a student level and within the community--including the commitment of both. In addition, I want to involve the garden and its people in the daily lives of our students. This would mean hosting events that include the Literary Garden to celebrate it along with share it with others. Many times, kids don't take a second glance at the garden, thinking that "it's just a garden.” This year, I hope to open the door to others so that everyone can feel welcome as a part of the garden even without being a part of the club. Finally, I want to encourage growth at our daughter garden at Doherty Elementary School, the Junior Literary Garden. I know that with the success of the Junior Literary Garden, we will be able to share even more with the community as a whole. As kids, we were shown that a garden can bring a community together with Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman. Today, I think two gardens are a great start to do just that. 

The door is open to all!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Hello, Goodbye

Hello, Goodbye
by Mrinalini Gupta, outgoing Literary Garden Committee Chair (Class of 2019)

I would argue that procrastination is one of the fundamentals of the high school experience, and I have definitely procrastinated on writing this blog post. This time, however, it wasn’t for the thrill of cutting it close to the deadline, or even because it was an assignment that I had been dreading. It seemed like an impossible task: to condense into a single blog post the three years of everything the Literary Garden has been to me. 

As I wrote this, I found out that it truly was a Herculean task. How could I convey the passion and support of all the club members who showed up and showed out for the Haunted Literary Garden? They braved rain and mud with bright smiles even as noses ran and feathers drooped, and despite the unfavorable weather, they put together an amazing event. There was no way for me to fully convey all the laughter (I’m still laughing at “Poe-ka,” sweat (“this wasn’t a weed?!”), and tears (seeing  “Mothra” in real life was a pretty gnarly experience) that not only I, but everyone else connected to the Garden have invested in it. I have mulched and weeded and done all sorts of things in the Garden, and while I can’t say collecting a whole molehill’s worth of dirt under your nails counts as a great time, spending all that time in the Garden certainly was. This year we also inaugurated the Junior Literary Garden (much love for the amazing Ms. Bain!) and I could not think of more meaningful legacy to leave behind. 

The Garden has a special, undefinable quality that brings people together, and I’m so glad to have been part of a group of such warm, supportive, genuinely wonderful people. They have taught me the strength of teamwork and the power of caring (and also, fun fact, that those “weeds” are actually little baby sunflowers—oops!). Most of all, being a part of the Garden has shown me that if you only have the courage to dream and the bravery to follow it, you can work wonders. 

It seems only yesterday that I was a tenth grader, sitting under the pear tree and discussing Their Eyes Were Watching God. As the flowers in the Garden start to blossom once again, my time in the Literary Garden draws to a close. However, I know that I will continue to carry the three years’ worth of memories, laughter, and love that I have experienced by being a part of the Literary Garden with me always.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Literary Garden Kick-Off, September 2018

Literary Garden Kick-Off, September 2018
By WBHS Literary Garden Co-President, Jessica Bain

The Literary Garden is a place to relax and learn all at once, this is why we wanted to invite more people to join the club. When Cookies in the Courtyard was just around the corner, we were all thrilled because we wanted to be able to share our love of the garden with other students. With such little time to prepare, we had an amazing outcome. Although the crowd was not huge, we pulled in new members of all different grades. With our kind words and personal experiences on one poster, our social media accounts on another, and a table full of candy and  garden pillows, we managed to have a whole list of new members interested in the Literary Garden Club. 

On top of everything, we were able to come together for the first time as an executive board to represent our love and commitment to the garden. As a board, we decided that our main goal for the year was inclusiveness. Not only are we striving to expand our club, but we are also hoping that the garden gives people a place to be themselves. When asked to describe their experiences in the club, members wrote about how the garden was a place for learning as well as a place to relax, bond, and have a group of people to call another home. It’s unbelievable to believe that the school year is almost here. We are looking forward to all of the activities for the year. 

One of our favorite activities to plan and host is the WBHS Haunted Literary Garden. This is a way to celebrate Halloween with a spooky literary twist, so mark your calendars for Friday, October 12th from 7-10 PM.

We were a little nervous at first about how the garden would be as we had not been able to see it the
ENTIRE summer due to construction. On the bright side, McQ was finally able to access it and was welcomed by a beautiful and overgrown jungle with sunflowers being the center of attention. 

This year is going to be amazing. We hope to grow our garden and the list of authors in it. I am looking forward to an extraordinary year and I am so glad to be able to call the Literary Garden Club my second home, because of course, there is no place like home.

(you can purchase this image here)

Sunday, May 20, 2018

What the Garden Means to Me

What the Garden Means to Me

By Izzie Matthews, Literary Garden Club Vice President
This obviously is not your ordinary garden, and it isn’t just because it is connected to literature. This garden has been built on passion and love and support and hope, and it has established a community of people who are kind-hearted and understand the amount of work that has gone into the garden to make it possible. It has somehow transformed itself into a safe place, a zone of serenity and peace where everyone can come together and help each other with our everyday lives. This garden is made up of authors and novels, but it is also made up of students and a teacher who have given up their time to educate people and show them how books written hundreds of years ago have topics that are still relevant today. The garden to me is a happy place that holds a different meaning to each member, and I think that is extraordinary.
The Literary Garden Club didn’t even become official until this year, and yet somehow we have the most genuine members I have ever seen. All of us have discussed this before, but it seems as if every member is not here to put the club on resumes for college applications; each member wants to be a part of the club because the garden has spoke to him or her in some way. Personally, the garden has shown me how little things can make such a big impact. A flower can inspire a world-renowned piece of literature just as easily as words you say to another person can make or break their entire existence. It has shown me how to cherish these little things in life and to try and understand how everything, good or bad, has impacted me and my growth throughout high school.
Leaving this club as a senior is bittersweet. Yes, I was a part of the founding class, taking all the surveys and being a part of every discussion. I have helped to build the club to what it is now and I know it has so much potential that I hate to leave it. However, I know for a fact that McQ and the students are full of incredible ideas on how to expand the club, and I am beyond excited to see what they do in the future. This hardworking group can pull off anything they put their minds to, and I am so proud to say I belonged to this club.
So, what does the garden mean to me? The garden means hope and love, it means connecting people through common interests and common struggles. The garden means passion and support, growth and reflection, but most of all, the garden to me means family. I have never been in a club where people have so much love for each other, and the little family we formed is something I will always remember.  
Izzie and Maggie, our fearless leaders, showing off our hardy little Harrison's yellow rosebush.
This beauty originates from Emily Dickinson's home in Amherst, MA, and may date back to the poet's time there.

Thursday, November 16, 2017


by Maggie Liepshutz,
President of the West Bloomfield High School Literary Garden Club
Maggie waters the Emily Dickinson roses.
I remember the day that Mrs. McQuillan introduced the Literary Garden to my sophomore Honors American Literature class. There were definitely mixed reactions; some of us were confused, some were open to the idea, and then there were the students who were absolutely obsessed with the idea, one of those students being myself. I also remember Mrs. McQuillan sharing her ideas with the class, but what I remember the most was the passion and enthusiasm that she felt towards this idea of a garden that would both display nature in literature in a new and unique way, but also bring her students closer together not only to this nature, but to each other. These feelings were completely contagious, and soon I started to feel the exact same way.

It's bloody butcher corn time, thanks to the Old Manse!
The garden started to flourish (literally). Ideas sprouted, plants were planted, and the garden was off to an amazing start. Soon after that, the Literary Garden “club” was put into action. I thought it was a great idea, so obviously I decided to join! We spent the first year as an “unofficial club,” which was unfortunate at times, considering we weren’t able to do half of the things the normal clubs were able to do, but the 15 of us had a great time that year nonetheless. I looked forward to going to every meeting just to be the in the presence of Mrs. McQuillan and my fellow classmates who had the same love for the garden as I did. After that year, I knew that the garden was going to become a huge part of my life.

It wasn’t even a question whether or not I was going to join the Literary Garden Club during my senior year. I knew that if I was going to do any extracurricular activities or clubs, I was going to make room to care for the Literary Garden. What I didn’t know was that the club was going to grow significantly. The club that once had only a dozen people each each meeting would soon have over 30 new members. The first meeting we had around 50 students... I was SHOCKED. I  was expecting the same 15 or so students to gather up for the first meeting and it would be like the previous year until we publicized the club more, but man was I wrong! That day was the day I knew that the Literary Garden Club was going to be something more than just 15 students in a room, but a brand new huge family.
The West Bloomfield High School Literary Garden Club, 2017

Allen Ginsberg's Sunflowers

The WBHS Literary Garden Club Exec Board and Committee Chairs
I decided to run to be the president of the Literary Garden Club for a couple of reasons. The garden had grown significantly, and Mrs. McQuillan couldn’t continue to do it all on her own. Plus, I had so many new ideas for the garden, and I really wanted to make an impact on the school. When I was elected to be the president, I really had no idea what to expect. I had never really had any significant leadership roles in a club before, and I knew that the responsibilities would be endless, but I was up for that challenge.

Being president has been everything I have imagined and even more thus far. We threw our first Haunted Literary Garden Haunted House at the end of October, and it was a huge success.

The First Annual Haunted Literary Garden!

I proudly watched members of all grades come together to create something magical.
American authors, living and dead, mingled in the garden for some horror and comedy.
I also watched everyone come together to decorate a window for U-Matter week with less than a two day notice, and everybody had a great time. It has been a terrific start to the year, and every time we all come together it makes me really excited to begin planning more activities and fundraisers for us to do.
Club members wrote inspirational quotes from American authors on the leaves of the tree to inspire
fellow students during U-Matter week.
The Literary Garden Club is truly much more than just your typical club; we are a huge family full of people all ages who are just trying to make West Bloomfield High School a better place. Although there have been some stressful moments and some mild bumps in the road, everything is coming  together so amazingly, and we have so much more that we want to do. I’m so grateful and honored to be the first president of The Literary Garden Club, and I  know that the rest of the year is going to be incredible.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Hemingway Field Trip Time!

I have had a blast traveling the country and gathering plants for the West Bloomfield High School Literary Garden, but in the back of my mind I have always hoped to bring my students to the places where these authors found their inspiration. This week, with the help of Michigan Hemingway Society President Chris Struble and critically acclaimed documentary filmmaker Dr. George Colburn, my sophomores, juniors, and seniors got to visit Ernest Hemingway country in northern Michigan - the home of the Nick Adams stories.

Photo courtesy of Maggie L.

We do have mint in the Literary Garden, and when we read some of the Nick Adams stories, we did go outside and pick, smell, and taste the mint as we read the first paragraph of "Summer People:"

"HALFWAY DOWN THE GRAVEL ROAD FROM Hortons Bay, the town, to the lake there was a spring. The water came up in a tile sunk beside the road, lipping over the cracked edge of the tile and flowing away through the close growing mint into the swamp. In the dark Nick put his arm down into the spring but could not hold it there because of the cold. He felt the featherings of the sand spouting up from the spring cones at the bottom against his fingers. Nick thought, I wish I could put all of myself in there. I bet that would fix me. He pulled his arm out and sat down at the edge of the road. It was a hot night."

We talked about the symbolism of that spring and its baptismal qualities, and what a WWI veteran like Nick might be attempting to wash away. We talked about mint and why it's used in gum, how it's billed as a "refreshing" flavor, and how that added to Nick's desire to purge himself of the horrors of war, of his early trauma, of his lustful thoughts, and so forth. And yes, having the mint in the garden provides a tangible and visible experience for my students that most literature classes just don't have. But when I bussed them up to Hemingway country for the day, everything changed.
Photo courtesy of Alison A.

Photo courtesy of Rachel D.

Photo courtesy of Rachel D.

The students plunged their own hands in the water, picked the mint at its source, tried to catch frogs hanging out at the lip of the "cracked tile," and connected to Hemingway's words in a way that no video or link or digital text could ever capture. They reported that the water was shockingly cold and that they could now better understand why Nick would want to put his whole body in there to somehow purify himself from all he had been through in his young life. It made sense to them.

There's something so visceral, so tangible, about wading in the waters of Horton Bay and Walloon Lake where Hemingway and his friends went swimming. (Photo courtesy of Alison A.)

Photo courtesy of Maggie L.

Photos courtesy of Alison A.

Hemingway didn't say this, but Henry David Thoreau did, back in 1841: "What I begin by reading, I must finish by acting." It is my sincere hope that I can continue to offer these kinds of opportunities to my students to make literature jump off the page and into their hands - literally. 

Who knows what kind of inspiration my students will find from one of these literary trips? Who knows how they will choose to act, what they will choose to become, as a result of this intoxicating mix of great literature and the nature that inspires it? I know I will keep reading and acting to find the opportunities for my students...and I will let them take it from there.
Photo courtesy of Haley P.

We are extraordinarily grateful to Chris Struble of the Michigan Hemingway Society and to Dr. George Colburn for all that they did to make this trip a reality. You can check out Dr. Colburn's new documentary on Young Hemingway here!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

"Busy, Busy, Busy."

What a month! I’ve just returned from my third conference in five weeks, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to talk about the West Bloomfield High School Literary Garden in so many venues to so many people. Whether it has been fellow educators, environmentalists, Hemingway or Vonnegut scholars and fans, gardeners, librarians, students, veterans, or the general public, I am always amazed at the positive feedback, ideas, and offers of help we receive after people hear what we have going on in the garden. 

It's fall, so my students and I prepared the garden for the winter by cutting down the annuals, creating a compost bin, and seeding the marigolds for next year.

In October, Dr. Melissa Talhelm and I presented at the NorthAmerican Association for Environmental Education in Madison, Wisconsin. This exposed our work on an international level; after our presentation, I had an educator from Mexico City approach me for my contact information as she is interested in creating a literary garden at her school. Green Teacher Magazine, based in Toronto, Ontario, would like for us to contribute an article to their publication. 

Dr. Talhelm warms up the early arrivals by cracking a few jokes.

Dr. Morgan Hope Phillips, a leader in environmental education in the U.K., blogged about the Literary Garden after attending our session, calling it “one of the most exciting and uplifting stories I heard at the NAAEE conference." 


This past weekend, I had the great pleasure of heading back to see my friends (and our Literary Garden sponsor!) at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library to celebrate VonnegutFest 2016.


Jason Moon
I attended the Veterans Reclaim Armistice Day session on Thursday night and connected with the very talented and passionate Jason Moon, an award-winning musician, community activist, and Iraq War veteran who works tirelessly to help returning veterans heal through the creative arts. His nonprofit group, Warrior Songs, works with veterans to help them navigate the many, many transitional issues they face upon their return to civilian life. His group also works with civilians to better educate them on veterans’ issues. 

My discussions with Jason and veteran Barry Scanlan will provide me with some important talking points as I begin teaching Slaughterhouse-Five with my students next week.

I was also able to brainstorm some exciting ideas with the president of the Indiana Trails Fund, Richard Vonnegut, and I am looking forward to working with him in the very near future!

Marc Leeds

I also had the pleasure of meeting the delightful Marc Leeds the week his new book, The Vonnegut Encyclopedia, came out. Publishers Weekly called it a “must-have,” and if you are a Vonnegut fan, you do indeed HAVE to check it out!

My presentation on the Literary Garden went very well, and I was super excited to have some of my West Bloomfield students there! Josh and Rachel Downing “just happened” to be visiting their mom, Deb Lambert, this past weekend, and Deb is the Director of Collection Management at the Indianapolis Public Library, and she kindly invited some of her fellow librarian friends to attend…which meant that a) I called on Josh and Rachel like they were in class (sorry guys!) and b) Librarians ROCK!

Rachel, me, Josh, and Deb - Michael is photobombing in the background!
I’d like to give a HUGE shout out to Michael Perry of the Indianapolis Public Library for generously donating a new domain name to the garden: Thanks, Michael, for your kindness and generosity (and for finding the cord I needed on the television to hook up my computer – I was starting to panic!) 

Team Vonnegut was, as always, incredibly wonderful to me. Thank you, Julia, Meredith and Andy, Max, and Chris for making sure I had everything I needed and then asking again if I needed anything else. So happy to be a member of your karass.

Also, I dig the gift shop.
And I was able to sneak in one more cool literary visit while I was in Indy…

The Center for Ray Bradbury Studies, headed by Dr. Jon Eller, is housed at Indiana University (IUPUI's School of Liberal Arts).  

YOU GUYS. YOU HAVE TO GET IN THE CAR AND GO TO INDY. Do you realize that you can see Kurt Vonnegut’s writing desk AND Ray Bradbury’s writing desk within miles of one another? That you can peruse Bradbury’s own LIBRARY OF BOOKS? 

Or peer into THE JAR? (It’s a short story in The October Country, and it was also a 1964 episode for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. It was easily one of my favorite items in the room.)

THE JAR!!!!!

In one hand I am holding Ray’s own first edition of Fahrenheit 451; in the other, I have one of the few surviving asbestos cover copies that still survives (number 188 out of only 200 copies printed, each numbered and signed by Ray himself). Dr. Eller explained that out of the ones that survive, many are scorched because people would bring them out at cocktail parties and try to light them on fire to prove they could not be burned. Ray’s copy is, of course, pristine.

I want to thank Dr. Eller and his team for making the time to meet with me on a VERY busy day. And yes, I have my Bradbury homework assignments! I promise I will have them done by the time we meet again in July!

Oh, and no big deal, but I also got to see a National Book Award this weekend. 
And a National Medal of the Arts.

And an Emmy. 


You could say I’m fired up to start the week tomorrow! I am betting my excitement is INFECTIOUS!