Sunday, October 18, 2015

Plants, Path, and Professor: Persistence Pays Off!

I began the literary garden project in October, 2014 on a wing and a prayer. It was a half-formed idea in my head that was full of hope, but did not have many answers - or even a plan.

I am pleased as punch to report that the idea has grown from a seed into a full-fledged bloom!

This fall, West Bloomfield Education Foundation Board Member Kevin Goldman and his friend Tim (with some help from my students) laid the garden path.

Next, the plants began to arrive:

Bittersweet vine seeds from Willa Cather's home in Nebraska!
Thanks for all of your help, Jackie Lemmer!

I was SWOONING when I read the letter from Willie Thompson at the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum. That letterhead! The heady smell of magnolia seeds!
Alas, we had to request more as some were crushed in transit.
Chris Struble made time out of his busy schedule to send some of Hemingway's mint from northern Michigan. Thanks, Chris!
The ivy from Poe's mother's grave in Richmond, VA arrived just in time for my Edgar Allan Poe unit. Thanks, Chris Semtner!
Nick Norwood met Professor Melissa Talhelm in Nyack, NY to procure some hostas from Carson McCullers's garden. Thanks to both of them for these shade-loving plants!
Melissa and I met in Pittsburgh to hand off the plants we gathered at Kurt Vonnegut's home and The Old Manse in the Boston area last month. The butterfly milkweed flew all over my car, and the
asparagus tipped over just as I made it to master gardener DaniAnn Connolly's house! Thanks, Dani, for taking charge of our precious cargo!

Meanwhile, the tech students in our drama department (along with the talented and generous John Verloove) went to work recreating Kurt Vonnegut's charming Cape Cod cottage door.
They were so proud of their hard work!

As if all of that wasn't enough, former WB student Elly Rosenthal procured the very gnome we needed all the way from ENGLAND!
Look for another blog post on the gnome's travels next week!
The very best part of this project has been working with Dr. Melissa Talhelm. Sixteen years ago, she was my cooperating teacher at Northville High School when I was a student teacher. I could not be more delighted that we have reconnected, and I am so proud to call her my mentor, my peer, and my very dear friend. I could not have done all of this without her help! Her research on the literary garden will eventually provide a valuable resource for English educators around the country. I am so excited to be a part of this groundbreaking work!

I'd like to end on some terrific news: I was named a runner up in the Penguin Random House Teacher Awards for Literacy, AND I received a second grant from the West Bloomfield Educational Foundation to continue our work in the garden. I want to thank BOTH of these fabulous organizations for their generous financial support of the West Bloomfield High School Literary Garden. 

Here's hoping for a productive week of planting! 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Boston or BUST!

I recently returned from a whirlwind weekend in Boston to gather plants for the garden. I am so grateful to the Vonnegut family and to the folks at The Old Manse for their generosity and kindness!

I can't begin to tell you how wonderful it was to visit the site of Edie Vonnegut's famous photo of her father.

Dr. Melissa Talhelm and I worked hard to wrest some of these beautiful plants out of the ground.

They were deeply rooted with a gorgeous array of colors!

We are hopeful that the plants do not suffer terribly from root shock and are transplanted successfully to the garden this fall! You can read about Vonnegut's love for hydrangeas here.

We are so grateful to Edie Vonnegut for her support of our project!

After a tasty lunch, Melissa and I headed to Concord, MA, to visit The Old Manse. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne called The Old Manse home, and Henry David Thoreau planted a garden there for the newlywed Hawthornes. 

It was so exciting to meet our contact, Tom Beardsley, The Old Manse Site Manager, and Susan Adam, the groundskeeper.

Dr. Talhelm speaks with Tom Beardsley.

Susan Adam digs out a plant for us.
They kindly showered us with plants for the garden! Here are some highlights:

One of the more unusual plants we have acquired is purple-headed amaranth. Amaranth is an ancient grain that has been cultivated for thousands of years and has recently risen in popularity as consumers continue to search for gluten-free options.

The garden will also feature bloody butcher corn, a deep ruby colored corn most often seen in ornamental fall decorations.

In a nod to Concord's rich history, we are also hoping to propagate cuttings from a large Concord grapevine that drapes the side of The Old Manse.

We are deeply grateful to Tom and Susan for all of their help and generous plant donations!

We couldn't visit Concord without stopping by Sleepy Hollow Cemetery to visit the graves of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the Hawthornes, Henry David Thoreau, and Louisa May Alcott and her father, Bronson Alcott.

We also had to stop at Walden Pond for selfies with Thoreau...

and a glorious dusk at Walden Pond.

More to come as the plants arrive in the next few weeks!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Under Construction!

So much really DOES depend on a red wheelbarrow! William Carlos Williams had it right!
I may have blistered toes and fingers, scrapes and bruises, but we have made such tremendous progress in the garden, I can honestly say it has all been worth it!

Armed with instructions and a shopping list from Ivan Katz of Great Lakes Landscape and Design, Inc., I headed to Lowe's to pick up some materials we needed to ensure proper drainage.

We began with a garden of weeds; once again, Matt Zimmerman, WBHS Class of 2005,  came to the rescue! (You'll remember Matt from the initial groundbreaking post back in May.)

One weed did NOT want to give up its home. You'll also want to note just how low the garden bed was when we began - ground level!

We had to create a "bladder" for drainage. We wrapped the drainage pipe in weed fabric and pea gravel and pinned it shut. This will help to prevent the dirt from washing out of the garden.

Rebecca Kruth of NPR stopped by and interviewed us for a story!

Because the courtyard is hemmed in by classrooms and offices, we had to bring all of the materials in by wheelbarrow - all FOUR YARDS of pea gravel and all NINETEEN YARDS of dirt! Thank you to everyone who loaned us wheelbarrows and shovels!

At some moments I feared the pile would never end!

Fortunately, I had a lot of help from a lot of wonderful people.

Thanks to my fellow WBHS teacher Brandy O'Connell-Wilson (and Jack!) for helping!

Thanks, Amy Goldman and Bobby Efros!

I LOVE my students. Love them! Look at this turnout!

We had so many volunteers! So many WBHS students, a couple of alums, a fellow teacher and her daughter, parents, community members, and West Bloomfield Education Foundation Board member Kevin Goldman - there is no way that this kind of project would have been possible without all hands on deck. Some of my students came back two, three, even four times! To each and every person who shoveled, hauled, pulled, pushed, dumped, spread, raked, and more - THANK YOU. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.

Finally, the bed was raised! Today we finished off by creating steps into the garden. We still have to order some more steps, but if the plants came tomorrow, we would be ready.

Thanks, Tim, for all of your hard work! We couldn't have done it without you!

We are officially UNDER CONSTRUCTION!

Thank YOU for all of your donations - your money helped to purchase the materials we used to get the garden started!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Emily Dickinson's Daylily and Prepping the Garden

I am grateful for the generosity of Marta McDowell, a New Jersey garden designer who provides "consulting services on landscape design, preservation and gardening. She works with home gardeners, companies, museums and historic sites." Marta "consults for public gardens and private clients, writes and lectures on gardening topics, and teaches landscape history and horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden, where she studied landscape design. Her book, Emily Dickinson’s Gardens: A Celebration of a Poet and Gardener, was published in 2005." You can read more about Marta and her work here.

When I contacted Marta regarding our project, she immediately - and generously - offered to send us a daylily culled from the Dickinson Homestead in Amherst, Massachusetts. This is the first plant I have received, and I am delighted to report that it is in good health with new healthy new shoots growing daily. Please join me in thanking Marta for all of her help!

We have been shoveling, hauling, dumping, and raking to prepare the garden for the plants, and my next post will detail that process in depth. Here's just a few pictures to show you how hard we have been working!

More to come this week - thank you for YOUR support of our garden!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

We Have a Literary Sponsor! The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis

I am so pleased to announce that the West Bloomfield High School Literary Garden is now sponsored by the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library!
That's my daughter wearing my Slaughterhouse-Five shirt!
Julia Whitehead, the founder and Executive Director of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis, Indiana, has been a tremendous supporter of the Literary Garden since its inception. We are so incredibly grateful to have her expertise and ideas on board!

My daughter, Emily, and I headed down to Indianapolis this month to visit the Library and to meet Julia. We were dazzled by the collection of Vonnegut's artwork, the replica of his library, and the mock-up of Billy Pilgrim from Slaughterhouse Five.

And then, of course, I hit the gift shop to add to our growing collection of literary puppets. We have grand plans for them!

I am also honored to announce that I have been invited to speak at VonnegutFest 2016! I will be presenting on the Literary Garden and its curricular connections to the authors we are featuring.
VonnegutFest 2015 looks amazing! For more information, click here.

We look forward to continued collaboration with the Library and our students this year. Thank you to Julia and the Library for their encouragement, support, and tireless efforts on behalf of one of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut.