Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Hemingway and Steinbeck Plants

This week has been full of unexpected surprises! My cousin David headed down to Key West, Florida, on vacation, so I asked him to do me a favor: would he go to The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West and ask for a plant donation?

David, you have a mission!
David and the master gardener, Dustin, picked several specimens from the Hemingway garden.

They include saplings of mahogany and tamarind trees:

Dustin also sent back royal poinciana seeds.
Royal Poinciana Seeds
As these are tropical plants, we may have to care for them indoors, but this will just allow the literary garden to expand beyond the parameters of the courtyard!

It's also exciting to have Hemingway plants from two very different locations: Michigan and Florida. This will allow me to pull writing from those different periods in Hemingway's life and ask the students to consider how his landscape affected his subject matter. I'm so grateful to Chris Struble of The Michigan Hemingway Society and to The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum for their support of the West Bloomfield High School Literary Garden. Thanks, too, to David for all of his help!

In addition, the Director of the National Steinbeck Center, Susan Shillinglaw, sent along the John Steinbeck plants I talked about in last week's post. They arrived today!

They may look a little rough, but if YOU tried traveling in a box from Salinas, California, to Michigan in mid-February, you might be huddled and frozen, too! Here we have an "indestructible" calla lily, a naked lady, and a succulent plant. Our intrepid master gardener, DaniAnn, will take charge of all of our new arrivals tomorrow. Many thanks to Susan and the National Steinbeck Center for their support of the Literary Garden!

I have some exciting news on the horizon regarding Pulitzer Prize winning author Alice Walker...so stay tuned!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Counting Down to Spring

Welcome to my first post of 2016!

When I last left off, we were about to plant the West Bloomfield High School Literary Garden in preparation for fall. Thanks to Kristen Jordan Shamus of the Detroit Free Press, you can read all about our endeavors here! I'm especially a fan of this photo: 
There are few photos that capture the essence of my teaching quite like this one, but yes, this is a typical day in Mrs. McQuillan's classroom, Poe regalia and all. You can also see the daisies we planted in honor of The Great Gatsby there on the bottom left. 

I've thanked many of the folks who have sent us plants, bulbs, and cuttings, but since November, I have been in contact with a few more, and I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank them for their support of the Literary Garden.

I've long been a fan of Flannery O'Connor's short stories, so I was beyond excited to connect with April Moon Carlson, the Assistant Director of Andalusia Farm, the Home of Flannery O'Connor. April sent us a "few of the bearded white irises from Andalusia Farm (where O’Connor’s peafowl wreaked havoc upon her mother’s lilies, leaving an overabundance of the lovely bloom)." They made it just in time, too - they were the last plants I managed to get in before our first snow. Thank you, April!

Back in December, I received an unexpected - and wonderful - email from retired English teacher Michael Brown of Missouri, who wrote: 

"My wife gave me a Mark Twain bur oak about 15 years ago.  Starting as a 3-foot-tall sapling, it has thrived in our yard and is now about 30 feet tall.  It is from the Historic Tree association, and it is a direct descendent of the bur oak in Hannibal, MO, at the entrance to the cave Twain used as a springboard for his Tom Sawyer cave (where Tom and Becky Thatcher got lost).  I don't know if my tree was started from a cutting or an acorn, but I've taken a few acorns (the ones the squirrels haven't filched) the past few years, and I successfully started a sapling 3 years ago and gave it to another Twain fan on his 70th birthday.

I wanted to offer to send you an acorn or two if you would like to try to grow one with your class.  Don't know if you have space for a tree of that size in your garden, but even if you got it started in a pot and gave it away, auctioned it, or whatever, it might make an interesting class project next spring."  

I was taken aback by Michael's generous offer but eagerly accepted. I was jumping up and down when his beautifully hand lettered package arrived in the mail this week with a message for me and my students. Thank you, Michael!

Last night I heard from Susan Shillinglaw, Director of the National Steinbeck Center. We had hoped to procure a mattress vine from John Steinbeck's former home, but after further inquiries, Susan had other ideas. She writes: "...we decided on other plants from the yard that have been there since JS's time--a calla lily we uprooted, a naked lady, and a succulent that grew near the outside fireplace that John and his father built in 1930."

Naked Lady
Calla Lily
Susan also wrote a fantastic article supporting our efforts for the National Steinbeck Center Newsletter in October, 2015. You can find it here on page seven. Thank you, Susan! You can bet I'll be checking the mail every day this week!

I would also like to thank the Troy Garden Club and the Penguin Random House Teacher Awards for Literacy for their generous support of the Literary Garden. Not only did I receive financial support for the garden, but I won a LOT of free books - every English teacher's dream!

And despite the bitter cold, when Dr. Melissa Talhelm came out to conduct more research in December, we did manage to celebrate Emily Dickinson's birthday out in the garden! Happy birthday, Emily Dickinson!

Our master gardener, DaniAnn, came out this week while we had a bit of a thaw and checked on the plants. She definitely saw signs of life!

Even though some of the plants didn't make it (yes, Chris Struble, you'll be seeing me in Petoskey in the next few months to get more Hemingway mint!) our fingers are crossed for a healthy and vigorous spring. Plus, we have more planting to do!

My students are chafing at the cold weather and cannot wait to get back outside to their garden classroom. With their permission, I'll be sharing some of their observations on the garden in my next post.

You can read all about the garden in the press coverage we've received in the last six months:

Detroit Free Press: http://www.freep.com/story/life/family/kristen-jordan-shamus/2015/10/31/west-bloomfield-high-literary-garden/74750992/
National Public Radio: http://www.npr.org/2015/08/26/434821478/authors-garden-clippings-grow-students-love-of-literature
University of Michigan School of Education: http://www.soe.umich.edu/news_events/news/article/nature_takes_root_in_pedagogy_with_alums_literary_garden/
Oakland University English Department: http://wwwp.oakland.edu/Assets/Oakland/english/files-and-documents/The%20English%20Channel%20Volume%2015%20Issue%201%20Fall%202015.pdf
Bustle.com: http://www.bustle.com/articles/106758-a-literary-garden-is-a-thing-all-book-lovers-are-going-to-want-stat
West Bloomfield Beacon: http://www.candgnews.com/news/growing-american-authors-85792
West Bloomfield Spectrum: http://wbspectrum.com/7259/news/literary-garden-set-to-bloom-at-west-bloomfield/
USA Today: (reprint of Free Press article) http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/family/kristen-jordan-shamus/2015/10/31/west-bloomfield-high-literary-garden/74750992/

Most of all, I would like to thank all of YOU for your support of the Literary Garden! Your kind messages, emails, monetary support, and generous offers of help have made this dream a reality. I cannot wait to see what the summer holds. THANK YOU!