The John Witherspoon Memorial Garden, tucked into a small niche in the front of the school, is becoming a native plants garden, in hopes of creating habitat for pollinators, birds and a host of other, less well-known organisms that will form a mini-ecology. The garden is bounded on one side by a school corridor with a wall of windows that allow humans in the school a view into the developing ecosystem, without needing to encroach on its privacy.
While the Memorial Garden has been in place for over a decade to remember students and a former principal, in recent years, it has become somewhat overrun with English ivy and other invasive weeds. Its revitalization is a team effort, aided by grant funding and donations of plants, compost and mulch, that is transforming it into a perfect place to grow ecology, and allow humans a “bird’s eye view” into that ecology.
Participants in this project include the following:
- Princeton Public School District personnel, including Science Supervisor Edward Cohen and John Witherspoon Middle School Principal Jason Burr and Grounds Foreman Anthony Diaforli and his staff
- Mark Eastburn, Riverside School Science teacher, and grant funding from the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB).
- Priscilla Hayes, John Witherspoon School Garden Educator
- JW School Robotics Club
- JW Food Science and Wellness Teacher Nyrie Janho and her students
- JW Do Something Club
Native plants were supplied through Mr. Eastburn’s grant, and through a donation of native plants by Pinelands Nursery, arranged through the Mercer County Soil Conservation District. Compost and mulch are being supplied by Mr. Diaforli and his crew from the Joseph H. Maher Ecological Facility that Princeton shares with Lawrence Township.
Under the direction of Ms. Hayes, students from both the Food and Wellness classes and the Robotics Club prepped the site, by removing English ivy and other invasive weeds, and spreading a layer of compost across the cleared areas. The compost will supply organic matter and some nutrients, from the top down, just as in natural systems, and will keep weed seeds from germinating, by denying them the sunlight that they require to germinate. Students also collected leaves from the JW front lawn, and are stockpiling them on the site—the leaves will be combined with the donated township mulch for a natural mulch layer on the entire site.
Both teams from the JW Robotics Club, the JW Hornets and the Techno Tigers, are preparing for a competition that requires them to build Lego robots and plan and carry out a community service program. The Techno Tigers, whose project involves encouraging birds to take up residence at JW, have raised funds for a bird house and bird feeder. The JW Hornets are working on a project to help bees, which are increasingly endangered in the modern American landscape. Both teams helped plant native plants in the Memorial Garden, plants that will provide food, nectar and pollen to bees and other pollinators, and will provide bird food, in the form of seeds and, secondarily, in the form of insects attracted by the native plants. For most birds, insects provide crucial protein and fat, and even more importantly, are what most developing young birds must be fed by their parents, in order to grow to healthy adulthood.
The actual garden, as currently in progress, will retain the existing shrubs as a layer in a several-layer landscape. Under and around the shrubs are herbaceous native plants, including sedges, monarda, goldenrod, columbines, and many others, which will provide flowers and shelter and soil health promoting ground cover in the garden. Mr. Eastburn and students sunk five tubs into the ground, each one planted with carnivorous plants such as Venus fly traps, sundews, and pitcher plants. These tubs, which will be watered only by rain water, will provide the carnivorous plants with the extra moisture they require to thrive.
Members of the Do Something Club will be using some of their morning meetings to do some ongoing watering of the Memorial Garden, and potentially other light maintenance. We will be continuing to recruit members of the JW and Princeton communities to help with any maintenance, as a form of stewarding some of the ground that stewards us.