By Pam Creech
Sixty fifth grade students from Wrightsville Beach School celebrated Earth Day in the New Hanover County Arboretum by planting tomatoes and butternut squash.
The April 22 field trip was planned and sponsored by the Harbor Island Garden Club as a part of its Rooty Rascals junior gardener program. The Rooty Rascals meet once per month at various outdoor locations in the Wrightsville Beach area.
“We get them out of the classroom and into nature,” said Katy Cofer, Harbor Island Garden Club board member.
The two-hour event began with a brief introduction that taught the students about the history and upkeep of the arboretum.
Then, they split up into three groups. Harbor Island Garden Club volunteers led two groups on tours of the arboretum while the third group circled around a long table in the Ability Garden.
“In honor of Earth Day, we are going to plant vegetables. Everyone’s going to plant a tomato,” Cofer said. Each student took home one tomato plant and one butternut squash seed.
After Cofer’s group of students wrote their names on plastic plant labels, she led them on a tour. The children learned about the Ability Garden, which is used for therapeutic gardening, and she told them about the types of grass growing in the arboretum.
“That Emerald Zoysia is so beautiful and green. … It’s like carpet,” she said. “The St. Augustine does well by the beach.”
The students laughed as they hopped on the stones in the Japanese Garden and tossed fish food into the koi pond. They also enjoyed running in and out of the yellow-and-purple playhouse in the Children’s Garden.
Anne Pleasants, who is on the Harbor Island Garden Club’s executive board, said the club has been sponsoring Rooty Rascals since 1984. The Earth Day arboretum field trip cost approximately $250.
“We pay for the school bus. That costs $100,” Pleasants said.
Like Cofer, Pleasants believes the Rooty Rascals program enhances the students’ science education.
“They learn a lot about horticulture,” she said.
Pleasants’ son, a fifth grader at Wrightsville Beach School, participated in the arboretum excursion. His tomato plant and butternut squash seed are now in his family’s vegetable garden.
Previous Rooty Rascals projects include planting bulbs in front of Wrightsville Beach School and creating a rain chain to water plants.
“We try to coordinate projects with what they’re studying in science class,” Cofer said.
In October, when the students were learning about edible plants, each student planted lettuce in a pot and placed it under the pavilion. Then, they placed rain chains on the pavilion.
“The rain will run down the chains and directly into the pots,” Cofer said.
Cofer is already looking ahead to May’s Rooty Rascals excursion.
“Next month, we go to the beach to look at the birds. We’ll have a guest speaker from the Audubon Society,” she said.