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Planting at the Inner City High School

Originally published in the July 2022 issue of Wildflower News

On Monday, June 20th, 2022 Serena Farrugia and Liz Deleeuw of the Edmonton Native Plant Society delivered two loads of plants, shrubs, and a tree to Inner City High School in Edmonton. Planting day had finally arrived.

The project began last fall with Natasha Sarkar, a teacher at the school, approaching ENPS about a memorial planting in the concrete planters around the school using mainly native plants. Cherry Dodd and Liz Deleeuw went to a number of small meetings of interested teachers, staff, students, and even traditional knowledge keeper, Lynn Lush, who spoke to us about Indigenous medicinal and ceremonial plants.

We had presentations on native plants, reviewed native plants suited to the three corner beds, talked about seed cleaning and even planted some seeds which the students tended after germination. There was a field trip to the Telus World of Science to visit Indigenous Land Based Learning Navigator, Lynn Lush. There, the students learned about traditional medicines that Indigenous people used and they constructed a model of a medicine wheel garden.

Plants ready to be planted.

The students had proposed creating a commemorative garden at the school for the children in unmarked graves at Residential Schools. A garden club was formed and teachers incorporated aspects of the project into course work in Social Studies,

Outdoor Education, Science, Indigenous Studies and Work Experience. Some students helped with tasks like weeding or topping up the beds with soil towards work experience hours while others helped create bench cards to educate the school community about the sustainability of native plants.

Teacher Natasha is a NAAEE 2021 CEE Change Fellow with this commemorative garden as the Community Action project. The fellowship program encourages design of civic engagement (CE) and environmental education (EE) Community Action Projects. The planting day was put off due to factors like rain and schedule conflicts. Finally it all came together on June 20 th , and the day brought a bunch of activity. Liz and Serena placed the plants. Then everybody started planting.

A highlight of the day was a ceremony led by school Elder, Marjorie Wright, to mark the planting of the Prayer Tree. The Prayer Tree was proposed by a student who shared ancestry with the children whose graves were found at the Kamloops Residential School in May 2021. The Amur Maple tree, specifically chosen because of its changing leaves, will be central to annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation ceremonies at the school. Students have also been participating in a traditional drum making ceremony to be used on September 30.

Students planting in native plant bed

A reduced number of staff and students will tend to the beds over the course of the summer. The plants used are mostly plants which will spread and fill in the space. Showy aster, Lindley’s aster, Canada violet, Fireweed, Dewberry, Wild mint and Sweet cicely are some of those plants. There is also a sunny corner of the school where Gaillardia, Meadow blazingstar, Wild bergamot, Slender blue beardtongue and various grasses and sedges are planted. We will continue to monitor how the various plants do and be available for plant identification and consultation.

We hope the garden will bring joy to both occasional visitors and those who come to the school daily. Thanks to the dedicated teachers of the Inner City High School, especially Work Experience teacher Derek Dicks, for coordinating the project all the way to a successful planting.

Students planting in a native plant bed

This project showed how a small number of people can change the world in a small but significant way. One plant at a time.

Photos by author.

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