Wander behind Marble School and you’ll find a not-so-secret garden with a mix of perennials, annuals, vegetables, art, and relaxing spaces. The Garden was begun in 1992 by fellow first grade teachers, Sally Mock and Marlene Cosgrove, who wanted to look out their windows and see something other than brick and grass. According to Cosgrove, “we wanted some colorful flowers.”
Marble Garden began as two rectangular plots of tulips, and took on its current state in early 2000’s with the help of numerous grants and donations as well as community support. It is a teaching and learning space for subjects such as science, math, writing, and art. It also serves as “a peaceful retreat during recess for our kids,” according to Marble parent, Ginger Oligvie.
Cosgrove initially thought in college that she’d like to be a high school biology teacher. When she realized that she wanted to work with younger students, she didn’t put aside her love of science. She explains, “I really enjoyed teaching the science units and was able to develop some creative curriculum around the science activities.”
The garden is an ideal spot to instill a sense of wonder and excitement about science in students. Cosgrove, who retired from teaching in 2006, returns twice a year to do garden-centered lessons with students. In the fall, she does several lessons with the kindergarten, first and second grade students. Activities include counting things in the garden, using flowers to create a rainbow, pulling carrots and digging up potatoes to eat, and looking for interesting items to use in art projects, explains Cosgrove.
Every spring, there is an All-School Garden Day where students, parents, and teachers participate in weeding, planting, watering and mulching. As they work, students are given information about plants and garden practices. Cosgrove notes that the students “learn that gardening is much more than planting a flower.”
Marble parents, Oligvie and Shawn Heiler, have helped numerous times with the spring garden day. “I enjoy that day very much, watching the children's excitement. Every year is a joy,” shares Heiler. She further notes, “at times I do not know who is more excited for garden day [Cosgrove] or the children. I know just by watching her she puts in her heart and soul into the garden and the children.”
The garden is filled with artwork that is just as colorful as the annuals and perennials and was mostly created by students. Over the years, art teacher, Sabrina Arceo, and students at all grade levels have produced the mosaic welcome plaque and the wooden insects that greet visitors at the fence surrounding the garden, the ceramic sun garden sticks and the clay ABC signs for the alphabet garden, the bean poles with designs for plants to climb on, and the colorful butterfly on one of the building walls.
This summer green beans, peppers, kohlrabi, tomatoes, carrots, and potatoes are growing in the garden. Cosgrove lines up Marble families and Master Gardener friends to water the garden for one week periods during the summer. Families who participate in watering are allowed to pick and take home vegetables. Heiler, whose family helps out in the summer explains that her family “loves the garden. Watering in the summer is fun. When our girls were younger they would get excited to water and see if any of the vegetables were ready to pick because they knew they could take them home to enjoy. They also enjoyed watching their flowers grow over the summer and check on the ones they planted.”
Cosgrove does all the other summer work in the garden which she describes as “weeding, weeding, and more weeding.” She admits she is not crazy about weeding. “It’s a never ending process.”
In addition to her work with the Marble Garden, Cosgrove, herself a Master Gardener, also volunteers with the 4H Children’s Garden at Michigan State University. She works with Jessica Wright, education director, to plan activities for student field trips.
When asked what gardening advice she had to share with ELi readers, Cosgrove shared the same advice she gives to teachers who seek advice on starting a school garden. “I always tell them to start small and they can add on to the small garden when they feel they have enough time to take care of it.”
She further shared that she has a philosophy taken from an unknown author:
If you want to touch the past, touch a rock.
If you want to touch the present, touch a flower.
If you want to touch the future, touch a child’s life.
Cosgrove says she feels “that through the many gardening activities I do with children, I am accomplishing this and I am satisfied.”