Nature-Study and Gardening*
WILLIAM GOULD VJNAL
Rhode Island College of Education
Nature-study and gardening have been in partnership ever since
Adam and Eve had their early experiences in Horticulture. The
interests of the two studies seem sometimes to have been diverse
and yet they should be unified.
There are two groups of garden teachers: graduates of the agri-
cultural school or the economists and the naturalist who is an
idealist and a pedagog. We need leaders who can combine all
these qualities. The leader must have a vision. He cannot be
like the old colored preacher who upon being reproved for irregu-
larity in conduct said: "Well brother, I believe in the division of
labor. I preach and you practice." In the words of Emerson:
"All are needed by each one;
Nothing is fair or good alone.
I thought the sparrow's note from heaven,
Singing at dawn on the alder bough;
I brought him home in his nest at even;
He sings the song, but it cheers not now,
For I did not bring home the river or sky:-
He sang to my ear,-they sang to my eye."
It is vitally important that the garden leader be prepared.
Physiography automatically dropped from the course of study be-
cause there were no teachers who could teach it. General Science
is struggling with the same "bugbear." Both are worthy subjects.
Our hope is in the agricultural colleges and the colleges of education.
We have a unique plan in Rhode Island. One may go two and
one-half years to the college of education and then with two years
in the college of agriculture obtain two degrees or he may reverse
the order of attendance. This plan of cooperation is worth adopt-
ing in other states.
It seems almost unnecessary to say that the garden leader must
know gardening. He must have a technical knowledge of soils
and fertilizers; of blights, insects and remedies; of harvesting and
storage. He must know and love nature's ways and forces. He
must have high ideals for in the garden he is not only a teacher but
a companion with an intimacy ~hat is different from that in the
*Read at N. E. A. Meeting. School Garden Association of America.
VINAL NATURE-STUDY AND GARDENING 195
classroom. He has an unusual opportunity of radiating good.
morals which should surely prove a potent factor in the pupil's
future. I think of the garden as a pedagogical garden. There is
no education one can get from books that is equal to that which
can be gotten from "elbow " with a fine leader. Instead
of studying books so constantly and facing the teacher how I
wish that our pupils might learn to study things with leaders-
both facing the same way. We don't need gardens. We need
leaders and when we have leaders we will have gardens.
The teachers of gardening have perhaps given too much time to
teaching garden facts. They have dealt too exclusively with
measurements, as for instance: how far apart, how deep, how long,
how wide, how much. Such bald figures do not satisfy us. Weare
now coming over to the view that behind every "how far apart"
there is a reason. Why plant beans four inches apart and squashes
eight feet apart? It is only through discovering the reason for
doing certain things in the garden that the child understands the
causes that lie behind the greater activities of the world.
And lest there should be any misunderstanding I wish to mention
another source of danger in this enterprise. That is of too much
gushing or effervescence by the teacher. That method was tried
out a generation ago and it justly failed. Some educators are
rightly wary of nature-study as being sentimentalism but nature-
study is now coming to its own in the summer camps. I have
many occasions of placing nature guides or councilors in these
camps. A most pitiful sight in this connection is to see older
teachers-they occasionally appear in extension courses-who
suddenly feel that they are called to teach nature lore in a summer
camp. Their awakening interest is amazing-their mistakes are
ridiculous-and their effusiveness is offensive.' They remind one
of the typical preacher described by Booker T. Washington in
"Up from Slavery." He quotes a colored man in Alabama who
said: "0 Lawd, de cotton am so grassy, de work am so hard, and
the sun am so hot dat I b'lieve dis darkey am called to preach!"
And these poor teachers are calling out,-"O Lord, the curriculum
is so dry, the work is so wearing, and my pocket book so meagre
that I believe that I am just the one to lead children into the fields
As has been int~ated the most important side of gardening has
little to do with the plant crop. We put the garden work on a
196 NATURE-STUDY REVIEW
-utility basis during the war and in most cases did not change with
the changing conditions. It is no longer a radish garden at five
cents a bunch. In this garden the child is to have experiences.
Right here is where gardening is helped by nature-study. What
the child gets out of his garden depends on his richness in ex-
periences rather than richness in gold and yet. many of us bait
and justify our gardens with gold i. e. if 'one is to judge by the
financial report that seems to enter into every school garden article.
The educative value of a garden can never be tabulated. The
child's garden (Kindergarten) is a place where we cultivate their
normal aptitude for exercise, play, social intercourse, nurture, and
scientific observation as opposed to fictitious enterprises and arti-
There are many ways in which we may vitalize the garden. I
will mention a few that occur to me at this time.
1. I would have a garden museum, even though it be built on the
unit system with discarded orange crates. In this museum I
would have freshly picked weeds in glasses of water with proper
labels; samples of soils; insect cages to show their development;
an observation bee hive; life history exhibits of various crops;
a bulletin board for news notes; fruit jar aquarias; pets such as
toads or rabbits; pictures of neighboring birds; bird boxes;
cloud charts; minerals of the garden; riker mounts to show insects;
experiments carried on by the children to show the use of sunshine
or to answer such questions as, "Why do we use a mulch?". It
would be a children's museum for the children and by the children.
And I am quite sure that it would be a living museum for living
children in a living background.
2. I would have garden excursions. Not long ago I had a class on
such a trip. We stood admiring a bungalow and its surroundings;
its beautiful hedge with a bank of ferns in front; its red cedar
fence with the branches cut about a foot from the trunk; its
well groomed orchard. The owner saw our interest and invited
us to come in. He showed us a porch chair made from one piece
of wood cut on the place. He told about the sundial which was
of Queen Elizabeth's time; how the lantern beneath the grape
arbored entrance used to swing at the mast head of a Long Island
steamer; how the fire tongs had been passed down for generations
as a family heirloom; how the fire place was made of stones that he
had gathered one at a time from all parts of the world. He showed
VINAL NATURE-STUDY AND GARDENING 197
us one in particular that his son had sent from France. He told
us about the burlap on his wall that was made of a rare fibre from
Manila and after exciting the admiration of his visitors explained
that it was peanut bags. We viewed his thrifty strawberry bed
and he cut peonies for us to take home. We saw a novel dog-
house made in the form of a rockery with ferns and mosses growing
on the roof. And he said that the dog never used the house.
And then we were shown the grave of Sir William and after every-
one had guessed (Wrongly of course) he said that Sir William was a
burro. (He died because he ate too many green apples). And he
showed a picture of Sir William with three children on his back
and called the picture "Free happiness of childhood." This
typifies my idea of gardening and nature-study. Take the
strawberries and peonies out of this setting and they lose in value.
In this garden children surely have healthy play and joy in exer-
3. I would have garden songs. Long rows are often forgotten
when folks swing into rhythm and work along together. These
songs would not be at a given time by a given chorus. They
would arise spontaneously as plantation melodies and stevedore
songs. The songs would have as much immediate bearing as
possible. I would aim for original words and latter original music,
Today it might be Hoe! Hoe! Hoe your row! and tomorrow Plant!
Plant! Plant your corn!
4. I would have garden stories, and they would be true stories,
a large per cent of which would be about discoveries made right in
the garden. They would be about the leaf cutting bee and the
origin of soil, how the toad helps the garden, how the Pilgrims
learned gardening from the Indians, and why the potato blossom
does not form fruit. They would come at a rest period at the end
of a row, possibly under the shade of an elm tree or around an
outdoor fire place which I would have near the garden. And
sometimes I would have them cook their supper or dinner at this
fire place and have after dinner stories by the glow ofthe fire. And
thus I would build pleasant memories around the garden.
5. I would have garden plays. They would be informal. There
would be pantomimes. The just-among-yourselves kind. There
would be stunts and picturesque ideas. I would have original
plays and have them instructive. Someone weeding might say
when finding certain grasses: "I wish that there would never be
198 NATURE-STUDY REVIEW
any more grass." A fairy appears and says that he may have his
wish. The corn in the garden vanishes. He didn't know that
corn is an important member of the grass family. He couldn't
take any sweet corn home for his dinner. When he stopped at
the bakery to get a loaf of bread, that his mother had asked him
to be sure and not forget, he was met with a stern "NO!" There
is no more wheat to make flour. He noticed that it was very hot.
The lawns had disappeared and the sun beat right down onto the
bare ground. And then the rain came and as he could not work
in his garden he decided to go swimming. And when he got to the
swimming hole he found that it was filled with sand and mud from
Mrs. Emith's front yard. And Mrs. Emith was looking out of
her back window sort of discouraged like. Of course she didn't
know why her garden had been flooded and the lettuce covered
with gravel. And then our little gardener began to wish again.
And he wished very, very hard. And the fairy came again. But
before she gave him her wish she told him that he must think before
he made any such remarks. And then the grasses all came back as
they were before and he was happy that it was so.
6. I would have garden notebooks, for those who wanted them but
they would not be required. I would have the children write
their songs and plays in these books. I would give diary sheets to
those who wished them. And I would have account sheets, and
pages for photographs, and direction sheets for planting, and keys
for identifying weeds and another for insects, I would encourage
drawing and story writing. And it would be the child's personal
possession. The scripture says, "Of making many books there is
no end." Yet if there be too many, we trust that each book of
the child is not of the number that may well be spared. For a
child's production is a record and a reminder of his flights of in-
terest. By their works we shall know them. And we also add
that by their works we shall know their leaders.