Minding my garden – a #Rhizo15 reflection on teaching

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells,
and pretty maids all in a row.

Am I minding my garden as I teach? How does my garden grow? Is it only about beauty and order, or are rhizomatic moments allowed space to grow? Are teachers necessary in the garden-style classroom? How do ‘un-Dave’ moments allow for richer growth?

Classrooms can sometimes resemble wild and remote gardens, jungles of learning, or sometimes tended and tilled, managed into English garden perfection. Sometimes it’s somewhere in-between. A teacher/gardener is mindful of the nature of the garden in which they work, whether it’s a rhizo style garden or not. Just as hsiao-yun (Not the disappearing teacher) is aware of her context for teaching and the nature of the learners in her garden, so too are  Raymond Maxwell and Kevin Hodgson – each  garden is unique in soils, climate, weather conditions, native plants, transplanted, and non-native species.

Whitney Kilgore and the Human MOOC organizers introduced me to the notion of wayfinding in online learning environments. Gardens often have paths and open spaces where the gardener lays out a way, with or without signage, to get around the garden. The gardener designs and plans out the paths, directing the visitor to discover what lies around the next bend – models from a Canadian context include the Buchart Gardens in Victoria or the Botanical Gardens in Niagara Falls. Teacher/gardeners design the paths, but don’t dictate the direction the learners go or grow – there is some sense of self-direction or serendipity in the garden of learning.

Can the garden grow with/without a gardener – is there learning without a teacher/‘dave’/gardener? Absolutely, but not as effectively or collaboratively. It will grow according to individual needs, with stronger plants subjecting the needs of other individual plants rather than the collective whole. When this happens, disorder occurs, both in the garden and in the classroom. Lisa Lane hints at this in her blog Toppling the Teacher. There is paradox in the losing of individual selves in the disorder of the garden or the unteachered classroom.

In jungle gardens there can be a sense of order in the natural selection of complimentary plants – low-liers supporting the high risers, flowers growing amidst the foliage. However, many plants don’t or can’t exist in this environment while others adapt or find ways to co-exist. Is that what we want for our children in the classroom? Rhizomatic teaching/learning is not ‘Lord of the Flies’ style, so some sense of direction, organization is evident – that requires an ‘activator’ (John Hattie). Even in the wilding, free-range learning that some wish and allow for their students there is a sense of purpose or subjectivity. There is an activator for learning and growing in the garden.

Teacher/gardeners have an internal sense, or learn by experience, how to bring patterns and collaboration among plants – which to place beside others, which will flower sooner or later in the season, so they plan for the compliment in colour, size or features. Supports, guidance, fertilizing, trellis placement, moving plants from year to year, patterns of sun/shade, dictate the work of the gardener. Teaching follows similar cyclic and rhythmic patterns of movement and toil. Classrooms evolve in a similar ebb and flow depending on the length of time spent together and the nature of the plants found in the garden (there’s usually one thistle in the mix, but even thistles have purpose and beauty).

DSC01792Sometimes serendipity and discovery takes over and brilliant results bloom in the garden – students outshine and go further than a teacher every imagined. Sometimes the combinations just work magically together – lilies outshine hydrangeas, morning glories complement hostas. Even wild range plants such as ferns or trilliums can surprisingly co-operate with the cultivated tulips and boxwoods to create colourful combinations.

Teacher/gardeners learn how to work within the garden to create spaces for these possibilities. They take advantage of the knowledge gained about the nature of each plant. They plan to make the most of every characteristic and support the challenges each plant presents. Hardiness, frost tolerance, heat or drought resistance, sun/shade requirements, depth of planting, soil requirements are all part of the underlying knowledge teacher/gardeners bring to their classroom/garden environments. Knowing which plants can be stretched beyond their natural characteristics with some nudging and support is intrinsic knowledge to an experienced teacher/gardener. Knowing when to step up and fertilize, or step back and let it grow, is natural for some teacher/gardeners but not obvious to others. This is also dependent on the context and combinations in the garden – my cottage garden is wilder, closer to natural than the commercialized home gardens found in citified contexts.

Are you are naturalist, horticulturist, ecologist, farmer, cottage gardener, showcase gardener or puttering at gardening?

How does your garden grow?

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5 Responses to Minding my garden – a #Rhizo15 reflection on teaching

  1. Aaron says:

    this is great – it reminds me of Christopher Lloyd’s Great Dixter gardens and one of the things that’s interesting about that garden is that beyond his death it continues to be a container for exploration and creativity and new gardeners with new ideas (check out the twitter feed of http://twitter.com/jamesleehorner); Sissinghurst too, in its way. Re this idea of planning gardens for nomads one of the great cottage gardeners was being asked about all the benches in their garden, given that they never stopped moving, and they said that they were there to allude to the possibility of rest and reflection.

    i have been having so much fun in the garden since engaging in #rhizo15 – i keep digging rhizomatous things up and then washing off the roots to examine. it has given me an interesting sense of the D & G idea of the rhizome and what a fitting concept it is…

    thanks for the great post!

  2. rdmaxwell55 says:

    Your post really nails some concepts I had been considering at a subconscious level. Especially loved your paragraph on the jungle garden. Reminded me of an article I read in high school on the evolution of the tropical rain forest. Think it was in Scientific American, ’73 or ’74. Anyway, it detailed the huge loss, waste, sacrifice, in some respects, violence, over many centuries, that goes into creating that very thin layer of topsoil to support the outwardly looking strong but actually very fragile tropical rainforest growth. Will try to find that article at my library today and post.

  3. Lisa M Lane says:

    For me there is concern about weed tolerance. When I allow a lot of “free” growth, weeds occur who are able to succeed in one way but not within the context of the class. And while one person’s weed is another’s wildflower, I find that they crowd out the intentionally planted items.

  4. Pingback: Thinking About Communities for Learning {#Rhizo15 Week 5 – Catch Up} – TechKNOW Tools

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