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Interest in gardening and studying nature in Evanston schools has surged since the City began celebrating its sesquicentennial. Not many people know that school gardens and environmental education in public schools have been around well over 100 years.   

In 1910, George Washington Carver wrote an article about the growing interest in practical nature lessons in public schools. In it he pointed out that a large part of a child’s education is acquired outside the four walls of the classroom. The most effective education, he said, comes from children’s handling and discussing the real things around them – an early version of “no child left inside.”

Kindergarten is not too early to start. Children as young as 2 years old delight in digging up the earth and dropping in seeds or planting young flower or vegetable plants.  Children gravitate toward natural objects and real things – a real puppy is more interesting than a stuffed toy.

Fall is the time for planting spring-flowering bulbs. After planting the bulbs outdoors, it is easy to start a few paperwhite narcissus bulbs indoors. The paperwhites can be planted, pointed side up, in a shallow container with some water around the bottom of the bulbs. The roots will start growing right away. These bulbs are like flower kits with the flowers already inside, the same as onion bulbs, which, cut in half, sometimes reveal a slender, greener flower stem.

Animals and humans cannot live without the plants that provide them energy and oxygen. Plants have roots, stems, leaves, flowers and fruit. It is fun at the store to try to find all parts of plants for sale at the same time, for example, roots (carrots, radishes), stems (asparagus, rhubarb), leaves (Brussels sprouts, lettuce), flowers (broccoli, cauliflower) and fruit (apples, peanuts, tomatoes).

Thanksgiving is approaching. The feast’s centerpiece, from the Americas, is called a Turkey because that is where 16th-century Europeans thought the birds came from. Most of the other favorite foods – cranberries, potatoes (both white and sweet), pumpkins, string beans, tomatoes, peppers, pineapples, chocolate, vanilla, strawberries and pecans – are American plants.