To design a wildflower garden to better understand what happens in nature.
The focus of this lesson is for students to design a wildflower garden in order to gain a better understanding about designing a complex system and realizing that there are always constraints and trade-offs to be made when designing a human-made system. Preliminary research shows that middle-school students have little knowledge about the design process and what evaluation of design is or why it is important. Students also have trouble assessing and applying knowledge from other contexts while engaging in design and technology activities. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 50.)
As students progress through the middle grades, they should develop the idea that complex systems can be controlled (e.g., garden) and that mechanisms (e.g., technology) can be designed for this purpose. In addition, they should learn that technology not only causes expected occurrences but it can also cause unexpected effects.
Middle-school students should know that in technology there is no perfect design. By the time they start high school, they should understand that design usually requires taking constraints into account.
Middle-school students also should know that when designing a complex system, some plant varieties have more desirable characteristics than others and some may be more difficult or costly to grow. Upon starting high school, they should understand that although technology allows for advances in designing a system, there are always trade-offs to be made.
The main activity of this lesson will allow students to creatively learn about designing a complex system (a wildflower garden) based on technological information (knowledge about the various wildflowers).
The American Meadows site is intended mainly for your benefit and use. The American Meadows-Wildflower Seed Mixtures section gives pre-planned groupings that can aid you in identifying the accuracy of your students' choices in planning their gardens. The Planting section of this website will be needed for access by students to aid them in locating the necessary tools needed to plant a wildflower garden. This section also includes definitions of annual, perennial, and biennial flowers, as well as general information that could be helpful in answering other questions on the Designing a Wildflower Garden student sheet.
Wildflowers in Bloom should be the primary source for the students' choices of flowers.
To begin this section, hand out the poem, “Botany” from the Plant Physiology Information website. This is a light-hearted poem to amuse students and get them in the mindset that the project will be fun. You could read the poem aloud or perhaps ask a student who has flair and can add a humorous tone to the reading.
Next, using the Wildflower Garden student esheet, students should go to Spring Wildflower Walk to take a virtual nature walk and learn about some spring wildflowers. After students are done, discuss these questions from the esheet:
- What is the most unusual wildflower that you read about? (Answers will vary.)
- What are some of the common names of the flowers and what do the names mean? (Answers will vary.)
Tell students that in this lesson they will design a wildflower garden. Before they can do that, they must learn more about wildflowers and how they grow.
Then have students use their student esheet to go to and read Wildflower Seed Planting Instructions. They should answer these questions based on what they learn from the reading:
- What is an annual flower? (Annuals are plants that live only one growing season. They normally sprout quickly, grow fast, and are the first to bloom. A red poppy is an example of an annual.)
- What is a perennial flower? (Perennials come back every year from the same roots. Seeded perennials sprout slower than annuals and are also slower to grow. A daisy is an example of a perennial.)
- What is a biennial flower? (A biennial flower forms only leaves the first year. They bloom the second year and are killed by frost after blooming. They seed heavily, so usually they become permanent. Black-eyed Susan is an example of a biennial.)
- What is a wildflower? (A wildflower is a flowering plant that grows without intentional human aid. They are the source of all cultivated garden varieties of flowers. Convey to students that wildflower seeds have not been genetically altered as have ornamental flower seeds and vegetable seeds, therefore nature plays an important role in the success or failure of planned wildflower gardens as well as those occurring naturally.)
The next activity is for students to design a wildflower garden. Divide the class into appropriate groups and pass out the Designing a Wildflower Garden student sheet with questions to be answered while they are designing their gardens.
Before students get started on designing their gardens, they should use their student esheet to go to the following websites to learn more about wildflowers and the conditions in which they grow well:
- Wildflower Seed Planting Instructions
- Wildflowers in Bloom has a database that students can use to pick wildflowers for their gardens
- Wildflower Fever!
The student sheet contains these requirements:
Each garden should:
- Bloom for a certain period of time
- Have a mixture of plants for sun and shade (there’s a tree in the garden)
- Have plants of all different heights
- Plants must be compatible (e.g., they need to thrive in the same conditions)
- Have a color scheme (can be anything students want, they just have to be able to explain it) *optional
For each plant that is chosen, students should specify:
- Plant common name
- Plant height
- Blooming period
- Growing time
- Suggested growing area
- Optimum soil temperature
Divide the classroom into groups and let them choose the region within which they want to develop their garden. If you need additional assignments, go to Wildflower Seeds and then narrow down your options using the choices at the left (e.g., “All Annual Mix” and “Partial Shade Mix”) for other topics that students could use if necessary. If you click on these special mixtures, the flowers that will grow in this environment will be listed, so limit students' access to this website.
Students will get most of their information from the Wildflowers in Bloom site.
If you want to add any other parameters to the students' guidelines in terms of what each garden should include, go to School Gardens for additional ideas.
Students should answer these questions during and after they design their gardens:
- What kinds of tools are needed to plant a wildflower garden? (For a small area garden, students will need a shovel, possibly a rake, and weed trimmer. For a larger area garden, they would need a rototiller, a mower, and lawn roller.)
- What is the best soil for the wildflower garden you have chosen?
- What are the necessities for successful plant growing in your garden soil? Choose from among these options:
- What is the germination time, the sowing depth, and planting success of the wildflowers you have chosen?
- What is the blooming period?
- Where are the best places for growing the wildflowers you have chosen (i.e., fields, gardens, roadsides)?
- What, if any, are the potential design failures of your garden?
- What weather conditions could adversely affect any wildflower garden, regardless of geographic area?
The answers for questions 2-8 will vary depending upon the wildflower garden chosen.
Review with students that they should now be able to better understand that when designing something it is important to take constraints into account and that in agriculture (gardening), as in all technologies, there are always trade-offs to be made.
Students should summarize nature’s role in both the natural and planned wildflower garden. Remind them that since wildflowers have not been genetically altered, nature greatly influences the success of their survival. To finish this lesson, have students refer back to question “8” on the Designing a Wildflower Garden student sheet, which discusses adverse weather conditions, Question “2” regarding soil conditions, and Question “3” regarding necessities for successful plant growing in garden soil.
For the next class, have each group present their wildflower gardens. Suggest using posters with a diagrammed layout describing the flowers used, with a discussion covering the points listed on the student E-Sheet. Alternatively, students can do the same task using a collage of appropriate flowers cut out of various magazines (e.g., Southern Living, Better Homes and Gardens, Mid-West Living, and Martha Stewart Living). Students should be able to cite reasons for their choices and justify their decisions.
The ideas in this lesson can be extended by leading students through these other Science NetLinks lessons:
Aggie Horticulture gives information about various botanical gardens that students could visit.
The Fun Page for Kids! on the KinderGARDEN site provides additional gardening activities for students.