The Edible Schoolyard turned three this year, and I thought that it might be interesting to look at one of the sections of the garden and the evolution of that space over time.
Here is an image of what the western end of the garden looked like shortly after we opened. The long, straight rows looked quite neat and they allowed us to use our chicken tractors (located to the left in the image) to turn the soil and prepare the beds for planting. It was easy to plan and plant these rows. We thought that traffic would flow smoothly down the paths and that families would be tempted into careful interactions with the plants. As time passed our ideas about the garden evolved as we observed the space, how guests interacted with it, and as we became more familiar with other design concepts.
This is a shot of the same area, two years later. It looks a little different. Since the opening we had reconfigured the beds on the eastern end of the garden and were happy with the results. It turns out that during the construction of the garden the subsoil was compacted severely. As a result, plants floundered in those shallow, linear beds. Children did not care for the straight lines either, and I ended up having to install borders around the beds to keep small plants from being trampled by excited little feet.
We came up with a solution that made the plants happier and made the space more appealing to children and adults. We re-designed the beds based on observed traffic flows between popular outdoor exhibits. We also chose to make the beds curved, which invites people to slow down and investigate all of the pockets and hiding places created (the shapes also create microclimates that we can use to fine-tune our planting strategies).
As we dug out the new paths we were able to make tall raised beds. These raised beds give additional depth for the roots to reach into, which results in healthier plants. Beloved volunteers also swung pick-axes into the compacted soil at this time to provide better drainage and eventually even more space for the plant roots and beneficial soil life to flourish.
Here is the western end of the garden, as it exists in September of 2012. Lots of raised beds and places for contemplative exploration. Next spring will see the installation of a willow dome as well (if you look at the section to the right, towards the bottom you might be able to make out a circular area bordered by beds with two entry/exits).
Looking into the future, I am sure that the garden will continue to evolve. Our understanding of the space and the way that guests interact with it matures on a seasonal basis. One thing is certain, the next time that you see the space, it will be different!