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Giving back to the Earth

A bare flower bed at Luther Burbank Middle School was transformed Thursday when students, staff and community volunteers marked Earth Day by installing a native-plant garden designed to capture rain water.

The 3,900-square-feet plot near the front entrance of the school was a collaboration between the middle school and Woodbury University’s Arid Lands Institute.

“It creates a good environment for learning,” Luther Principal Anita Schackmann said of the beautification project. “And this is a teaching tool.”

After rain partially flooded the campus during the winter storms, Luther science teacher and Eco Club leader Jamie Wisehaupt won a $2,500 grant for a hybrid landscaping-education project. She then reached out to the university, eventually connecting with Barry Talley, a graduate student in the architecture department.


Talley began working with Wisehaupt’s gardening class on a weekly basis, laying the groundwork for the project. They wanted to create something that would capture rain water that was otherwise going to waste. The empty space that they selected is surrounded on three sides by covered walkways that dump water onto the flower bed when it rains.

The teachers and students measured the dimensions of the plot — 130 feet long and 30 feet wide — and used a software program to each design their own vision for the space.

Much of the work emphasized water conservation and native plants, Talley said. The group took a field trip to the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley where they were given a lesson on the ecological history of the region.

“We kind of rolled in why we should plant California-native plants as opposed to all these plants that come from other parts of the world,” Talley said.


The new Luther garden will require hand watering for the first several months, volunteers said. But eventually, it should be self-sustaining. It features green carpet sage, pigeon point coyote brush, common rush and golden currant.

Ian Dowling, 13, saw the gardening class as an opportunity to dig around in the dirt and study bugs. But he said the project taught him about the role that landscaping can play in helping the planet.

“Designing was hard,” Ian said. “I am not very good at picturing stuff. We took all of our ideas and pretty much merged them into one.”

It’s a huge tax on the environment to maintain Europe-style gardens, Tally said. The biggest task is retraining Southern Californians in the way they think about their yards.

“We have really noticed a shift in the way that [the students] think about gardens and these things,” Talley said. “When we explain to them the rationale and logic and why we do it, we are trying to show there is another way.”