Growing Hope

By Eve Pranis

"A few years ago one of my students was harassed by other kids for reading a book about an African American," reports Warren, PA, middle school teacher Mark Davis.

"When I shared this with my ecology club students, they wondered what they could do to inspire students in our homogeneous school to appreciate and respect human diversity and develop better skills for handling problems," he adds. The outcome of their musings? A vision of a "garden of healing" for the school and community.

A catalog from the American Forests' Famous and Historical Trees program pushed students' thinking further. It features tree seedlings associated with significant events and people in American history: peacemakers, freedom fighters, and inventors, for instance. The ecology club's first initiative was to honor George Washington Carver by planting a green ash seedling descended from a tree on his laboratory site. "The girls in the club immediately requested that we also acknowledge inspiring women," reports Mark. "So we raised more funds to purchase a red bud tree related to one of Clara Barton's and a sycamore linked to Susan B. Anthony.

During the next few years, the concept -- and the trees -- flourished. With support from a local foundation grant, the healing garden evolved into five areas to represent good citizenship and the events and people who have modeled its virtues. These areas included the Circle of Caring, Circle of Hope, Walk of New Ideas and Service, and Walk of Courage. Each section honors people of high ideals and committed service to fellow humans. The emerging Trail of Peace honors Nobel Peace Prize winners, the Iroquois Peace Confederacy, and those who walked the Trail of Tears. So far it features a sycamore honoring Martin Luther King and white pines representing the Iroquois Federation. Student-made signs in each section invite those who visit to reflect on the virtues symbolized by the plantings. For instance, one sign reads, May all who walk this trail work toward living in harmony. "Since students also wanted appropriate plants that would offer more immediate beauty, we created a literal garden of healing by planting native flowers that early Americans believed induced health," says Mark. (See below.)

"The garden has given these adolescents some concrete ways to focus their minds and energy and to consider the virtues that are vital to a healthy community," notes Mark. "It has also enabled students and community members to become aware of what historical figures (including minorities) have done to help our country grow and heal. Last year, the incoming fourth graders, who had heard about our garden, made peace cranes and brought flowers to plant when they visited. In a very powerful ceremony, we burned the peace cranes and put the ashes on the flowers in the Trail of Peace," he explains.

American Forests offers a variety of seedlings of famous and historic trees along with a wealth of historic information in its catalog (call 800-320-8733).

Garden of Traditional Healing Flowers

Sunflowers -- Used by Native Americans to make a tea and salve for a range of ailments.

Butterfly Weed -- Used for lung inflammations and asthma.

Bee Balm -- Used as a tea for colds, stomach aches, and insomnia.

Wild Geranium -- Used to stop bleeding, gum diseases, and diarrhea.

Lavender -- Used for flavoring and perfumes.

(Other plants in this garden include black-eyed Susan, New England aster, purple coneflower, tickseed, lemon mint, and yarrow.)

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