Not all the classroom space of Brigham Young University's Life Sciences Building features white boards, chairs and desks. In fact, one classroom in particular doesn't even have walls or a ceiling, but instead boasts the sky for a ceiling and a very hands-on learning environment.
This outdoor classroom is located in the Terraced Gardens, a series of annual and perennial flower beds cascading down the hill along the northwest side of the Life Sciences Building.
After two semesters of planning and preparation, plants in the first portion of the gardens were planted in early April. Over the next few weeks and months, the gardens will be fully planted and established, and will be an ideal on-campus location for students, faculty, staff and visitors to enjoy the beauties of nature.
These gardens are the second of its kind; the first was removed to make room when construction began on the new Life Sciences Building. Students and faculty are excited to have a new space to learn about creating and maintaining gardens in a real-life setting.
"When the building was being designed and programmed, the college decided to support putting the Terraced Gardens back into the outdoor spaces around a building," said Associate Professor of Plant and Wildlife Sciences Greg Jolley. "And we were all ecstatic.?"
DESIGNING THE GARDENS
Last fall, students in the plant community design class worked on the layout of the new Terraced Gardens, with the goal of creating a space that would be both beneficial and beautiful. The final product was an accumulation of student's designs and desires, which included over 100 different plant species, permeable pavers that will allow water to drain while reducing water runoff and a waterfall feature flowing down to the Duck Pond.
Creating a cohesive design that could serve many purposes was key in their work.
"We really wanted it to be not just an area where faculty said, 'All right, this is my plot and I'm going to grow stuff.' We really wanted students to be able to enjoy it, and make it a usable space for more than just teaching," said Scott Randall, a current student in the Landscape Management major who worked on the gardens' design.
Also included in the plans is an outdoor classroom with seating for 36. This space creates a living laboratory for students in plant classes to learn in, adding life to the traditional classroom-setting lecture.
Life Sciences professors are looking forward to the depth and breath of opportunities the Terraced Gardens and outdoor classroom will provide.
"Like President Utchdorf said, 'We all have this innate desire and ability to create,'" said Associate Professor of Plant and Wildlife Sciences Ryan Stewart. "And I think that when you couple that God-given desire with growing plants, it's going to be a very powerful secular and spiritual learning experience."
PLANTING THE SEEDS
After the design was complete, Stewart led a team of students in two classes to start growing seeds in the Life Sciences greenhouses in preparation for planting this spring and summer. One of the classes is a general education course, which often gives students their first interaction with plants. Students learned how to best manage the environment for seeding.
The gardens feature a year-round planting cycle that creates an evolving relationship between each semester of classes. Some classes will prepare the seeds, while others will plant and the classes in the following semester will harvest.
GETTING THEIR HANDS DIRTY
In addition to the work done in classes, the Terraced Gardens are maintained year round by a team of students working with Earl Hansen, the college's research and mentoring facilities director.
Working in the gardens and the greenhouses give students a chance to really get their hands dirty and see for themselves how plants are maintained and thrive.
"They learn how to take care of plants," said Hansen. "How to prune them and water them. They learn about chemicals and fertilizers. They learn all kinds of hands-on applications that will back up their classroom experience."
The experience working in the gardens gives students a better understanding of plants that will help them as they pursue a career in landscape design and related fields.
GROWING THE STUDENTS
Ultimately that's what the faculty and staff hope really grows from these gardens: an opportunity to benefit students both personally and professionally. The students are taking notice.
"Our professors are so wonderful to us. It goes from the actual teaching to the mentoring to helping us get jobs in the future," said Ben Proulx, a senior in the Landscape Management program. "I feel set up leaving BYU, because of what the faculty has given me."
In the last several years, the Landscape Management Program has doubled from 60 to 120 students, and is already seeing the fruits of their labors.
In March, about 35 Landscape Management students earned four first place finishes in the National Collegiate Landscape Competition in Raleigh, North Carolina for Exterior Landscape Design, Computer Aided Landscape Design, Wood Construction and Landscape Plant Installation.
"I love this program because it's a blend of art and science," Randall said. "I can be creative and explore my abilities, but it's more than just that. I can draw a garden, and also know the science behind it. This entire program gives me depth."
That's the kind of depth these students can sink their roots into and blossom from for years to come.