School Habitat Garden in Illinois Prairie Country

Building Habitat Garden at Carrie Busey Elementary School

Building a Habitat Garden at Carrie Busey Elementary School — 4th graders carry corrugated drain pipe to be installed under a dead tree wood slab to create habitat for wildlife.
Photo copyright Rick Danzl of the News-Gazette.

Last week was a banner week for me.  I was invited out to Illinois to give a presentation to the Champaign County Audubon Society.  The program, “Habitat It And They Will Come“, was held at the Anita Purves Nature Center in Urbana.  Jim Nardi, Research Scientist of Entomology at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana and author of Life in the Soil, was responsible for my coming out to speak to the Audubon Society chapter.  There was also icing on the cake.

Construction of Carrie Busey Elementary School in Savoy, Illinois.  2012.  The Habitat Garden site is in front of the parking lot, just left of the northeast corner (closest to foreground).  The swamp white oak tree, planted between the parking lot's corner and the playing field, was choosen because it will tolerate the impacted soil of the recent construction.

Construction of Carrie Busey Elementary School in Savoy, Illinois. 2012. The Habitat Garden site (installed November 2013) is in front of the parking lot, just left of the northeast corner (closest to foreground). The swamp white oak tree, planted between the parking lot’s corner and the playing field, was chosen because it will tolerate the impacted soil of the recent construction.

As part of my program with CCAS, a local school got its Habitat Garden started.  Carrie Busey Elementary School in Savoy, Illinois, a school built just last year, granted me permission to install a Habitat Garden on school grounds.  The site was a grassy/mulched path area in front of the school’s north parking lot.  My original choice was a small triangle of drainage ditch and high weed lot next to the mulched path site — we native habitat gardeners love ditches!  However, the mulched path area was chosen to create an “all inclusive” site, that is, to make the area more easily accessible to physically challenged students, some of which might be using wheelchairs.  I was happy to rethink the garden’s location and move it to the more accessible site.  For one, all students would get to experience the landscaping and its wildlife, the garden will be reason to get outdoors, and it will be a  break from the classroom.  Secondly, having the garden all-inclusive might help with future grants or funding — and that funding will help the school administration develop the garden.

Co-creator of the Habitat Garden at CBE is 4th grade teacher, Elizabeth Slifer.  How lucky I am to get to work with this devoted teacher, who just the prior week was awarded the Outstanding Teacher of Science Award from the Illinois Science Teacher Association. Not only did I not know what native plants belonged in the new garden, this would be my first trip to prairie country.   What fun!  Off to the web I went.  Before I got to Savoy, I was able to arrange for the following:

–Native forb plants (herbaceous flowering plants that are not grasses, sedges, or rushes) donated from the Pollinatarium of the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.  Thank you, Lesley Deem.

–Locally native wildflower seeds, complete with collection data, from Jim Nardi.

–Native wildflower, oats and rye seed from Prairie Moon Nursery

–4 cubic yards of wood chip mulch donated by the City of Urbana Thank you, Fred Slifer.

–12 bags of fallen leaves from the Elizabeth’s compost — a treasure!

–Native Shrubs from Possibility Place Nursery

–Salvaged tree trunks and dead wood slabs from Rice Tree Service in Fisher, IL

–Swamp white oak tree (3″ trunk) from Moore Trees

–Landscape boulders from Prairieview Landscaping

–Volunteers from the community — it takes a village!

Work crew at CBE

Students of Elizabeth Slifer’s 4th grade class, volunteers, and Tony McGuigan (Don’t fall in the hole!) find work to do installing Carrie Busey Elementary School’s Habitat Garden.
Photo copyright Rick Danzl of the News-Gazette.

Work crew: The students of Elizabeth Slifer’s 4th grade class, Elizabeth, parent volunteers, CCAS members Lesley Deem and Jim Nardi, and myself. A great big thanks also to the Grounds Dept. at the school, principal Jeff Scott, and the School Office staff that helped coordinate the project.

Students digging in a wildlife habitat.

Students dig in and cover up a tree trunk section to create wildlife habitat. The dead wood will absorb moisture, attract wood-eating and -boring insects, and will provide shelter for critters microscopic, small, and bigger.  Note the wood hulks in the background waiting for installation.  The terra cotta flowerpots, whole and broken, far right, will be buried under a pile of rocks covered by landscape boulders — cavities and shelter for critters underground.
Photo copyright Rick Danzl of the News-Gazette.

Most of the habitat installations for the project are subterranean cavities.

Tony and students install a wildlife habitat.

Tony McGuigan works with students to create Carrie Busey’s Habitat Garden.  First a wide, deep hole was dug to fill the space with a corrugated drainpipe section, collected leaves, and wood chip mulch.  Then, the thinner leg of this tree section was dug into the ground so that the thicker section (right side) held down the pipe shelter.  4 Elements of Habitat: Water = moisture held by the leaves/mulch/wood.  Food = leaves/mulch/wood and the fungi and critters attracted to installation.  Shelter = in the leaves/mulch/wood, the surrounding soil, and the drainpipe.  Place to Raise Young = same as in Shelter.   Habitat!
Photo copyright Rick Danzl of the News-Gazette.

Students enjoyed the project and were excited about being a part of the Habitat Garden’s first day.  Some of their comments can bee seen at a local newspaper’s coverage of the day.

Student with shovel.

Just me, the soil, and this shovel.  A student prepares to dig in a forb plant at Carrie Busey Elementary School’s Habitat Garden.  The swamp white oak tree in the background is one of the Habitat Garden’s main features — it will attract many animals to the site.
Photo copyright Rick Danzl of the News-Gazette.

I would have preferred the children not wear garden gloves, but overall, they had a very tangible experience working with the soil and other habitat providing materials.  We had fun with all 12 bags of leaves from Mrs. Slifer’s garden!

The After

The After. The students have created a wildlife Habitat Garden at their school, Carrie Busey Elementary School in Savoy, Illinois.   Features include underground cavities, logs with holes, a dead tree wood spire, planting seeds (wildflower, oats, and rye), shrubs (American elderberry, chokeberry, and shrubby St. John’s wort), 2 oak trees (swamp white oak and shingle oak), and native forbs.

Now that was a busy few days in Illinois.  Thank you, students of Carrie Busey Elementary School.  And, good luck with your Habitat Garden.  Oh wow, spring is coming!

Enjoy your native plant and wildlife gardens.  Habitat It!

  Tony

© 2013, Tony McGuigan. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us

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About Tony McGuigan

Tony McGuigan is the author of Habitat It And They Will Come:  The Why, Who, and Fun-How of Creating Animal Habitats in Your Yard. Tony brings his many diverse skills and passions to Spore Lore’s products and services. His experience as a registered nurse and background in early childhood development, accounting, building, plumbing, sustainable landscaping and gardening—along with being a papa, avid outdoorsman, and enthusiastic student of life—infuses his work as a writer, photographer, editor, and publisher with a uniquely creative perspective, courageous out-of-the box thinking, and immense humor. Related to gardening and ecological landscape design, Tony holds a Sustainable Landscape Professional Certificate from Sonoma State University and a Permaculture Design Certificate from Regenerative Design Institute. Although grounded in cutting-edge research and literature of the field, Tony is pragmatic, not a purist, is unconventional in his landscaping approach yet has an eye for the aesthetic, is a master of reuse and recycling, and is a keen observer of nature and nurturer of relationships—animal, plant and human. Follow Tony on Facebook and also on Twitter 

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