Victory Garden

A good way to start a  garden is to plant some seeds. The weather is really getting nice here and it is time to have some fun with the kids. Planting a victory garden already gives it a fun name and gives us something to look forward to with great anticipation.

Carrot seeds and radish seeds are the easiest to start with because they germinate very quickly. That makes those with a small amount of patience get a quicker payoff. Seeing their faces when the seeds sprout it surely picture worthy, so get your cameras ready.

The seeds are so tiny that you can lose them quickly or they can get planted too close together and not grow successfully. So here is a remedy for that. Because of the Pandemic, you probably have some extra toilet paper around the house, so go and get a roll. Unroll it on your work surface and use a ruler to mark it according to how far apart your seeds need to be spaced. The older kids are very good at this job. Mix up a little flour and water to make a gooey paste. This is what will hold the seeds in place. Dab the mixture onto the marks you made on the toilet paper and then carefully add the seeds. Let it dry and then plant it the depth needed as per the package instructions. If you are planting seeds you have around the house, like from your watermelon or cantaloupe, etc., a rule of thumb is that you plant the seed two times the width of the seed. If you plant too deep the seeds will not germinate.


Herbariums or Drying Flowers

Dear Armstrong Families,

This week we are discussing pressed flowers and the concept of a Herbarium (a fancy word for a Plant library).  We will learn how to preserve flowers and leaves to make pretty cards.  You and your child could make cards for friends you cannot visit at the moment or for Mother’s Day.

The Art of Drying flowers is an ancient one.   The Egyptians used dried flowers to make fragrances and to place in sacred places.  Dried flowers were used as medicine in the Middle Ages, and in Japan they are considered an art form.   

It is very easy to dry flowers.  For example, many gardens have Violets or Violas at the moment, which dry easily.  This is the process for drying flowers:

  1.  Cut the clean flowers on a sunny day when they are dry.  
  2. Place the flower on a piece of paper towel, newspaper or other absorbent paper.  Place another sheet on top.  Then insert a layer of cardboard over the top sheet before a adding a book for weight.  
  3. Place a book on top and leave it undisturbed for ten days.  Coffee table books tend to have the right amount of weight.
  4. Once the flowers are dry, you can glue them on paper to make your card. 

Herbarium Overview:

Dried flowers have also been used for scientific research.  When plants are dried, labeled and organized by plant type, they are stored in a Herbarium.  Imagine a library, where the books have been replaced with sheets of paper full of dried plants and flowers including labels and other information that scientist find useful.  

The Natural History Museum in London, has millions of plants in its Herbarium collection—some are over four hundred years old.  The link below shows how you can start your own collections and make a Herbarium:

In Fort Worth, we have one of the biggest Herbariums in the United States.  You can investigate more by visiting their website:

There is a wonderful video from the New York Botanical Garden that explains all about herbariums.

Have fun outside and stay safe!  We cannot wait to hear all about your garden adventures when school starts back up.

Ms Caroline and Jana Beth

Seeds and Herbs Lesson

Armstrong Garden

Seeds and Flowers for Your Garden

Grades: K-4

Objective: To learn about sprouting seeds and or growing herbs in your garden

Materials: Seeds and or flowers or vegetable transplants, egg cartons or toilet paper rolls, soil

Seeds are immature plants or baby plants. Think of them as baby plants with a thick, hard coat on them, like a baby chick inside an egg. The hard seed coat gives the baby plants protection until the right conditions are available for them to grow or sprout.   When those conditions are right—good light, warm temperature, (68-86 degrees) and ample moisture or water—the seedling comes out to start life as a new plant.  

Seed activities:  Open the seed packet and plant them in soil filled egg cartons or toilet paper rolls.  Moisten the soil and keep it moist until you see the seed sprouting.    A spray bottle is a way to keep them moist without overwatering.  The seeds need to be planted two times their width, or very shallow.  If you don’t have any seeds, perhaps you have a melon or orange or apple you could take get some seeds that way.  A good math game is to see guess the percentage that may sprout.  Sprouting sometimes can take two weeks.

Planting herbs: Decide where you want to plant.   Whatever you decide to do, whether it is a raised bed or a spot on your property, you will want to improve the soil.  What I mean by that is you want to purchase some soil.  Please don’t skip this step, unless you want to really make gardening more difficult.   You can go to Home Depot or Lowes, or any gardening store and purchase gardening soil.   (You can order this on line and have them ship it if you do not want to go into the store.  Also, you can call North Haven Garden, 214.363.5316, where we get most of our plants for the Armstrong Garden, and they will get your order ready and bring it to your car.   You might start with some spring flowers if you are not ready for vegetables, or you might ask what they have on the vegetable tables.  

If you are not ready to have a separate vegetable garden, combine your vegetables and herbs into your flower garden or in pots.  I have French Sorrel in my flower garden, a beautiful perennial, meaning it continues to grow, and doesn’t die back annually.  Kids love to taste French Sorrel, as it has a lemony flavor.  I also grow Rosemary and Mint in pots.   I love to get some fresh Rosemary sprigs of this when I cook chicken.  It’s so fresh and if you rub a bit of it on your hand, the oils will stay there for a while. Young gardeners love that.  I have enjoyed growing mint with the students and making mint tea.    So, if you want to start with some herbs that kids will enjoy, I would go with French Sorrel, Rosemary, Mint and Basil.  

Happy Gardening,

Jana Beth and Caroline


Dear Armstrong Families,

We hope you enjoyed last week lessons on Good Bugs and Bad Bugs. These topics are the very topics we would have been teaching had the garden been open.. This week we are excited to present lessons on Composting. Please email us if you have a question about anything regarding these lessons.

Next week we are doing flowers in the garden including an art project. If you want to prepare, you might locate some flower seeds or some flowers to plant in your yard. I know local nurseries are willing to deliver to your home.

Happy Gardening,

Jana Beth & Caroline

Armstrong Garden Lesson

Compost: A Disappearing Act

Grades K,1,2

Objective:  To learn how and why we recycle

Materials: leaves, grass clippings, paper, coffee grounds, cups, plastic wrap, water rubber band, dirt

Vocabulary: decompose, reduce, recycle, organic, landfills

Nature is our teacher with regard to recycling.  When we look at a forest floor and see the repetition of leaves falling from the trees breaking down into rich organic soil, we see the positive proof of recycling in nature.  When we recycle, we reuse something for the benefit of ourselves and our planet Earth.  As we put old plant materials in our compost pile in the garden, we create a nutrient rich soil that is created when organic materials like leaves, grass, paper and these coffee grounds are allowed to decompose naturally.  As we put these things together and let the process naturally heat up, it turns into a rich crumbly soil that smells like a forest floor. Waste, or the things we throw away like this make up about 30 percent of our landfills.  A landfill is where the trash we throw away is taken.  Many of the things we do throw away can be recycled into something we can actually use.  As a matter of fact, this rich soil we create from things we just don’t want anymore, makes plants healthier and hardier when we add this great soil back into our garden beds. 

Try this experiment:   Take a plastic cup or plastic bag, and in the cup (or bag), put are put a bit of soil and water, coffee grounds, shredded paper, and grass clippings.  Then put a plastic wrap on top and a rubber band on the plastic wrap so it will not spill out.  Please put this in a sunny window or outside, and you can observe the process in action.  Please touch the cup from time to time and feel the heat created by the process.  What do you think is going to happen?  Are we recycling?

Why We Compost

3rd and 4th Grade

Objective: To learn how and why we compost

Materials:  Spade, shovel, place to dig

Vocabulary:  decomposer, bacteria, centipede, millipede, 


In nature, soil organisms called decomposers digest organic material such as leaves, dead plants and animals. The digestion process converts the fresh material into humus, a dark brown component of soil rich in plant nutrients. This process is what happens on a forest floor when the leaves fall from the trees in Autumn.  Composting is simply a matter of managing the decomposition process, and the end product is called compost. A compost pile is a farm full of microbes. To have the process work successfully, the compost pile needs to be about three feet deep.  That way, the temperature has a better opportunity to heat up so the microbes can go to work.   Microbes are tiny microscopic particles that you can see with your eye but they are there, busily doing their work.  Bacteria starts the process of decaying organic matter. They are the most numerous of the decomposer organisms – one tablespoon of soil contains billions of bacteria particles.   Earthworms, centipedes, millipedes and beetles do their part too.   Each organism has a role in the food web of the compost pile. Successful composting is simply a matter of providing the conditions in which the decomposer organisms will flourish. Like us, they need food, air, water and a habitable temperature. There are three levels of decomposers to make a compost pile successfully work.   Bacteria does the majority of the work and they are the primary decomposer organisms of a compost pile.  Second level decomposers include, earthworms, millipedes, sow bugs, land snails and slugs, and mold mites.  They consume or eat the first level decomposers. Some second level decomposers, such as earthworms, also consume the organic residue, so they can also be considered first level decomposers.  Third level decomposers include ground beetles, centipedes, and ants (ants are usually not found in a compost pile that contains adequate moisture – they are a sign that the pile is too dry). They feed upon first and second level decomposers. So you see how it works then, the smaller particles are eaten by the larger and the materials put into the compost pile are broken down as a result.  It is important to remember what is happening in a compost pile and to be sure to wash your hands and or wear gloves when working in one.


Why compost?  Produce valuable soil supplement; return organic matter to soil and reduce amount of waste to be landfilled or incinerated and reduce pollution.
Who does the majority of the work? Soil organisms do most of the work. What do the soil organisms need? air, water, materials or food, and the proper temperature 


Find a flower bed and shovel soil.  Look for earthworms Compare the soil where you find a lot of earthworms and where you find less earthworms.  What are the different characteristics of the soil?  Which soil do you think is better for the plants and why?

Good Bugs and Bad Bugs

 Dear Families of Armstrong,

We are delighted to bring you the garden lessons to enjoy at your homes during our current pandemic.  Armstrong students are great gardeners and gardening is a proven stress reliever.  We hope you enjoy these lessons and we will publish a new lesson each Tuesday on the Armstrong Arboretum site.  Please feel free to leave questions for us and we will enjoy answering them and hopefully making your experience enjoyable.  We are happy for you to share this site with your friends outside the Armstrong family so that they might be encouraged to garden as well.

Next week we will cover composting.  You might want to start saving your coffee grounds, fruit or  vegetable scraps, as well as grass clippings.  We understand that University Park is no longer picking up yard materials, so this lesson might really help get your compost pile started.  The students love to work in the compost pile, so you might already have a built in helper and you just didn’t know it.

We have been asked to make sure you know the garden at Armstrong  is currently closed, however, you will see these lessons are easily accomplished at home.

Happy Gardening,

Jana Beth and Caroline

The Value of Bugs

Kindergarten, First and Second Grade

Objective:  To learn about the value of bugs in our garden

Materials:  plants, flowers, magnifying glass

Vocabulary:  beneficial insects, pests, predator bugs, pollinators, decomposers


 The garden draws many bug visitors.  We know that butterflies, bees and bugs visit regularly.  To every 100 insects that visit, only 3-4 of them are actually harmful.  A pest in the garden is a bug that actually harms the plants or you.  How can you know which ones are pests, and which ones are good or beneficial?  Studying bugs is a good way to learn.

We know that most all insects are beneficial, and they provide a wonderful job in the garden.  For example, lady bugs are a beneficial insect, because they eat a bug called an aphid.  A lady bug is a predator bug, because they eat a bug that is a pest in the garden.  An aphid is a pest in the garden because they destroy or eat our plants.  A mosquito, though they pollinate, is a pest in the garden because they can harm you.  Some other examples of predator bugs are the praying mantis, dragonfly, spider and lacewing because they too eat harmful bugs.

Let’s think about some of the other good or beneficial insects.  Butterflies, bees and wasps are pollinators and by pollinating, we get fruit in the garden.  Decomposers, or poopers, recycle in the garden and some examples are the earthworm, pill bug and beetle.  They eat, digest and poop dead plant matter like leaves, and then return nutrients to the soil when they recycle it in their digestion.


We do not mash or poison bugs in the garden because most of them are helping our plants? Yes

A lady bug is a good bug? Yes

A butterfly is a pollinator? Yes

Keys for finding bugs and worms:  Turn leaves over that have holes, turn over pot plants, look near flower blooms, dig in the soil

Let’s have a scavenger hunt and look for

  1. a bee 2. a flower 3. a bug 3. an earthworm 4. a pill bug (roly-poly)


Releasing Chemicals

3rd and 4th Grade

Objective:  To learn about good bugs and bad bugs and understand the purpose of reducing the use of chemicals to control pests

Materials: any color of food coloring, small plant or flower in cup filled with soil, punch a hole in the bottom of the cup, watering can

Vocabulary:  IPM, beneficial insects, chemicals, pesticides, insecticide, pollution, seep, toxic


Do an experiment: Hold the cup with soil in one hand and the food coloring in the other hand. Let’s pretend the food coloring is bug poison and sprinkle it on the plant/soil to kill the pretend bugs on the plant/soil.  Pour water on the plant and watch how the food coloring (the pretend poison) leaches out into the water the flows out of the hole in the cup. Then explain that chemicals like sprays, powders or liquids that help control pests but may be harmful to people and the environment.  The very ingredients that make various chemical products devastating to targeted pests are often highly toxic to other plants and animals as well.  Chemicals don’t stay in a precise location when applied.    Water and wind move the poison to the surrounding area.  When mixed with water, chemicals can seep into the groundwater, affecting rivers streams and well.  Evaporations of these same products pollutes the air and contributes to the formation of acid rain.  Humans are caretakers of the planet Earth.  Many insects eat the harmful insects.  For every 100 insects, possibly 3-4 of them are bad.  When we apply poison, we not only kill the bad insects, but also we kill the good ones too.

Here is a list of beneficial insects you might kill when trying to get rid of pests.

Butterflies, bees and wasps are pollinators and by pollinating, we get fruit in the garden.  Decomposers, or poopers, recycle in the garden and some examples are the earthworm, pill bug and beetle.  They eat, digest and poop dead plant matter or material, and that returns nutrients to the soil when they recycle it in their digestion.  Also, today we are thinking about predator bugs that eat bad bugs.  Some examples are the lady bug, which you can release in your garden, the praying mantis, dragonfly, spiders and lacewing.


  1. Chemicals used on the garden may kill the pests and the good bugs as well. True
  2. Decomposers, like earthworms eat plant matter and return nutrients to the soil. True
  3. A bee is a decomposer. False (it is a pollinator)

Here are some ways to control pests without using poison.  Go outside and see if you can help control pests in your garden by following this plan:

Plant- marigolds, ageratum, mint, chrysanthemums, basil, lavender, chives and petunias as they give off odors that repel pests

Pull weeds (and get the roots)

Bees – leave them alone

Mosquitos – dump out all standing water

Mice- Store food in tightly closed lid

Flies – Don’t leave the doors open

This process is called IPM or Integrated Pest Management.  It is an environmentally friendly way to control pests.

Spring has sprung!

Once February’s unpredictable wet and cold weather departed we have been back out in the garden regularly enjoying the gorgeous spring sunshine and making new discoveries as we plant, propagate, fertilize, compost, harvest, water and so much more.


Students love learning about propagation in the garden – “it’s when you can make a new baby plant from the mommy plant” remarked one 1st grader. This semester we demonstrated how we propagate in different ways  via the root, stem and leaf methods  using English ivy, aloe vera, geraniums,  begonias, kalanchoe, mint and African violets. We used bushel baskets for each grade to plant their cuttings in.  Part of being experienced gardeners is watching the weather forecast – so just before spring break we realized we were set to have freezing temperatures again, so I hauled our baskets full of tender cuttings into the shed for the weekend to protect them and now they are thriving beautifully!

Potato planting!

This year we are trying a new experiment and planting potatoes in green canvas bags as opposed to the raised beds themselves. They have small flaps at the front of the bag for students to open so we can really see the ‘tuber’ process in action.  Oh and of course, one of the most fun things about planting potatoes is getting your hands really really dirty!


“Magic circles” in the garden

C781KsibQqKX7Nmr1Sg+ogGlhPt84ZRRyLM4RhhThHKgStudents really enjoyed planting snap pea seeds in  what one student described as a ‘magic garden circle’  with 2 or 3 sunflower seeds planted in the middle. Our hope is that as the sunflowers  grow tall and strong,  the snap peas will wind themselves around the sunflower stalks for support.


Composting and Armstrong hat day

Armstrong students love nothing more than digging in the compost! Local start up company Turn who regularly donate leaves and clippings to our compost pile recently deposited a mountain of coffee grounds which the kids got stuck into working into the existing pile along with newspaper and bags of old grass clippings. The coffee shop aroma could be smelt as far away as Byron Avenue!! Armstrong hat day made the whole activity and subsequent watering sessions even more memorable and fun!


Mint Tea Party

We reprised our successful freshly made mint tea parties from last spring in the garden – which went down very well with students and parent volunteer helpers alike. Delicious!


A heartfelt thank you to Kelly Schorr from PCDLA for landscape bulbs and flowers

Bulbs, annuals and perennials donated by Kelly Schorr at PCDLA in the spring and the fall are so enormously appreciated. They brighten up the entire landscape around Armstrong and the children adore planting them. We have had two  public events recently at Armstrong – the dedication of the new auditorium and Grandparent’s day and on both occasions I have heard countless families, students, faculty and visitors remarking on how beautiful the landscape looks. It gives everyone an increased sense of Eagle pride and contributes to the atmosphere of wellbeing and joy that is so consistent with our Armstrong spirit.

Back in the garden!


We are SO thrilled to be back in Alice’s Garden for our new semester. The warm weather enabled us to harvest our very successful winter crops which included a tonne of lettuce, kale, radishes and rainbow swiss chard. Students got to taste the produce with some delicious ranch dressing.  We also planted potatoes and onion slips and learnt about tubers and roots.

“Radishes are spicy!!”


Butterflies, bees, annuals, perennials and bulbs

Monarch madness!

We work so hard at Armstrong growing specific plants which act as host and nectar plants for the lifecycle of the Monarch butterfly.  We are so lucky here in North Texas to be on the migration path for the thousands of Monarch butterflies on their way to warmer climes in Mexico. We do our best to provide Texas Native plants like milkweed for the caterpillars to munch on, Turk’s cap, frostweed and Gregg’s Mist for butterflies to draw nectar from, thereby encouraging them to visit  our particular corner of North Texas even more. We are proud to call Alice’s Garden an official Monarch way station as a result!  It’s so exciting to see student and Dallas County Master Gardener efforts rewarded by our favorite, stunning black and orange visitors. Of course we are always happy to see other pollinators in our garden too – this fall we have seen lots of bees gathering pollen and other butterflies too like swallowtails and gulf fritillaries.

Cross Curriculum Pollination

We love to know that what we learn OUTSIDE in the garden ties in so well with what Armstrong students learn INSIDE the school.  Second graders have been creating some gorgeous butterfly pictures in Art class which are currently brightening up the second grade staircases !


Annuals and perennials

We have some wonderful new landscaping beds at the front of the school after the construction over the summer – a perfect opportunity for students to beautify the front of the school and learn about the difference between annual and  perennial plants whilst planting violas (“Johnny Jump Up”  fall annuals) and dianthus (perennials).


Students always love learning about bulbs – it’s such a magical part of gardening. Investing a little hope and faith in a bulb that will sit in dark, dormant  earth all winter but bring joy, color and new life come the spring – a real symbol of hope and a signal that the weather will be warming up soon. We planted lots of daffodil bulbs up at the front of the school which will give us a cheerful yellow display come February.  Needless to say the children loved watching Ms. Jana Beth using her mean, clean drilling machine to dig holes deep enough for the bulbs.


Bee presentation for 4th graders creates a real buzz!

4th grade has been literally buzzing these past 2  weeks caused by a VERY special visitor to Alice’s Garden – Harold Wright and his wife Araceli Wright. The Wrights own and run local bee removal company Bee Safe

Bee Safe Removal

and both of them came to present to all 4th graders about the work they do with bees. The Wrights are a local family, 2 of their 5 sons were former Armstrong students! Harold talked about how important bees are to Alice’s Garden in terms of pollination to help our veggies grow so well. He showed us a miniature hive, a fresh honeycomb and answered  bunch of questions that the students had about beekeeping in general, honey making, wax candles, wasp sting strength versus a bee sting,  venom sacks, the life cycle of the queen bee and much much more. We can’t wait for him to come back! Thank you so much Harold and Araceli!


Seed Power and Kindness Rocks

Students in Alice’s Garden have been learning all about the mighty power of the tiny seed! Master Gardeners led class discussions on what seeds need to germinate.  They used the example of  ‘the bean and the cent’  to show how one tiny bean seed is powerful enough to reach through the soil and push over a one cent piece! Students had fun planting radish, carrot, lettuce and arugula seeds that we hope will grow in our raised beds for a delicious harvest in November!

planting and watering in new seeds

Making Seed Balls

One of our favorite yearly activities in Alice’s Garden is making seed balls –  a wildflower mix  (made up of pollinator friendly, native plant seeds that will tolerate the clay soils  and lack of rain we have here in Dallas)  is combined with little lumps of clay and soil to form a ball.  Once the balls have dried,   students will throw them in to the flowerbeds around school and let them create their own magic –  minus human intervention!


Being “allowed” to get dirty is definitely one of the most fun parts of being in the garden!


Kindness rocks


Thank you to these wonderful 4th graders who painted and decorated beautiful “kindness rocks” with meaningful slogans and thoughtful messages,  which are a perfectly pitched and  well-matched addition to this unique and magical corner of Armstrong!


Off to a fabulous start in Alice’s Garden!

Students, Master Gardeners and our wonderful parent volunteers are all so happy to be back in our favorite place! Lessons on Tuesday focussed on a recap of our garden rules, what plants need to survive and basic tool hygiene to prevent pathogens and diseases spreading. We planted broccoli, swiss rainbow chard, kale, artichokes and some new mint and cilantro plants.

Sampling Mexcian Spinach


We love encouraging our students to try new tasting new things and there’s no better opportunity to do this than with freshly grown garden produce. This Mexican spinach is growing profusely near our entrance to the garden – looks so pretty and tastes even better!

New local “Turn” compost business visits Armstrong


Lake Highlands Master Gardener Lauren Clarke (pictured above with students and two of her team) has set up her own business “Turn” compost – now offering residential and commercial food scrap pick up.

75205 and 75225 residents can now help Armstrong’s school garden flourish! With Turn, your family’s monthly subscription can turn into directly donated supplies and compost to specifically benefit our outdoor classroom. Helping the environment AND Alice’s Garden! Win Win!!

More details here

Turn Image


Your Garden Team & Parent Volunteers now able to sign up on Volunteer Scheduler


Your 4 Master Gardeners who are ready and raring to go for another new season are Caroline Trotman,(PTA Garden co-chair) Jana Beth Eidson, Jennifer Sorrells (PTA Garden co-chair) and me, Eleanor Wroath (PTA Garden co-chair)

Our parent volunteer coordinator is Noelle Petty.

Parent Volunteers can now sign up easily on the PTA website – just as you might for the cafeteria.

Please stop by and say hello to us on a Tuesday – we always love visitors and of course, helpers!