Students work with Sycamore Land Trust to build garden

HELMSBURG — Insects now have new places to park at Helmsburg Elementary School.

Helmsburg students partnered with Sycamore Land Trust to create a pollinator garden during the last semester of the school year.

“The students were beyond excited about the garden. They loved being part of the process from the beginning stages. They were quick to take ownership of it,” Helmsburg science teacher Brenda Ely said.

The project was funded by a Brown County Soil and Water Conservation District mini-grant.

Third- and fourth-graders used shovels to edge the perimeter of the bed, layered cardboard to kill and suppress the lawn grass, and covered the entire area with several inches of mulch, said Shane Gibson, the environmental education director for Sycamore Land Trust.

The kids liked getting dirty, Ely said.

“They would ask me every week, when would the seeds be ready to plant or when were we going to take the next step in our garden process,” she said.

“I was surprised and excited to see how much they enjoyed the hard work of putting in a garden. They absolutely loved moving mulch, planting and working in the soil, finding and watching bugs, worms and other small creatures and just getting dirty.”

The project started in February when the students learned about native plant species that would grow in their garden, Ely said.

In March, the students sowed the seeds into mini-greenhouses, which were put in windows around the school building. Once those plants were ready, the students separated them and transplanted them into milk cartons.

Gibson and Ely have been working together for the past two years on lessons for third- and fourth-grade classes multiple times a year, Gibson said.

Through the Sycamore Land Trust’s Native Plant Project, Gibson and Ely had been preparing and growing native Indiana grasses and wildflowers in class for students to take home.

Any extra plants were taken home by school staff.

Gibson and Ely then became aware of the Brown County Soil and Water Conservation District grant.

“I remember one day Brenda saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be awesome to have a pollinator garden right outside the science classroom?’ So, we put a plan together,” Gibson said.

Ely wrote a grant on behalf of Hemlsburg Elementary School. Gibson worked with Eco Logic Native Plant Nursery to choose plants best suited for the site.

Site preparation took more than a month in order to allow cardboard to decompose. Worms turned the soil, making it easy for planting, Gibson said.

It was weeded a few times in May and planted in late May.

“I can’t wait for them to get back to school in August to see how much it has changed,” Ely said.

Kevin Harden of Brown County Stone donated sandstone blocks to add beauty and seating in the garden, Gibson said.

Sycamore’s Environmental Education Program is primarily responsible for connecting people of all ages and abilities to nature with free educational programs, Gibson said. The program is able to fulfill its mission primarily through family memberships and donations.

This year, Sycamore Land Trust also introduced a classroom membership so that students can be philanthropic and protect land in their “back yard,” Gibson said.

Ely and Gibson have discussed revamping an overgrown flowerbed near the pollinator garden for a future student project, Gibson said.

Learn more

To learn more about Sycamore Land Trust visit

To learn more about Sycamore’s environmental education program, contact Shane Gibson at

To learn more about Brown County Soil and Water Conservation District mini-grants, contact Allison Shoaf at

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Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers business, cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.