The garden at Washington Elementary School in McPherson was recently recognized as an outstanding Outdoor Wildlife Learning Site, also known as OWLS.

The garden at Washington Elementary School in McPherson was recently recognized as an outstanding Outdoor Wildlife Learning Site, also known as OWLS.


The school was presented a sign to commemorate the occasion.

The garden will be on the McPherson Master Gardeners June Bloom Garden Tour Saturday.

Among the lilacs and daylilies, students learn about plant growth and work math problems based on the garden.

The McPherson Master Gardeners received a state OWLS grant in 2001 to start the garden, which is located in a courtyard between the new and old buildings on the Washington campus.

OWLS is a program sponsored by the Chickadee Checkoff of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism. An OWLS is an outdoor environmental/wildlife laboratory, at or near a school, consisting of one or more native habitat features. It is designed to attract native wildlife and to facilitate multi-discipline learning opportunities for students.


The project was spearheaded by two Washington teachers and is now being tended, with help from other master gardeners, by paraeducator and master gardener Roberta Herrs. As local gardeners divided their plants, the master gardeners planted new bushes and perennials in the OWLS garden. The program also bought end-of-the-year closeouts from garden centers that somehow have been able to survive the drought.

Herrs said she looked for plants that had been able to survive on abandoned farmsteads and would be able to survive the brick-surrounded courtyard during the baking summer heat.

The garden also is a habitat for area wildlife, and birdfeeders and baths are present throughout the garden.

Unfortunately, construction that is supposed to begin in spring 2014 at the school means the garden must be moved.

The old building at the school will be torn down, and the courtyard will be consumed by new construction.

The master gardeners plan to move as many of the plants, bushes and tress they can to an area in front of the school’s west entrance. As the best time to transplant trees and bushes is in the fall, most of this work will happen this fall, Herrs said.