Children dream up urban gardens in Missouri Botanical Garden exhibit
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Children dream up urban gardens in Missouri Botanical Garden exhibit

Jul 09, 2023

Imagine your dream urban garden. What are you growing there? What have you planted for your neighbors to enjoy?

The Missouri Botanical Garden set children from around St. Louis to this task for a new exhibit at the Stephen and Peter Sachs Museum. A diverse ecosystem of fantasy student gardens are planted on walls and in display cases.

Dawn Lynn teaches art at Willow Brook Elementary in the Pattonville School District and participated in the project this year. In the beginning, some of her students didn’t quite take to the assignment; one snarkily decided to create an eyeball tree.

“I think at first he was just trying to be gross,” Lynn said. “But I shared with him that Salvador Dalí's work wasn't necessarily aesthetically beautiful, but it was thought provoking. And so that's where his work took off.”

The student enlisted friends and decided to work with Legos. They created a “Garden of Life” with organs for donation to people in need, including lungs, a heart and the original eyeball tree.

“I just love the whole process of coming up with an idea, it growing and evolving and changing, bringing in friends, collaborating,” Lynn said. “And it completely changed the relationship that I had with the student from the beginning of the year, to mid-year to the end of the year, coming in at recess, helping me out in the studio.”

Museum curator Nezka Pfeifer hoped the project would give kids a new perspective on plants.

“When we are able to get anyone of any age, but particularly young kids, to understand how important they are to our daily lives, it hopefully might make them more thoughtful about all of the choices and the decisions they make as they grow older,” Pfeifer said. “What they do to plants will affect our outcome down the line. And that includes the state of our environment and things that we're worrying about now, such as climate change.”

In the garden designs, students planned urban oases with edible plants and mushrooms, surrounded by swirls of streets and city life. Kindergarteners to seniors in high school from 15 schools participated, using a range of mediums including watercolor, cut out paper and tangles of string.

Students from Little Flower Catholic School included bees, fruit trees and even cats in their work.

“We also talked about, since this was based in St. Louis, what could we show in our art that might show that it is a St. Louis urban garden?” said Catherine Jeltes, an art teacher at Little Flower. “So a lot of them were like, ‘The Arch!’ So in a lot of our pictures, you will see the Gateway Arch.”

In descriptions next to the pieces, students laid out the effect they hoped their gardens would have.

“I want people to feel happy and creative,” wrote Asia Evans, a 6th grader at Washington Elementary School in the Normandy Schools Collaborative. “It will be a place for whenever you’re feeling down, you can go down to the garden to correct your mood. It is a loving place and you will start to feel well.”

On Thursday Jeltes’ student Philip Armbrecht brought his family to see his work at the garden, including cousins visiting from abroad. He designed a flower-filled garden attracting a flock of birds in downtown St. Louis.

“I think that Phil and his classmates were super proud to be able to have their artwork on display at an institution like the Botanical Garden, and then coming here with his cousins who are in town from France and Switzerland, to come and see his artwork was kind of a big deal for us today,” said Cheryl Armbrecht, Philip’s mom.

The student art will be on display at the Missouri Botanical Garden through March.