Submitted by Angie Erdrich, parent volunteer with The Southwest High School Garden Group

The Southwest High School Garden Group, a group that is open to any Southwest High School community member including students, parents, staff and neighbors, has been busy improving the outdoor spaces and gardens at the school.

The garden group, led by parent volunteers Lynn Meyer and Angie Erdrich, is devoted to improving the appearance and functionality of outdoor spaces at Southwest High School while adding pollinator habitat, helping the ecosystem and adding to student outdoor learning.

The Old Steps garden at Southwest High School. Students helped plant tomatoes and cucumbers this year. Parent volunteers with the Southwest High School Garden Group work with the school to maintain the garden. Photo by Melody Hoffmann

In June 2022, the Garden Group revisited the potential for the garden space at the school, which has seen initiatives come and go over the years. About a year ago, Erdrich worked with teachers and students to organize weeding and planting of the Old Steps garden area, where the main steps into the building were originally located.

Roughly a month after planting, an endangered Minnesota-native bumblebee species, the rusty patched bumblebee, was photographed and confirmed in the garden. During spring 2023, the Environmental Sciences classes under the leadership of teacher Lona Bierden weeded and planted again, this time they were able to identify lush native perennials coming up strong from the year before.

After one year of care, visitors can easily see this is a great spot for butterflies and caterpillars, particularly monarchs. This year, students planted six trellises of tomatoes and cucumbers which will be trained vertically to climb and cascade over the garden’s stately architecture.  

Meyer used her horticulture training and formidable problem-solving skills to design the outdoor terrace space in a way that preserves student use, is sustainable, ecologically beneficial, is purple and white to promote the school colors, and can handle a bit of rough use.

The dry, sunny terraced garden space near the new front entrance was neglected for some time. It is challenging to find plants that will sustain intense heat and dry conditions.

Deeply rooted native plants and tough perennials are the solution. Meyer studied the space and sought community input from students, staff and community members. She sourced plants, soil and amenities for the terraced beds and then worked long hours with students to do the heavy work of preparing and planting.

Stop by to see the gorgeous Purple Pollinator garden now starting to grow in the front terraces. Students are still able to sit between the plantings and everyone can enjoy the space year round. More plants will be added this fall and another section will be planted next spring.

Meyer has also worked to improve the underutilized internal courtyard space at Southwest High School.  Much cleanup has taken place, plantings have been added (with more to come in the future), and beautiful metal patio furniture will facilitate comfortable access to the pleasant space for classes, concerts and down time.  A student group has also formed around the courtyard and is committed to ongoing care of the space.  

Two herb planters frame the courtyard garden. Signs in the herb planters encourage people to "pick or snip for lunch or home." Photo by Melody Hoffmann

Though the gardens and trees planted on the ground require frequent watering now in order to get established, minimal watering should be required in the long term. The group hopes that future use of the area will include teaching students, and possibly neighbors, the value of native plants and pollinators, volunteering and making positive changes happen.    

The Southwest High School  Garden Group needs help. Watering and weeding volunteers are needed please sign up here. Community members, please donate to sustain these efforts. The school and neighbors have received an amazing value out of careful research and frugal purchasing but the group needs funding for the improvements including the used furniture for the courtyard and to plan for the remainder of the space. Lastly, join the Garden Group's Facebook group or ask to join our email list by contacting Lynn at