What’s Growing at the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens: Experiential Learning

What’s Growing at the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens: Experiential Learning
By Melanie Priesnitz

After a summer filled with hard work and a great deal of learning, the students who worked on our team at the K.C. Irving Environment Science Centre and Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens are heading back to the classroom. We had the pleasure of having Acadia student Ted Morris and Nova Scotia Community College student April Mason work with us as student native plant conservationists and interpreters. Ted is studying environmental and sustainability studies in the community development department at Acadia and April is a student of horticulture and landscape technology at NSCC. Their positions involved tending our 6-acre native plant botanical garden as well as leading public tours.

When I asked Ted what his most profound experience was at work this summer, he recounted the tale of the day that a swarm of honey bees decided to take up residency in the garden. Ted and April were standing in chest waders in the middle of our marsh clearing algae when they heard a great buzz. They soon realized that a swarm of bees was forming on a red maple tree just above them. As neat as it was to have a thousand bees hanging out in the garden, we weren’t sure all of our visitors would agree so we made a quick call for help. We were lucky enough to have local beekeeper Perry Brandt onsite within the hour to capture and relocate the swarm. Perry quickly explained how docile a swarm of honey bees is so we could all relax and watch as he knowledgeably captured the swarm. He shared with us a wealth of information on bee behaviour while calmly working away on the relocation and setting up of the new hive. This is the type of experiential and spontaneous learning that happens every day when working outside in the natural world.

When I asked April what she gained from working with us this summer she said laughingly “our lives have forever changed.” Ted and April both reflected on the fact that they now have new eyes whenever they walk in the woods. They will forever see the plants in the forest in a different light. They can now call many of our native plants by name (latin and common) and notice when invasive species are lurking about. Ted enjoyed having his personal experience broadened this summer and enjoyed gaining a new outlook on the natural world. April believes that she will take back much of the knowledge she gained on native plants into the year ahead while studying horticulture.

Once a week our team of summer students in the garden doubled when Christianne Hagerman and Jake Reicker joined us. Christianne and Jake both graduated from Acadia this year and worked in our herbarium as research assistants for the summer. Every Monday we teamed up to tackle invasive species in the garden, focusing on weeding out two of the invasive maple trees that we battle: sycamore and Norway. Christianne, who graduated with a BSc in biology and nutrition, said that her “least favourite part of the job, funnily enough, has not been the hours spent in muddy bogs, swarmed by mosquitoes – it was the time spent staring at a computer screen, entering data!” Although she assured us that even that part wasn’t that bad! Christianne explained how she thrived in the hands-on work environment this summer and learned something about herself through it. “I realized that I have an amazing memory when I can feel and see what it is that I am learning about. Whether it’s spending time in the garden discovering invasive species, out in the field exploring old-growth forests, or determining aspects of plant physiology as I use a phylogenetic key to determine the ID of a specimen – my brain soaks up new information when it’s in a hands-on format!”

Jake, who loves Acadia so much that he took a second major in environmental science after completing his honours degree in biology (co-op option), spent most of the summer working with Christianne and others in the E.C. Smith Herbarium. When asked about the work environment this summer he said “the atmosphere is one of constant learning. Even our supervisors are quick to ask questions when they are unsure on a topic. Having this sort of relatability with your supervisors instills confidence in student employees and helps us build personality to bring with us into future endeavors.”

These are the stories of just four of the students who spent their summer working, playing, and learning at the K.C. Irving Environmental Science Centre and Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens, there are many more. We want to thank all of the students who brought so much energy and enthusiasm to our workplace this summer and wish them the best of luck in their future endeavours. We’d also like to thank Canada Summer Jobs Youth Employment Strategy and the Canadian Museums Association: Young Canada Works at Building Careers in Heritage for their contributions that made hiring summer students and new graduates possible.