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Using NYC Parks as Classrooms - Learning to Garden with Acorns in Washington Square Park

Have you ever planted an acorn? Maybe you've worked on a woodland restoration project and planted acorns in a natural setting?

Last Saturday we attended an acorn planting workshop led by Kaslin Daniels, the head gardener at Washington Square Park. We planted acorns in terra-cotta pots. Kaslin asked open ended questions about what seeds look, feel, and smell like, what they do, and what they need to grow.  The discussion had an experiential aspect. Kaslin slit the skin of one of the walnuts so the children could smell its lemony scent. In addition to walnuts, she also displayed acorns, haws, sweetgum balls, oak leaves, and one-year old seedlings of hawthorn, ginkgo and red oak. By request of the children, she cut open the fruits and nuts so the children could see their interiors.

After this introduction, Kaslin demonstrated how to plant the English oak acorns that she had gathered from Prospect Park. To each pot, soil was loosely added then two English oak acorns were placed cap side up/root end down into the soil leaving their top halves exposed. The soil was generously watered. The children were told to keep the soil moist to the touch. The roots will germinate before the shoots so be patient.

There was not a story time component to the event, but Kaslin displayed several topical picture books. My son chose Gail Gibbons From Seed to Plant for me to read to him. The remaining three books, which I browsed through, were A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Aston and Sylvia Long; Who Will Plant a Tree? by Jerry Pallotta and Tom Leonard; and Treecology by Monica Russo.

Kaslin is a thoughtful and engaging teacher. The children responded well to her style and to the workshop concept. I would like to see more tree gardening opportunities in the park. Additional types of fruit and nut could be collected from plants in the park and potted. And though the park might not have space for a greenhouse, perhaps participants in future planting workshops could donate seedlings they grew to populate a children's woodland area in the park.