A garden is growing in a courtyard at the Edison Language Academy, thanks to the vision of a school parent and a supportive principal.
Grace Phillips, whose daughter attends Edison, is a landscape designer who took off time from her regular job last year to create the sustainable garden outside the Edison School’s cafetorium. Known as the “Kelp Forest Courtyard,” the space contains low-water- use plants, all native to Southern California, semi-permeable paving, an infiltration pit under the paving which allows rainwater to drain into the aquifer rather than spill off into the street, and sprinklers that save water by distributing the water in droplets. The walls surrounding the garden feature murals with an underwater theme painted by David Legaspi, who has painted murals for most of Santa Monica’s schools. “The idea,” says Philips, “was to teach kids that what we do in this urban setting three miles from the ocean actually has a big effect on what happens under the water.”
Two years ago, Phillips enrolled her daughter in the school because of her interest in its language immersion program (classes are taught in both English and Spanish). Shortly afterwards, she visited the school and was impressed by a small interior courtyard garden, which contained a single Coast Live Oak. “It was beautifully landscaped and contained native plants. The fact that somebody had planted this tree and had done this beautiful native garden impressed me. At the time, it was very unusual.”
Phillips learned that the courtyard was known as “Carolina’s Garden,” after a former Edison School PTA president, Carolina Williams Kayback, who had the idea for the garden but did not live to see her vision. After her death from a brain tumor, students worked to bring the garden to life. Phillips was inspired by the story of the garden and by the fact that it was based on environmental principles.
“It’s the kind of landscaping that I really believe in because it takes runoff off the street and returns it to the aquifer.” (An aquifer is a natural holding tank of porous rock or soil locked between impermeable layers in which water may travel long distances.) “So I said to the principal, Lori Orum, ‘I’m a landscaper and if you need any help with anything let me know.’ ” As it turned out, Orum wanted to have the cafetorium courtyard, used for outdoor lunches, refurbished into what became the Kelp Forest Courtyard. Phillips got the assignment and praises Orum for having faith in her vision of the garden “before funding was in place.”
Financing came from City grants and grants from private donors. Some money even came from students who donated money from bake sales. In six weeks Phillips raised $85,000, and over the four-month period in the summer of 2005 the courtyard garden was created. It opened the week before the school term began in September 2006.
Says Phillips, “I really felt every kid should have opportunities to be an environmentalist, be exposed to things that make them understand the natural world.
“I felt the kids should feel valued and have the opportunity to learn in a beautiful place.”