Ruud Klein­paste

NZ Gardener - - Contents -

What can we learn from na­ture?

Ruud Klein­paste pro­poses a utopian class­room where learn­ing is liv­ing – and vice versa.

in the course of my work (or per­haps hobby!) in en­vi­ron­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion, I have nu­mer­ous chats with kids about plants and bugs, and stuff that bite, sting and scare the liv­ing day­lights out of a lot of New Zealan­ders. I also work with teach­ers to give them con­fi­dence in teach­ing out­side. If you use the en­vi­ron­ment (parks, forests, wet­lands and yes, gar­dens and school grounds) as a con­text for ed­u­ca­tion, then you have na­ture as your teacher.

There is a mod­ern term for this kind of stuff: en­quiry learn­ing.

We of­ten for­get that the hu­man race has al­ways learned from na­ture; she tells us all the se­crets and re­veals the planet’s op­er­at­ing sys­tem.

Kids al­ways ask me, “What’s your favourite bug, Bug­man?”

The an­swer is al­ways, “The one with the best sto­ries.”

It’s all about the story; it’s all about what we can learn from all these ge­niuses and suc­cess­ful life­forms.

So if I were to de­sign an out­door class­room or a gar­den, what would I plant? Well, I asked Jo, my dar­ling ed­i­tor, if I could fill a whole copy of the NZ Gar­dener on this topic, but she re­fused. So here’s a summary (with cur­ricu­lum notes!) of some of the things I’d in­clude in the ul­ti­mate teach­ing gar­den.

Get some flax (Phormium). It is used for weav­ing (craft, art, his­tory, cul­ture, so­cial stud­ies), but some types are bet­ter than oth­ers (so we learn tax­on­omy, physics, sci­ence). It grows well in wet ar­eas, such as swamp mar­gins (ecol­ogy, niches, adap­ta­tion, soil types). The flow­ers are full of nec­tar (lur­ing pol­li­na­tors: medic­i­nal sci­ence, re­pro­duc­tion) caus­ing lit­er­ally an air traf­fic con­trol night­mare of mul­ti­ple land­ing rates per minute (pol­li­na­tor species, birds, in­sects, nu­mer­acy, com­pe­ti­tion, ob­ser­va­tions at dif­fer­ent times of the

In Ruud’s ul­ti­mate teach­ing gar­den, bugs, plants and all the nat­u­ral world cover the sub­jects you’d need to learn at school.

day, sta­tis­tics). When the flax plants set seeds, you can cut those open and count them in their thousands (al­ge­bra, sta­tis­tics) and the ques­tion arises why there aren’t more flax seedlings un­der a par­ent plant (ecol­ogy, niches)? Why are there notches in the leaf mar­gin? Who makes those? And isn’t that an un­for­tu­nate bother when you are trying to har­vest long leaf-blades with long fi­bres for weav­ing? And who makes those aw­ful “win­dows” in the leaf’s disc? What are these crit­ters? What do they look like? How did Maori used to deal with these crit­ters that dam­aged this taonga?

To speed things up I need to min­imise my story-telling, so here’s a few gems:

Whitey-wood (Mel­i­cy­tus) is a fab­u­lous food plant for tree weta.

Pseu­dopanax shows you ju­ve­nile and adult leaves with sto­ries to match and re­search.

Hon­esty seeds are ab­so­lutely per­fect for art and de­sign; they can be coloured and used as translu­cent ob­jects.

Stachys leaves are hairy (why?) and now that we have the fab­u­lous wool carder bee (an ex­otic in­ter­loper from Europe), you can see how this in­sect uses the hairs to cre­ate the soft­est nests for its young and how it de­fends its prized plants from any other in­sect that comes close or flies into its airspace. A nas­tur­tium or a lo­tus leaf has the abil­ity to re­pel water; it’s hy­dropho­bic and causes water to bead off its sur­face in quick­sil­ver droplets. When you re­search how that works and put the term biomimicry into the mix, you sud­denly re­alise that some clever sci­en­tists have found a way to treat your shower door glass in such a way, that you’ll never, ever have to clean it again! Cre­ate a pond and ob­serve the mos­quito lar­vae, the back­swim­mers and pond skaters, water boat­man and dam­sel­flies; you sim­ply no longer need David At­ten­bor­ough’s Life on Earth on the tel­lie. It’s all, right here, in your own gar­den or school­ground. But my favourite story is about the puta­putawetˉaˉ ( Car­pode­tus). Start with te reo and you soon re­alise it’s a “plant with many weta holes”. This leads to why these holes are there and who makes them (puriri moth cater­pil­lars). You get through the life­cy­cle of New Zealand’s largest and short­est-lived moth, when you sud­denly re­alise that our bush is an ab­so­lutely mag­i­cal place, where ev­ery­thing is con­nected. Ev­ery species has an im­pact on its neigh­bours. There is no waste; ev­ery­thing is a re­source. Ev­ery­body works col­lab­o­ra­tively, us­ing only the sun’s cur­rent en­ergy and us­ing only what they need. Nothing more. The kind of place I’d like to live!

Male Hemideina cras­si­dens.


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