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The Amelioration of School Grounds

We have an ideal picture, that refreshes our imagination, of common schoolhouses scattered all over our wide country, not wild bedlams which seem to the traveler plague spots on the fair country landscape, but little nests of verdure and beauty; embryo Arcadias, that beget tastes for lovely gardens, neat houses and well-cultivated lands.

— A. J. Downing.

It would seem as though the grounds about a school building stood in special need of such means of refinement as trees and shrubs. But we know how often, especially in the cities, they have not the room even for green grass.

But supposing we have one of those fortunate suburban or rural schools, whose founders have had the foresight and the benevolence to reserve for it some more adequate grounds, what can we do in the way of ornamentation? Obviously, fancy gardening with expensive plants is out of the question. Something simple must be undertaken, and usually something inexpensive. If the circumstances of soil and climate and the attendance of the school will permit its maintenance, a good turf is most to be desired. But in many places this will be tramped to pieces; and then some sort of paving ought to be provided,—gravel, or sand or stone.

If a school yard can have a few large trees they will always be greatly prized by everyone. Their value is so great that, in places having the room, very considerable pains should be taken to supply them. Usually it is best to plant the largest trees possible. Thousands of our American schools celebrate an Arbor day. Usually the trees planted on such occasions are considerable in number, but inconsiderable in size. Most of them succumb to various casualties before the end of term time, and the remainder die of neglect during vacation. If the same work were applied to the planting of one, or two large trees,—twelve, fifteen or twenty feet high, with sufficiently good roots,—the chances of success, under the circumstances, would be greater.

Shrubs can be used to advantage on school grounds along back boundaries, especially against fences. Good, thrifty native species, like dogwood, hawthorn, and even the wild bramble, will add greatly to the looks of the premises by relieving them of that cheerless, depressing barrenness which too commonly characterizes the schoolhouse lot. Attention will need be given that such shrubbery borders do not become unsightly by the accumulation of litter, but no other special care or cultivation will be required.

One often hears it argued, how nice and proper it would be to grow flowering plants and plants of economic interest on the school grounds. There is a very sufficient multitude of reasons why this is seldom possible, but the idea is admirable and one to be encouraged. If such good things seem to be within reach, the garden beds will best be put along the back and side borders. It is possible in such situations, and under favorable conditions, to cultivate narrow beds, laid out in a manner to be out of the way of most of the romping play which occupies the main grounds. But for all such plantings the hardy perennials are to be recommended above the annuals, other things being equal.

The great difficulties in the way ought not to deter school boards, teachers and patrons from using their best efforts to ameliorate, as much as possible, the uninviting blankness of the ordinary school grounds, especially in view of the very manifest desirability of such improvement.

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