Bryson Elementary: School of Soil, Part I

(Photo: “Radish Sprouts and Radishes” by Jess is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Jim Folsom, the director of the Huntington Library and Garden, likes to say that his institution is the “temple of soil.” I like to think of Bryson as the “School of Soil.”

At the beginning of each class, I ask, “What is the most important thing in a garden?”


“I can’t hear you!” I say. 


“Without proper soil, a plant will neither get proper water nor food!”

This is a rallying cry that I hope to ingrain into the brains of my students as strongly as their school’s pledge.

Just like you should read the ingredients of anything you eat that is packaged in a store, I tell the students they should know the contents of their soil–especially in an organic and edible garden.

Soil, real soil, is not just dirt, I tell them. I bring in Edna’s Best Potting Soil–an especially fragrant mix–and have students smell it and guess its contents.

“It smells like trees! A forest!”

Indeed, the bark of a very distinctive tree: the redwood.

Another fun feature of this lesson? Students get to learn different ways of saying poop: scat, worm castings, chicken manure and my new favorite: bat guano.