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.

Christine Lai

Christine Lai is a UCCE Master Gardener who joined Enrich LA in 2016. She began gardening in California in 2013 when she removed her parents’ lawn and replaced it with water wise landscaping. Today, her interests have widened to include edible and native plant gardening. She keeps a worm bin and misses the open compost pile in her old home terribly.