21.09.2016 change 21.09.2016

Olsztyn scientist teaches gardening to children in different parts of the world

Garden design, selection of plants and their care are the things Olsztyn scientist Dr. Mariusz Antolak teaches children in different parts of the world. During his educational workshops, he learns how the local population perceives gardens and what their idea of modern landscape architecture is.

Scientist working in the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn has arranged gardening workshops and created school gardens in the slums of Kenya and the Republic of Cabo Verde. Now he is planning a trip to the Seychelles, where he will also teach gardening to children.

Research project named Global Garden Project, financed partly from the fund for young scientists of the University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn, is carried out since 2015. Its aim is to create integration places for the local communities at schools - unconventional green classes. The project follows the concept of global education, tackles the problems of ecology and food, which concern selected countries in the same aspects, to a varying extent - told PAP Dr. Mariusz Antolak.

He emphasised that designing and creating gardens is not only a learned profession, but also passion. "I started to create my own garden when I was 5 years old and maintained it for years. Now that I live in an apartment building, I do not have my own piece of land, but I have a mini-garden on the balcony, where I grow tomatoes, gourds and goji berries" - he added.

The first trip in the Global Garden Project was a trip to Kenya. "When planning the trip I imagined beautiful beaches and wonderful nature, but first thing I saw were the slums, where there is very little greenery and tons of garbage along the streets, and buildings are nothing but tin houses" - said the scientist.

"I came to one of the schools in the slums, and they pointed me to an approx. 50 square meters piece of land. Together with the kids we had to first clear the land, prepare the soil, remeve debris and stones. Despite the hardships the students were delighted, they helped bring the soil in sacks, carrying them on their heads. Designing the garden was preceded by educational workshops, during which students drew, how they imagined green areas, gardens. Then came the time for sowing and planting ornamental plants and vegetables" - described Antolak.

He explained in Africa planting target plants is preceded by planting of so-called shade plants, due to climatic conditions.

In the Kenyan garden the Olsztyn scientist together with local students planted ornamental lilies, bugenville, jasmines, bamboos, summer lilacs, papayas, loquats and fig trees. There were also vegetables: spinach, lettuce, potatoes, kale and onions. In Africa, the plants are sometimes planted in bags filled with soil and not directly in the ground due to the need to isolate the soil intended for growing plants from contaminated soil. With this method of planting - the scientist explained - allows to create spatial, vertical gardens.

He added that despite his fears in Kenya there were no problems with the water for watering the garden, the students used two large water tanks that were behind the school. "After two months, when I was back in Poland, the headmaster sent me photos of the plants we had planted, already grown" - he said.

The next trip was to the Cabo Verde Islands. After establishing contacts, the scientist chose the school and together with its students also founded a garden. "It turned out that the director of the school shared my passion for gardening, so there were no problems with cooperation. The big challenge was to get the seedlings for the planned garden. I bought a baobab seedling, which I transported to school on my knees in a bus. Other plants, for example aloes, I brought from a garden abandoned by the residents. Just like in Kenya, after the educational workshop and garden composition classes we planted ornamental plants such as oleander, fig, the baobab and aloes, bugenville, as well as vegetables. Cabo Verde has a big problem with water. The school buys bottled water for the school kitchen, so we faced the choice: water the newly planted plants, or leave the water for cooking meals for the students. I left the school management money for buying water for watering the garden" - said the researcher.

Now Dr. Antolak prepares for founding new school gardens in the Seychelles. He already visited the archipelago this year as part of a research trip. He visited 6 islands: Mahe, Praslin, La Digue, Curieuse, Silhouette and Cerf. "I focused on the landscape diversity and the problems related to tourism infrastructure. My research was interdisciplinary. It concerned landscape architecture, horticulture, sociology of space, architecture, urban planning and tourism" - he emphasised.

PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland, Agnieszka Libudzka

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