Student Service Projects – Campus Improvement – a more native and healthy landscape

Student Service Projects – Campus Improvement – a more native and healthy landscape

Each semester the students of Riverstone International School in Boise, Idaho undertake service projects during their parent-teacher conferences. The scope of the service projects is wide-ranging and includes several off-campus options for volunteering with local organizations and on-campus projects. This year students volunteered at Boise Urban Garden School (BUGS), Idaho Youth Ranch, Create Common Good and the Discovery Center, while other groups helped improve our local ecosystems and green spaces by working on a planting project with Idaho Fish & Game, participating in a Barber Park river clean-up and a Quarry Park clean-up. One group usually stays on campus to work on maintenance and beautification projects, and this year a second group stayed on campus to work on a new project (let’s call it Campus Improvement!).

Campus Improvement!

Ben Brock, Riverstone’s Director of Outdoor Education, and I brainstormed ideas for a new service project, and came up with a two-part project: 1) use native plants on a parking lot planting strip to beautify the area and teach students and parents about the benefits of native plants and 2) utilize urban plant protection methods to improve and ensure health and vigor for several trees in the quad.

I had noticed that one of the parking lot planting beds was full of old box plants (Buxus sp.) that were struggling to thrive. A supplementary soaker hose had been installed to try to keep them alive through the dry heat of Boise summers, but nature was not going to allow for a successful shrub planting of this cold-loving, humidity tolerant European plant in the hot hellstrip (thanks to Lauren Springer Ogden for coining this phrase in The Undaunted Garden) of a Boise school parking lot. It was a shining example of “wrong plant, wrong place”.

We took out the box plants, and installed native grasses: Great Basin wild rye (Leymus cinereus), Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoides), and Prairie June Grass (Koeleria macrantha) from Draggin’ Wing Farm. We also planted some salvaged Blue Fescue (Festuca sp.), which is a cultivar and not really a native but has great drought tolerance and helped fill the planting area nicely. These plants (with the exception of the fescue) are all native to the Great Basin ecotone, the plant community native to the Boise region. They will thrive with little water or maintenance and will increase the habitat value on the school grounds. Once I create and install the signs for our native plant demonstration garden, parents, students and visitors can learn about the importance of native plants which will raise awareness about water use in our landscapes. I will update this blog with more content and pictures as soon as I get the interpretative signs approved and installed!

Quad Beautification

We discovered that one of the old Earth Day projects, a tree planting in the quad, had outgrown its installation. After over 10 years in the pavement, these trees needed more space! It was time to give the trees some TLC, increase the aerobic zone for root development, increase the catchment area to capture more precipitation, feed the roots and soil with arborist chips (kindly donated by the City of Boise) and formalize the tree rings to protect the soil and roots (and of course, make things look nice). Making the trees healthier will help to prevent future disease outbreaks and reduce the need to treat or replace the trees.


The students had a great time working together on projects that benefit one of their most personal communities, and learned about native plants, using sledgehammers, watering-in new plants (using rooftop collected rain water!) and the benefits of organic and inorganic mulch.

It was also awesome to see how so many people and organizations can come together to do something cool. A big thanks to: Riverstone International School (for providing the space and having the great idea to do service projects during parent-teacher conferences); Ben Brock (for brainstorming, sponsoring the project and salvaging his Blue Fescue); City of Boise (for donating 3-yards of arborist chips); SustainingUs (for also sponsoring the project and providing the rest of the grasses); and of course the middle and high school Riverstone students for their hard work!


Signage is finished and the plants are protected in wire cages. Final step: enjoy a new low maintenance landscape for years to come.