"It's great for teaching. The kids enjoy it and we love seeing their enthusiasm," said Susan McLarty, this year's garden coordinator.
Four years ago, PTA member Christi Bailey began to envision a more functional and attractive garden. The structural elements were included with the design of the school, but the plantings were sparse and bland.
"The sidewalk was there, but it was just bare bones," said McLarty. "There was a little bit of grass and some shrubbery."
Through educational grants, donations from local businesses and PTA volunteers, the garden received a makeover. Low-maintenance shrubs and flowers gave the garden substance. Smaller plots were added for annual projects.
The new layout helped teachers include the garden in their curriculum.
"They try to integrate garden activities into art, writing and obviously science," said PTA member and garden volunteer, Carolyn Henry.
Bailey adds, "It's an excellent place for parents, counselors or tutors to sit with a child, or for a child to go out and read. It's quiet and peaceful."
Henry wrote the grant that enabled the garden to become a certified wildlife habitat. A water source, bird nesting sites and butterfly plants encourage wildlife to visit. Students also monitor the elements with a donated weather station.
The vegetable garden was added to show students how food grows.
"You just don't know how many kids don't have an understanding of where food comes from," said Henry. "They're amazed."
Productive blueberry bushes, a sensory herb garden and a rotation of annual vegetables give the children a personal experience with the things they eat. The vegetable garden has grown watermelons, collards, broccoli, tomatoes, radishes, lettuce, carrots and garlic.
"If we have any leftover food we donate to the Project Host Soup Kitchen or share with other classes," said Henry.
One popular project is an annual, nationwide cabbage-growing contest sponsored by Bonnie Plants. Participating children take home a cabbage to grow, which is later judged by a Clemson Extension employee. The student with the largest cabbage in the state receives a $1,000 college scholarship.
This year, seeds of half-runner beans were planted alongside giant sunflowers. After watching them grow, the kids are able to pick and taste-test the raw beans.
"They were awesome!" said fifth-grader Whitaker White.
Fellow student Grace Mozie said, "My favorite was the sunflower seeds. I'd never seen them grow and I knew that sunflowers were big, but I didn't know that they were that big."
To bolster state curriculum, the garden also includes symbols of South Carolina. State flower yellow jessamine twines up the awning supports, and a smaller windmill palm is used to represent the palmetto tree.
Garden volunteers also placed required boll weevil traps in order to gain a cotton permit. Growing this historic plant helps children to understand the state's early wealth, the source of cotton clothing and the backbreaking labor endured by slaves.
"We thought it was really important that they learn how to pick cotton," said Henry. "We don't understand in this day and age how important cotton was to South Carolina."
An illustrated journal, created by students, has become a portfolio of their observations in the garden.
Rivers Farmer, a fifth-grade student, explained that one of the writing topics was fall colors. Other students have written about the smell and taste of herbs or the more than 60 plant species represented in the little courtyard.
"The idea was to create a journal that gave us the tools to teach about the garden," said McLarty.
She talked about how only a fraction of the students grow up around plants, especially in the city. The garden may be their one chance to become connected to agriculture and nature.
"By doing artwork and poetry with the plants and butterflies, they get a chance to learn about them."