Strawberries are such a satisfactory plant to include in the school garden! Children in our area can watch them break dormancy in the early spring. Over the next two months, they can observe the plants transform – sprouting tiny leaves that swiftly grow to full size, small green buds, bee bedecked flowers, and then, swelling green receptacles which soon become delicious red strawberries spangled with seeds. What a splendid way to learn directly about the formation of fruit from flowers!
Additionally, strawberries are not only indigenous to this bioregion but they have many important culinary and medicinal connections with N.E. Native American culture. The June Strawberry Festival continues to be a vibrant 21st Century Native American celebration in this region. There are also lovely legends about strawberries that deserve to be shared with the youngsters. Here’s one that my students have particularly liked that emphasizes goodwill between brothers and sisters – despite the occasional quarrel. It’s a brief story recounted by Little Turtle of the Dudley Band of the Nipmuck Tribe. (You’ll need to scroll to page 131 on the pdf, but this is a splendid free resource in general.) Native American Sourcebook. Barbara Robinson. Concord, MA: Concord Museum, 1988, p.131
Our school garden’s ‘Ozark Beauty’ strawberry ground cover has been a very satisfactory permaculture feature for over five years. We interplant the strawberries with parrot tulips and daffodils during the fall, and they all seem to coexist quite well. In winter, we mulch them lightly with oak leaves provided by a fine clump of red oaks across the street. In spring, the daffodils bloom first, followed by the tulips, and then the strawberries. The strawberry fruits typically begin ripening in the second week of June – just before summer vacation. Most years, we’re able to celebrate the end of the school with a strawberry harvest and feast – for at least the Garden Club students and a class or two of the regular grades.
~ More detailed information about our planting experience in Southern NH:
For the past two years, we’ve been interplanting a few zinnia, calendula, or dahlias among the strawberries during the summer for later color and botanical interest during the fall. This has been moderately successful. The strawberries are bordered on one side with daylilies and on the other, with ‘President Tyler’ morning glories which are supposed to grow around the adjacent iron fence. The morning glories frequently try to expand instead over the strawberries. Consequently, they must be redirected and thinned, especially during the summer. Wild Common Blue Violets are the strawberries’ most aggressive competitors. While their flowers look charming next to the white strawberry blossoms in May, the violets are so competitive that we’ve begun to deliberately remove them from this section of the garden. This is a difficult task requiring comprehensive and persistent uprooting. The violets’ remarkable underground, self-pollinating flowers and seeds, (which have a dispersal partnership with ants) complicate the task.
On the other hand, the strawberry plants have been quite invasive too in unexpected sections of the garden. They can now be found in many sunny areas, although these volunteer plants do not produce nearly as much fruit as those that were originally purchased. Perhaps these new plants are more closely related to the native wild strawberry plants (dispersed by birds and small mammals). The native types bear smaller quantities of tinier berries than the domesticated variety that we originally introduced.
In any case, the students have enjoyed propagating strawberries by separating and potting up the plantlets that occur along the runners / stolons which stretch out from established plants. They usually take these home or sell them to their classmates at the spring plant sale. Early this summer, we will probably add fresh new strawberry plants from a local nursery to the garden. This would be in accordance with University Cooperative Extension websites which recommend that established strawberry plants be replaced every four to five years.