Green Thumb Science

St Catherine’s Science and Sustainability Program provides students with practical Science knowledge

Thirteen years ago, when I first arrived at St Catherine’s School, I felt like I was in the Mad Max movie Fury Road. Our Science garden was desolate! So began the journey to teach the students about plants; how to propagate them, how to care for them and how to enjoy the fruits of their labour.

Over the years we have integrated this practical learning into our Year 7 Science curriculum. Our journey began with an invitation to be part of the Melbourne Zoo’s Orangutan Browse Plantation Project – a sustainable partnership where schools grow and harvest browse plants for the Zoo’s Orangutans to play, sleep and nest in.

Our Science Department implemented the project into the Year 7 Science program and began with students enthusiastically tending to a selection of sunflowers, broad beans and Impatients they have planted in various locations around the School.

Before embarking on the Browse Plantation Project, students received a visit from Melbourne Zoo’s Education Officer, who spoke about the endangerment of the Orangutan species, their habitat, the types of non- toxic plants they could grow for the Orangutans, how they would approach their garden design and how to cut the plants for delivery to the Zoo.

In conjunction with the project, students completed the Horticulture – Growing Plants Award through SPECTRA (Science Program Exciting Children through Research Activities). Through this program, the Year 7 students learnt and developed their knowledge of Horticulture and Botany, including pH levels of soil, the process of seed germination and recording plant growth.

Armed with this comprehensive knowledge, the students oversaw their first successful harvest of browse plants for the Melbourne Zoo’s Orangutan Browse Plantation Project in 2009.

The success of the program led to an invitation to Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots at Melbourne Zoo. Students, along with myself, and fellow Science teacher, Ms Rouse attended the International Year of Forests Youth Summit in 2011.

Image 2

The International Year of Forests Youth Summit in 2011, with Jane Goodall

Students from Years 5 to 8 were invited from around Victoria to meet and hear from Dr Goodall and participate in a series of activities that celebrate the ‘International Year of the Forests’. There were a number of performances and guest speakers who shared their conservation experiences and achievements. Eight schools, including St Catherine’s, were invited by Melbourne Zoo to showcase their conservation programs supporting the International Year of Forests. This was a fantastic opportunity for students to meet and learn from a leading conservationist.

With the outbreak of myrtle rust in Victoria, the Melbourne Zoo was no longer able to accept the ginger plants from our Science Garden. The Science staff then adapted our program to the St Catherine’s Science and Sustainability Program (SSSP). Students have watched over the years the production of lettuce, sunflowers, a large variety of tomatoes, rhubarb, celery, carrots, potatoes, garlic, rosemary, parsley, basil, chili, kaffir limes, daisies, zucchinis, pumpkins and finally the St Catherine’s Rose. 2015 marked the establishment of the St Catherine’s Rose Garden which will enable propagation of the Roses, applying scientific method, within this program.

Some have said to me I must have a green thumb – hardly. I use my knowledge of Science and I persevere. So have a go at planting your own herb garden. Remember the two essential ingredients – sunlight and water and you cannot go wrong.


Mrs Virginia Midgley

Science Teacher

Up next