Riverview students to benefit from herb garden

A group of Riverview Middle School seventh grade students plant lavender during the opening of the Riverview Physic Garden of Medicinal Plants in the Outdoor Classroom of the school on Friday, May 28.
A group of Riverview Middle School seventh grade students plant lavender during the opening of the Riverview Physic Garden of Medicinal Plants in the Outdoor Classroom of the school on Friday, May 28. Photo by Matt Murphy.

Riverview Middle School's seventh grade classes are the beneficiaries of a new herb garden planted as part of Riverview's Outdoor Classroom, thanks to a partnership between three Huntington County education facilities and Keiffer Williams, a Boy Scout well on his way to the Eagle Scout ranking.

The Riverview Physic Garden of Medicinal Plants opened on Friday, May 28, after months of planning and out-of-classroom work by Williams and Riverview students.

Riverview seventh-grade science teacher Deb Daugherty, one of the leaders of the project, says the garden will be used as a hands-on learning experience when her classes study medicinal plants, including lavender, Russian tarragon, mint and oregano. Each plant is believed to offer different health benefits and uses.

Daugherty and her students, along with Williams, teamed up with Huntington North High School students Christian Webb and Alex Robinson, both former students at Riverview, and Jeff Webb, Ph.D., professor of history at Huntington University.

Daugherty says the idea began germinating after Christian Webb visited the Chelsea Physic Garden in London, one of the oldest gardens dedicated to medicinal herbs in the world.

In addition, Williams, a Huntington North sophomore, needed an idea for his Eagle Scout project. Jeff Webb, also involved with Boy Scouts of America and Christian's father, mentored Williams and came up with the idea for the garden.

Jeff says that in the past, people have relied on the use of medicinal plants and herbs and studied those species from a young age. Unfortunately, he says, much of the sense of what he calls "botanical literacy" has been lost in the modern age.

Jeff teaches environmental history classes from time to time at HU, and he says a trip to the Florida Everglades in January 2009 with HU students helped him become more interested in the use of plants for medicinal purposes.
"We wanted to create the lab to encourage kids to learn more about plants," Jeff says. "This took a lot of dedication, and we're pretty pleased with how it turned out."

Planning for the garden began last fall, with Riverview students Nick Bucher, Jordan Wall, River Kolb and Aidan Wright forming a design team to plan the garden.
Williams, HU students and HNHS students then judged the designs and selected the best one.

After the design was decided, the seventh graders and Boy Scout volunteers, under Williams' supervision, went to work last fall on Saturdays and after school to clear the area of brush and build new paths to the garden. This spring, Williams and the volunteers assembled the beds for the plants and put the final touches on the garden before Riverview students planted the herbs on opening day. The entire project totaled 206 hours and 55 minutes of work.

"We plan to use this garden every year," Daugherty says. "We're going to use the garden to teach students about plant biology."

Williams, a Scout for over five years and a member of Troop 130, still needs to earn two more merit badges and go before the Scout board before he can officially become an Eagle Scout, but he says he is "over the hump."

"Jeff really influenced and guided me," Williams says. "I'm really happy with the way it turned out."
Williams, of Huntington, also plays football at Huntington North and is a member of First Presbyterian Church.

Daugherty says she hopes to sell the plants from the garden with her seventh graders, or cook with the plants as an additional learning opportunity. Riverview students will care for the garden outdoors in the warmer months, and will start growing plants in an indoor greenhouse during the winter. Through Jeff's association with HU, freshman college students will maintain the park during the HU Plunge, a work day for freshmen the first weekend of school.