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Smart Garden 2020: Make your home 'science friendly'

My "Science Table"
A geode, antler shed, obsidian,
a pine cone and an orchid.

When I was a kid, I wasn't much of a gardener; however, my brothers and I all grew up with an innate interest in science thanks to our mother. One of the counters in our back hall where we all came in and hung our coats was designated by Mom as the "Science Table". It was here where we displayed anything we found outside that we thought was a "keeper" - agates from the lake, colored leaves, dried flowers, driftwood, a wasp nest (empty) cut from a lilac shrub.

Not everything was dead or inanimate. A twining hoya plant hung by the window, and sometimes we kept living creatures on the Science Table. My brother Andy kept a newt in its terrarium there, and I kept a snail named Pinky in a shallow bowl with water and pebbles. The Science Table wasn't complicated - no scientific names or plant labels - but it sparked our curiosity about the natural world every time we used the back door.

Even if you don't have kids at home, you can create a "science friendly" home by bringing natural elements into your home to keep your sense of discovery and connection to science and nature close by.

As a horticulturist, I have a lot of houseplants (no surprise there) but I'm also a bit of a rock hound and keep a bowl of rocks in our living room. In the bowl are semi-precious stones purchased at nature centers and museums, smooth gray and tan stones from the North Shore, and some choice agates I found at the lake.

In my "green room" where I keep a majority of my plants, my "Science Table" is complete with an orchid, a split geode from Colorado, an antler shed found at my cousin's farm nearby, a pine cone from the back yard and a big chunk of snowflake obsidian. Turning these items over in my hands always gets me thinking about where they came from and how they were created - the science and history of nature. A "science friendly" home will keep all of us - young and old - curious about the natural world while we are forced to spend significant time indoors.

Dr. Jean Larsen, head of the MN Landscape Arboretum's Nature-based Therapy program, also encourages us all to get outdoors and spend time in nature. So as you take your daily walks and visit parks and natural areas to get much-needed fresh air, collect something and bring it home to your own "Science Table." Make it accessible and hands-on for anyone who is curious and wants to hold part of nature in their hands even while indoors.

Author: Julie Weisenhorn, Extension educator, Horticulture
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