A Sustainable Southwest Japanese Garden

Rhonda Spidell
Albuquerque Academy
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A Sustainable Southwest Japanese Garden Project combines Earth Systems geoscience curriculum with designing and developing a sustainable Japanese garden. The garden uses water harvested from the roof of the library in conjunction with solar powered pumps. The garden has a historical significance as it is modeled after the gardens created during the Japanese American interment camps.

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The audience for this project will be the 8th grade Earth Systems science students at Albuquerque Academy. The community (faculty, staff, students, parents and alums) will be involved in the ongoing project to create a sustainable SW Japanese Garden. Another component of the audience will be the honoring of the Japanese/Americans who were interned during World War II.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Skills include:
  • Identifying and constructing the features of the geologic of the area (Rio Grande Rift). Connecting knowledge to plate tectonics, mountain building and volcanic features from classroom activities.
  • Students will be able to identifying the rock cycle in the landscape and connect their knowledge to classroom activities.
  • Identifying and installing xeriscape plants as well as understanding how to cultivate the plants using the Albuquerque Water Authority specifications.
  • Understanding landscaping techniques such as sheet mulching (CO2, nutrient cycling, water usage)
  • Calculate water harvesting from the roof of the library.
  • Calculate water usage by plants and loss due to evaporation. Connect knowledge to Albuquerque's Aquifer and water models used in classroom.
  • Calculate gallons per hour and pump pressure needed.
  • Solar output and requirements for pumps (using watts, volts, resistance). Connect knowledge to solar cars constructed in classroom.
  • Using the garden pond to understand water cycle components in the Japanese garden and relating it to the ecocolumns constructed in class.

How the activity is situated in the course

The Sustainable SW Japanese Garden project is ongoing and includes a comprehensive community service component. During the fall semester activities will be linked to plate tectonics and the rock cycle. In the spring, the work in the garden will be linked to projects and activities around the water cycle, plant and pond ecology, as well as solar activities.

Fall Semester:

  • plate tectonics
  • rock cycle

Spring Semester:

  • water cycle
  • plant and pond ecology
  • solar hookup


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The goals for the project include:

  • Using the SW Japanese garden as a memorial to the Japanese Americans interned during WWII.
  • Using the garden to demonstrate the interconnectedness of Earth Systems Science. All five spheres (hydrosphere, cryosphere, biosphere, atmosphere and geosphere) will affect the SW Japanese garden.
  • Using the garden to teach the geology of the region. The design of the garden will illustrate the unique geology of the Rio Grande Rift.
  • Involving students in water conservation by harvesting water from the roof of the library.
  • Engaging students in calculating solar output needed for the garden.
  • Teaching students sustainable practices such as sheet mulching and the use of compost to promote a healthy garden.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

The Sustainable Southwest Japanese Garden is service learning project with design, implementation and problem-solving components. The linked classroom activities and labs will serve as conceptual development and help students master the skills needed to solve solar power and irrigation challenges. The overall goal is to achieve a 100% sustainable garden that will serve as a demonstration for students and adults to enjoy over the years.

  • Calculate the gallons of water needed for the plants in the SW Japanese Garden.
  • Calculate the roof area using satellite images to determine the amount of harvested water for the cistern. Determine what type and amount of rainfall will fill the cistern.
  • Calculate the watts needed for the three pumps. Understand basic electrical principles such as circuits, load, amps, volts, AC vs DC, battery storage requirements and how much of solar energy will be required.
  • Understand the requirements for the placement of the solar panels in terms of angle of the sun, direction and position as well as measuring albedo will be important skills.
  • Calculate solar output to determine square meters of solar panels required.
  • Understand the factors involved in creating a pond ecology that is sustainable.

Other skills goals for this activity

Historical perspective: understanding the implications of interning the Japanese/Americans during World War II.

Description of the activity/assignment

Project Description (Microsoft Word 14kB Jan26 10)

Water collection and usage in the Sustainable SW Japanese Garden

The Albuquerque Water Authority has several activities on their web site to help with making a personal water audit, selecting xeriscape plants, designing garden areas as well as forms for rebates. We used the ABQ Water Authority design format to calculate which plants to install. Students start with a personal water audit and then move to the design of the garden.

Personal water audit http://www.abcwua.org/Understanding_Your_Bill.aspx

Techniques to consevere water outdoors http://www.abcwua.org/Save_Water_Outdoors.aspx

Planning Xeriscape - students create their own personal garden and we transfer the concepts to the Japanese Garden. We are looking at Japanese design elements with a SW flare and thereby modeling what the internees did when they were limited to the surrounding rock, vegetation and water collection. http://www.abcwua.org/Xeriscaping.aspx

Calculating roof area using a Google satellite image

We use a measurable square on the pathway for the scale and then we calculate the square feet of the roof area. A transparency is used to overlay the image and calculate the water harvest.

Calculating the capacity of the 1500 gallon cistern in terms of water needed per plant

Students experiment with buckets to see ascertain the best collection site. The water is measured after rainfalls and compared to the weather data collected by the NOAA.

Determining whether students have met the goals

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

A Sustainable Southwest Japanese Garden (PowerPoint 2.4MB Feb2 10) - PowerPoint presentation from the Service Learning Workshop

Website using the Japanese garden as a model for education outside of the classroom.

My previous students who worked on the garden during their community service project saw potential of using gardening to make a broader impact. The were selected to be a part of a sustainable blogosphere called Education Outside the Classroom. You'll see some of the images of the Japanese Garden project. http://issuu.com/eotc.abq/docs/issue_1_pdf