‘Ask This Old House’ Gave a Local Elementary School’s Garden a Makeover

The WGBH home improvement show donated an improved outdoor classroom to Lane Elementary School in Bedford.

Ask This Old House

Jen Newada with student helpers. Photo by Holly Redmond

Ask This Old House,” a spinoff of the classic WGBH show “This Old House,” receives up to 5,000 requests from people looking for home improvement help each day. It takes a lot to stand out among the thousands, but one recent query was impossible to ignore.

The request was from Lane Elementary School in Bedford, asking the team to give its outdoor classroom—a garden used for hands-on science and social studies lessons, as well as growing crops for the school cafeteria and the Bedford Food Pantry—a much-needed makeover.

“Jean Mickle, she’s the coordinator of the Green Team over at [Lane], she actually lives very near to our office and just decided to stop in one afternoon,” says producer Heath Racela. After that, there was no going back—and last week, Racela, the crew, and landscape designers Jenn Newada and Roger Cook arrived in Bedford to break ground, marking the first time the show has ever worked with a school.

With help from an excited crew of third through fifth graders, the team worked from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., battling rocky soil and tough digging conditions, to make the outdoor classroom a thriving garden. The crew focused on making the garden more accessible and easy to use, as well as planting seedlings grown by the students and—by popular request—building an arbor for growing grapes.

Racela says he hopes the episode will encourage other educators to follow in Lane’s footsteps, teaching concepts like plant life cycle and photosynthesis using actual plants, not textbooks. Plus, he says, the garden’s lessons go way beyond science.

“You ask [kids] where an apple comes from and they say, ‘Oh, it’s from the grocery store,'” Racela says. “But there’s a lot of work that goes into that 99 cent apple you’re getting at the store. The earlier they can learn that appreciation and the more they can learn how to grow that themselves, that’s an important lesson that they’ll carry with them.”

Designer Cook says the garden is a perfect choice for students, because it gets them outside and shows them the value of working on a project over time. “If you paint a wall, it looks the same every day. When you do a vegetable garden, it changes every day,” he says. “You can see it sprout and plant it and watch it grow, put it in the garden and it grows, it flowers, it produces fruit.”

From the looks of it, that’s a lesson the kids are excited about learning. “They took ownership in it, and I think by having them plant their own seedlings, they’ll want to take care of it and nurture it along,” says designer Newada. “One of the little girls that was planting with me, she looked at her friend while we were planting tomatoes and she just said, ‘This was so worth the wait.'”

Another thing worth the wait? Those tomatoes. “I’m going back,” Cook says. “I was promised a tomato, and I’m going back for it.”

Ask This Old House airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on WGBH. Look out for Lane Elementary’s episode at the start of the next season, beginning in October.