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A handful of the garden’s crops, including broccoli, tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash, and zucchini, at the beginning of June 2020.

Sitting atop Franklin University Switzerland’s science lab lies one of the university’s most defining features: its community garden. Franklin’s garden has served both as a place of community gathering and as an outdoor classroom since its establishment in 2010. Each spring, students prepare for the long growing season by caring for a diverse range of seedlings that eventually bear fruit (for students and staff to share). Today, the garden boasts a plethora of fruits and vegetables, ranging from blueberries and wild strawberries to sunchokes and pumpkins.

Where We’ve Come From

Franklin’s garden is a rather new development in the university’s 50-year history. For years prior to the garden’s establishment in 2010, students had pondered the possibility of growing their own fruits and vegetables on campus. In the years leading up to the garden’s establishment, momentum around the idea grew. In 2009, drawing inspiration from the gardens at University of California Santa Cruz and Stanford University, a group of committed students and faculty members successfully proposed a comprehensive plan that laid out both the logistics and benefits of Franklin’s very own garden.

These students and faculty members reasoned that a garden would demonstrate Franklin’s commitment to sustainability, unite students and staff around a common purpose, and serve as an outdoor classroom. While Franklin is home to a much smaller number of students and staff than many other institutions of higher education, it is Franklin’s small size that makes its garden such an integral part of the community.

A Place of Community

Student Grace Kotnik working in the garden.

Since it was established in 2010, several students have worked and volunteered in the garden year-round. One of these students, Grace Kotnik (class of 2022), assumed her position in the garden during the Covid-19 pandemic that sent many students home. Grace, who is also a member of Franklin’s Sustainability Club, states that “being in the garden is productive and soul-satisfying.”

Gardening is not new for Grace. In San Diego, where she grew up, Grace helped manage her family garden and learned about hydroponic gardening during high school. Working in Franklin’s garden has provided her with a sense of continuity and a sense of familiarity amidst the uncertainty that the Covid-19 pandemic entails. While caring for its various crops, Grace feels “at home and at peace.”

Anyone who has cultivated food knows how gratifying it is to see their hard work come to life. Student volunteer Luciana Vazquez recalls the gratification of watching her hard work pay off in real-time: “You have to be patient. Anything comes with patience and the garden is one example of that. You work hard, you water the plants, you take care of them, you weed, and then after a couple of weeks you get a reward for it.”

Other students have also experienced a sense of satisfaction while working in the garden. Each year, Franklin’s Sustainability Club invites the student body to learn about the year’s crops and to volunteer in the garden. At these informal “Garden Parties,” students and professors connect over coffee, good food, and getting their hands dirty.

An Outdoor Classroom

Students Gabriella Stokstad (left) and Luciana Vazquez (right) showcase the produce they received from the garden in early June.

While the garden brings students together over their love of cultivation, professors also utilize this space as an outdoor classroom. Besides overseeing the garden’s student workers, Environmental Studies Professor Brack Hale utilizes the space to educate students about the biological function of plants and about the importance of sustainable agriculture: “One year [my students] developed a guide for how to grow certain plants that we had in the garden or would want to have in the garden. I’ve also used it, depending on which season I’m teaching botany, to look at flowers, stems, and leaves.”

Grace, who took Professor Hale’s botany course, said that working in the garden complemented the knowledge she gained in class. By applying this knowledge, Grace developed “a better understanding of the science” behind growing edible crops in Ticino versus in her hometown in Southern California.

On a simpler level, working in the garden provides students with the satisfaction of learning about how food is produced. Grace remarks that under the current food distribution model “a lot of people don’t really understand where their food comes from. Being able to understand... what [food] looks like when its growing” has given her a greater appreciation for eating.

Renaming the Garden in Honor of Professor Ann Gardiner

Professor Ann Gardiner (right) sits with former student Yana Smith (left) during an academic excursion to Monte Generoso.

In 2020, the garden was renamed in honor of the late Professor Ann Gardiner. Throughout her time at Franklin, Professor Gardiner was dedicated to the garden, to her students, and to the Franklin community at large. Professor Gardiner demonstrated her dedication to the community by uniting students and staff alike in their mission to oversee the garden. According to one of Professor Gardiner’s former students, Andrea Briscoe (Class of 2021), “Professor Gardiner gave so much of her heart to every person she met. She didn’t just care about students reaching their full academic potential, but she also wanted to help us learn how to live a life filled with curiosity and fulfillment. She was the first person to tell me what I had to say mattered to the world.”

Across campus, many recognized Professor Gardiner’s commitment to teaching. In the classroom, she often wove thoughtful stories from her youth into class discussions. Learning about her numerous hiking expeditions, her days spent boat-hopping around the Caribbean, and her small cottage just across the border in Italy brought a sense of liveliness and wonder to her classes. It was these stories that created a strong bond between student and professor, and that created an enriching and passionate learning environment. It was not until I worked alongside Professor Gardiner in the garden that I realized her love for teaching was rivaled by her love for gardening.

For those students who are involved in the garden today, even those who did not know her, Professor Gardiner’s legacy lives on. Grace, who never met Professor Gardiner, stated that this year’s main project for the garden is to “revitalize [it] and bring it back to, what I’ve heard, was its former glory” under Professor Gardiner’s watch.

The Future of Gardiner’s Garden

Despite the many successes of Gardiner’s Garden, managing a community garden takes hard work and consistent dedication. One of the main tasks for those working in the garden today is to increase community involvement, especially as students and staff deal with busy workloads.

Beyond community involvement, the garden must adapt to climate change. In recent years, Ticino has continually experienced hotter and hotter summers. According to Professor Hale, a changing climate means that the growing season has become longer in Ticino, now spanning 11 months of the calendar year. While certain crops used to grow well in Gardiner’s Garden, their future is uncertain. In this context, the garden provides a space for students to learn about the impacts of climate change in real-time.

A community garden takes consistent hard work and dedication. This year, Grace Kotnik and Professor Hale, as well as the other students who work in the garden, are tasked with finding new ways to involve the community and to carry out the legacy of Professor Ann Gardiner. On the bright side, scientists have discovered that the risk of Covid-19 transmission remains low in the outdoors, which is good news for those who enjoy spending their time there.

To learn more or to get involved with Gardiner’s Garden, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..