Seven Locks Landscape Legacy Educational Garden Project


Bringing the Theme of the C&O Canal to the Landscape

Interactive Garden with Native Plants Ties into Curriculum at All Grade Levels and Educates Children about the Importance of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Our award-winning curriculum-enhancing conservation garden-landscape was installed by the Foundation for all to enjoy and learn from. The garden is not simply an asthetic improvement. Children of all grades have used the gardens in their curricular studies as it is composed of native plants that provide important habitat (for breeding and food) for wildlife, such as goldfinchs and butterflies. The gardens also reduce rain runoff, pollution, and is a wonderful resource to learn about conservation gardening!

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Front of School BEFORE Landscaping Project

Reflecting the C&O Canal

Seven Locks Elementary School was named after Locks  8 – 14 of the C&O Canal.  A natural extension of this idea is the continuation of the theme of the C&O Canal through the landscaping. In addition, we envisioned an educational garden that would provide a curricular resource for teachers. After the new school building was completed, teachers lamented the lack of interesting green space for children to explore and was nostalgic for the courtyard space in the old building.

In 2012, the Foundation asked the Montgomery County Master Gardener Program for help in bringing this vision to fruition.


Front of School AFTER

Lead landscape designer, Master Gardner Debbie Friedman of Bethesda Garden Design, designed a landscape filled with native plants to evoke a vision of water (with flowing grasses to simulate the water of the canal) and reflect the habitation that surrounds the Canal.

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Left Side Leading to Playground BEFORE Landscaping

The native Maryland plants incorporated into the design not only resemble the look and feel of the landscape of the historic Canal, but also allow ease of maintenance and minimize use of resources.


Left Side Leading to Playground AFTER

Stone steppers were later added to replicate the rocky terrain of the Great Falls area of the C&O Canal and to allow access by students to study the plants and wildlife in the new landscape.

Ms. Friedman was also asked to choose native plants to soften the appearance of the cinder-block walls to the far left and far right of the building. Replacing turf with native plantings not only reduces mowing needs and CO2 emissions, but also decreases rain runnoff and provides a natural habitat attracting wildlife. The initial phase of our project addressed the three main areas at the front of the school as shown in the adjacent pictures.

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Far Right Side of School BEFORE Landscaping

In 2013, Foundation members applied for and secured a grant with Montgomery County’s RainScapes Program (part of the Department of Environmental Protection) to subsidize the sizable cost of the new landscape.


Far Right Side AFTER

The community was called into action on Planting Day, April 27, 2013, and the new landscape was realized (see more pictures here).  Funds raised by the Spring Fling, funds from generous donors directly to the landscaping project, as well as funds from the PTA (which were earmarked for the stone steppers, named “Carol’s Way” in honor of the year of retirement of  for our beloved long-time front office secretary) allowed not only completion of Phase I but also allowed additional landscaping to be completed around the new front sign and in the interior courtyards.

Enhancing the Curriculum for Seven Locks Students

Additionally, the goal is to develop the landscape into a teaching garden with ties to the existing curriculum across all grade levels.

One important goal of this project is to help educate students at Seven Locks Elementary School about their environment – from the Chesapeake Bay Watershed in general to the C &O Canal in particular. The plantings, many of which are native to the Chesapeake Bay Wetlands habitat, will support diverse curricular teachings on subjects such as water quality (bay health and watershed health), stormwater management, and wildlife habitat since many of the plants selected will attract birds, butterflies and other pollinators.

In addition to helping to promote environmental stewardship, the plantings provide teachers at Seven Locks Elementary School with a renewable resource for hands-on education tailored to each grade level and with a holistic curriculum that links environmental study with science and engineering, mathematics, health education, art, writing, social studies, and history (particularly the C and O Canal legacy).

The Plantings

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The master gardener-prepared and MCPS-approved (February 2013) planting plan was implemented to reflect a vision of water-like movement and native plantings to resemble the look and feel of the historic C&O Canal (click on thumbnail for full size plan).

A) Far Left and Near Left Front of Building (looking from the street):

Foundation plantings, such as taller shrubs (viburnum, shamrock inkberry hollies, northern bayberry) between existing trees soften concrete walls and a variety of native ornamental grasses (river oats, tussock grass) add movement and interest and represent the flowing water of the canal.

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B) Right of the front door (on the other side of the Lock Gates):

The grass “river” continues and evergreen shrubs tie together both sides of the front landscape to provide a cohesive look.

C) All Front Areas:

A variety perennials (such as wild bleeding heart, virginia bluebells, and purple coneflowers) and bulbs (such as daffodils and wood hyacinth) give the area lots of color and all-season interest as well as attract birds, butterflies, and other pollinators.

Future Direction and Needs for Garden Landscape

As with all gardens, there is a need for continued maintenance and occasional replacement of plants that decline. While a garden filled with native plants requires far less maintenance and naturally thrives in this mid-Atlantic environment, there is a need for some maintenance to keep the garden looking its best and ensuring the diversity of plant and wildlife for generations of Seven Locks students.IMG_3927 (Small)

Some of these needs include weeding through the vigorous growing seasons (Spring-Fall), as well as mulching and yearly cut-back of grasses and perinneals. In addition, occasional replacement of declined or declining plants will also be needed.

Volunteer efforts will be utilized as much as possible (look for our call for signups for “Landscape Stewards” and Fall/Spring Cleanup), but we will also be relying on continued donations for mulching and other maintenance needs to assure the gardens look their best.

In looking toward the future, and as funds permit, extension of the landscape to include the median strip between the two parking lots is a possibility. We are also open to suggestions, some of which include benches, sculptures, boulders etc. to be included in the landscape.

If you are interested in supporting this particular project, consider donating to our Educational Garden Fund for maintenance and future projects. Best of all, all donations are tax-deductible!

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