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The growing ranks of Utah's water conservers now include even elementary school-age children who want to share their experience and enthusiasm with water-users in the nation's second driest state.

Sixth-graders at Oakridge Elementary School got a water conservation education when Gayen Wharton and other teachers at the school received a Utah Division of Wildlife Resources grant to turn a weedy hillside on their school grounds to a native-plant garden.The teachers decided to teach the kids about conservation and gardening while getting an attractive landscape in the bargain. Both are long-lasting benefits, Wharton said.

The "NatureScaped" garden not only saves water but also attracts deer and wildlife that can be used as an outdoor learning tool for students who otherwise may only see animals behind bars in the zoo. Homeowners can also attract wildlife to their yards by NatureScaping, Wharton said.

NatureScaping differs from xeriscaping - using drought-tolerant vegetation in landscaping. NatureScaping uses plants which are native to Utah and therefore naturally use less water. Utahns dispense nearly half of their drinking water for landscape irrigation.

Wharton's class chose native plants so they would not have to purchase the more expensive drought-tolerant plants. The hardest part in creating a native plant garden is distinguishing plants you want from weeds, Wharton said.

Wharton's students each adopted a native plant such as rabbit brush, Mormon tea, sego lily, and evening primrose. They researched the plant and created a booklet for future use in Oakridge's library.

Many of Wharton's students say they love working in their outdoor classroom.

"We have learned so much," Mejken Poore said. "We'd rather be outside learning than inside." Poore and her classmate Afton Ward adopted the ceremonial sage.

Dien Nguyen adopted the prickly pear, and even though it can be eaten, Nguyen said he hasn't tried it yet.

The students want all Utahns to follow their example and conserve water.

"We just want to show grown-ups that this just makes sense," Angela Mazer said.

"People should not be paying money to water the sidewalk," Tiana Freimann added.

They also want to show lawnowners they don't have to work so hard to have a nice yard.

"It's much more interesting than just grass," Tiffany Clinton said.

The students said the biggest problem they have is vandalism. The garden is open to everybody, but students want visitors to stay on the trail which has formed among the vegetation. The NatureScaped garden is on the northeast side of Oakridge Elementary School, 4325 Jupiter Dr. in Holladay.