Friday, August 12, 2011

A Children's Garden

Last month I attended the AHS (American Horticulture Society) Children and Youth Symposium in Lansing Michigan. Attendees came from across the nation and as far as India. There were teachers, garden educators, Master Gardeners, horticulturist, scientist and more. We came from very different educational backgrounds but together we were like-minded people passionate about teaching and sharing our knowledge about plants and gardening to children and youth. During the 4-day symposium we enjoyed some interesting workshops, shared resources, networked, and took part in 3 field trips to some children’s gardens: Michigan 4-H Children’s Garden, Dow Children’s Garden and the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden.

I was inspired by the people I met, what I learned, and the garden visits. Here’s a recap of my favorites:

Michigan 4-H Children's Garden has over 56 individual garden themes built upon a mere half acre of land-- quite small in contrast to newer gardens designed for children but every inch is packed with creativity, inspiration, interactivity and fun. This seems to be one of the best ways to engage kids to learn about plants and gardening.

What’s 4-H stand for? The H’s stand for Head, Heart, Hands and Health... the whole person. It’s the largest out of school program in the nation and the clover logo and motto is to “Make The Best Better.” Their philosophy is “Learning by Doing.”

Jane Taylor the original curator of the 4-H Michigan Children's garden and horticulturist designed the garden in 1993 based on ideas and feedback from children. Today Dr. Norm Lownds the curator, and Jessica Wright, the education coordinator, provide educational programs to over 10,000 people each year including schools and families.

Thank you Jane Taylor (left) for blazing the trail. You have been inspiring and encouraged us to share our love of the garden with children.

Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunt game. Players are given GPS trackers to help locate a cache/small box loaded with treasures within the garden. Only one rule: if you take something, you must leave something, and then you are required to write something about your visit in the log book. Geocaching apps are now available for select smart phone, I’ll have to check this out one day and leave some seeds in a cache.

One of the highlights of the garden was experiencing some unusual plants. Many of us were in awe and wonderment over a plant that smelled EXACTLY like peanut butter. The Melianthus “Honey Bush” plant may be consumed as a tea and our tour guide noted that the peanut butter essence has also been utilized in food products.

This beautiful plant, a Senna didymobotrya, smelled just like the buttered popcorn you get at the movies. I was tempted to taste it, but didn’t. I had some serious doubts that it wouldn't have tasted as good as it smelled.

Here’s an eyeball plant or an Spilanthes oleracea, placing the flower on your tongue can numb it. It's also been prescribed by herbalist for toothaches.

Do plants really pass gas? Guess this one does, and it’s highly flammable. Here’s proof that you shouldn’t hold a flame to it either.

If there’s one non-edible plant that I’ve probably take for granted, its gotta be a cotton plant. Seeing how each pod (top) can only produce a small amount of cotton (bottom) I began to ponder how many plants and pods would be needed to produce a medium size T-shirt. Anyone know?

I loved the little tea garden area where cups and saucers were surrounded by various types of herbs.

Across from the tea garden was the peanut butter and jelly sandwich planter-- peanuts plants on top with strawberries in the middle.

Here’s the very popular dance chime. Check out the video of how it works.

Jessica Wright (left) the education coordinator and teacher extraordinaire at the 4-H Children's Garden and Keri, a happy symposium attendee. Note: The bag on Keri's head was the result of an ice-breaker facilitated by Jessica, not a bad hair day.

Welcome to the Curiosity Classroom which is part of the 4- H Garden program. Dr. Norm Lownds is the mastermind behind the QR codes in the children's garden. He is also known as Dr. Norm, a super hero on which is a virtual world for kids that integrates plant science education, gardening, cooking, social networking and more for kids. He's helped develop the site and holds on-line learning lab discussion (chats) on various topics. His commitment, energy and passion for teaching children is extremely creative.

The Butterfly Garden Workshop

Nancy Sale is a butterfly expert and generously shared her knowledge and expertise with us at one of many symposium workshops. We were shown beautiful caterpillars and cocoon, we learned about plants that attract butterflies, habitats, and grant resources to fund butterfly garden projects. I learned a great deal from the class and hope to grow some additional butterfly plants and certify my Monarch Butterfly Waystation next summer.

Here's Nancy looking for caterpillars on kolrabi.

I believe this is a Swallowtail queen. Look closely and you'll see a triple set of antennas.

This is a Monarch butterfly cocoon, it seems to resemble a nugget of jade and the gold detail like fine jewelry.

The Michigan Herb Association

On Friday night the Michigan Herb Association prepared and served us wonderful appetizers with herbs freshly picked from the 4-H Children’s garden. Beautifully prepared and presented, I enjoyed every morsel and also learned how to make cheese rosettes with a Girolle machine.

Cherry tomatoes, basil and marinated cheese on mini skewers. Beautiful!

Here are a few members of the Michigan Herb Association volunteers that made us the incredible appetizers. Thank you again ladies, the appetizers were amazing!

During the Friday cocktail hour a nice lady demonstrated how to uses a Girollo, a machine that makes beautiful cheese rosettes from Raclette, a handmade Swiss cheese. The Racette cheese from Black Star Farms in Sutton Bay Michigan was nothing like I had ever tasted... rich, creamy, smooth, velvety soft and wonderful served on top of fresh cut juicy apples slices!

The Dow Children's Garden

Coolest scarecrow I've ever seen!

Melissa Butkiewicz is a horticulturist at Dow Children's garden and also runs the Growin' Gardeners program, an award winning 10 week gardening program for families wanting to learn how to garden and grow their own food. The program currently has 84 garden plots and 270 participants: everyone learns the basics of plant growth, weed and insect control and the use of gardening tools.

Meet some mini Master Gardeners who have been involved with the Growin' Gardeners program for many years; they've enjoyed selecting different vegetables and herbs and growing them in their 4' X 4' garden bed.

Here are some of the 84 Growin' garden beds tended by over 270 gardeners, as a part of the program each family makes their own scarecrow.

The symposium came to a close after 4 days. Jane Taylor was the closing keynote speaker and was funny, spirited and compassionate. I think many of us felt fortunate to hear firsthand about her life's work with the 4-H Children's garden and to learn more about the children's nature movement that was started by Liberty Baily back in 1909. His book "The Nature-Study Idea" is now available and downloadable for free at google books.

Fern Culhane and Penny Colgan-Davis, my dorm buddies at the symposium, also blogged about Jane's work and the founders of the nature movement at

I believe this planter summed up the purpose of our symposium and what we shared.


Cristy said...

I LOVE the peanut butter and jelly sandwich sculpture!! I wonder what my neighbors would say if I installed one on my front lawn.

Debbie said...

Crafty Cristy: If they like peanuts and strawberries they will probably enjoy it too!

Robj98168 said...

LOL Know i gotta get a gas plant! Hee hee would bring my hours of joy!

H2 said...

Inspiring post, Debbie. Thank you for it. The gas plant was a real highlight.