Archive for the ‘Search for Excellence Awards’ Category

2017 Workshop 1st Place – 10-Minute University, Clackamas County, OR

Saturday, June 24th, 2017

A Shortcut to Gardening Know-How: 10-Minute University™, Clackamas County, Oregon


10-Minute University™ offers a shortcut to research-based gardening know-how. During 2015 & 2016, 10-Minute University speakers taught one hundred and fourteen classes serving 3,883 clients with 5,370 educational contacts. Classes and handouts are offered free to all persons.

A Shortcut to Gardening Know-How: 10-Minute University™, Clackamas County, OregonClackamas County Master Gardeners began 10-Minute University™ as short classes for busy shoppers at their popular Spring Garden Fair. In 2006, they tested the idea by offering 10 classes, each lasting only 10 minutes. Client evaluations immediately showed that the audience liked every aspect of these classes except their duration. Today, the average class lasts 25 minutes.

Every class is evaluated in writing to assess the overall class, content, presenter, and likelihood of using what was learned. Clients participate on a voluntary basis. Results are tallied, shared, and tracked over time for action.



Program Design

A strong evaluation system is just one core tenet. The other two are highly-skilled MG instructors and well-crafted take-home handouts.

Instructors are active Master Gardeners who excel in public speaking and horticultural knowledge. All are committed to research-based information.

A Shortcut to Gardening Know-How: 10-Minute University™, Clackamas County, Oregon

A two-sided, one-sheet handout accompanies each class. Its development begins with a review of extension literature and ends with review comments from Extension agents, with many drafts and revisions in between. MG volunteers do the research, drafting, revisions, editing, and publishing.

Currently there are forty-three handouts posted at





SFE A Shortcut to Gardening Know-How: 10-Minute University™, Clackamas County, Oregon


10-Minute University classes are featured at two Clackamas County Master Gardeners annual educational events. In March, Garden Discovery Day helps jumpstart the gardening season. In October, Fall into Gardening shows how to put a garden ‘to bed’.

Classes continue to be part of the Spring Garden Fair in May, the MG Speakers’ Bureau year-round, and are offered at the Oregon City Farmers Market during the summer.



A. Written Survey (upon completion of class)

Evaluations show the vast majority of clients find 10-Minute University classes an effective way to learn. During 2015 and 2016, every class was evaluated in writing by clients. The graph below shows the results.

88% of clients surveyed strongly agreed with the statement “I will use what I learned today.”

B. Longitudinal Survey (3 months after class)

Two themes emerged from their responses to the question “Have you used anything learned from those classes? If yes, would you share some specifics?”

  • First, clients used what they learned.

“I successfully deterred slugs from my new plants, planted some beautiful potted containers, and reseeded my entire lawn. I also amended my soil this year with compost.”

“The class on pollinators was wonderful! I started a new garden just for bees and butterflies.”

  • Second, clients gained confidence in gardening.

“My husband and I planted our first vegetable garden using the information given to us by this series of classes. It gave us our confidence to do things correctly, instead of trial and error.”

“Yes! You guys are my source to current gardening practices and how-to. Without you I would not have the confidence I have today.”

2017 Workshop 2nd Place – KCEMG Speakers’ Bureau, Knox County, TN

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

Prior to 2013, the Speakers Bureau made presentations in response to specific requests from a garden club or civic group. That all changed in 2013 when a librarian at one branch of the Knox County Library System approached the Speakers Bureau with a request for monthly talks on organic vegetable growing. She had observed that many adult branch patrons were checking out organic vegetable gardening books. Planning began for a series of presentations in cooperation with the Knox County libraries.

The organic vegetable series began in April of 2013, with monthly talks through November. Attendance confirmed the librarian’s observation about the local interest. We began planning seasonally appropriate talks and “pushing” them to the public, rather than waiting for a request.

In 2014, we scheduled seasonally appropriate talks for January through October, on both vegetable and ornamental topics. By April, attendance at the vegetable series was regularly exceeding the library meeting room capacity (25) and we had to change locations. We moved to the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden, where hands-on activities could be implemented.   One YMCA, with 12 raised vegetable beds, asked that the monthly presentations be repeated at their site. Presentations on ornamentals were given at another local library and several local garden clubs and civic organizations.

Also in 2014, feedback forms were implemented. On the front, the audience assesses the presenter(s) as well as the content. On the back, there is a list of possible topics for future talks, and attendees are asked to mark the topics of interest. We also started to use a sign-in sheet, so that we could track attendance and collect email addresses from those who wanted to receive notices of upcoming events.

In 2015, the organic vegetable series (January through October) added two more venues for presentations, as did the herb and ornamental series.

In 2016, we stopped scheduling separate vegetable and ornamental talks as separate series and simply decided to do talks that were seasonally appropriate for either vegetable or ornamental gardening activities. Each month usually has a vegetable topic and an ornamental topic. (Some topics, like composting, apply to both vegetable and ornamentals.)

There was a lot of interest in pruning, so 2016 had a “Pruning 101: Rules & Tools” early in the season. Later on there was a “Pruning Hydrangea” talk as well as a “How to Prune Foundation Shrubs”. And for the first time, we did a “Fall Lawn Repair”, for which the attendance totaled 47 people.

In 2016, we did a total of 80 public talks, with a total attendance of just over 1750 people.

In 2017, because of the blazingly hot 2016 summer, followed by a fall drought, we added a “Spring Lawn Repair”. This talk had to be given twice. Next, because of a high interest in blueberries, we added “ABC’s of Blueberries”.

All of this supports one of our basic goals: to be aware of where the community interests are, and to develop new talks to address those interests. People come to our talks to learn something, and our evaluation/feedback form lets us know if we hit the mark.


NOTE: The photos submitted separately show that we present in a wide variety of venues. We often use PowerPoint, but as the photos also show, we often use a lot of props, like the photo of Marsha Lehman with the model raised beds. Finally, the Knox County Library system makes lovely color posters to publicize the talks held at their locations.

2017 Special Needs 1st Place – Gardening Through Life, Milwaukee & Waukesha Counties, WI

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017


Love to garden?  We’ve got the tools.  For many of us, gardening is a weekend warrior activity.  We sit all week at our desks and then don our gloves and grab our shovels and head to the yard with a vengeance, only to pay the price Monday morning.  As we age, it gets harder or we quit all together.  Well there is a better way and gardening does not have to be a “no pain, no gain” hobby.


The Lifelong Gardening Committee (LLG) of Southeast Wisconsin Master Gardeners supports and assists UW-Extension in community horticulture programs, and our particular project is to educate the public on principles and methods that will enable you to enjoy gardening throughout your lifetime.  We are continually refining and developing our curriculum with input from research, UW-Extension resources and you, the public who participate in our presentations.  We have grown from an educational tool demonstration to providing interactive displays and presentations.  We think gardening for a lifetime is best accomplished in two ways:  (1) modifying the garden – accessibility and plant selection, and (2) modifying the gardener – techniques and tools.

History and Development

In 2010, a group of Master Gardener volunteers in southeastern Wisconsin received a small donation of adaptive tools and began the Lifelong Gardening Committee, whose focus was primarily ergonomic tools for joint protection and to prevent back injury.  We provided an opportunity to touch and hold and use different tools in various ways.  Our goal was to educate people in ways that allowed them to remain active and continue gardening for their entire lifetime without pain or injury.

Since then, we have greatly expanded our inventory and as additional members joined the Lifelong Gardening Committee with varying backgrounds, knowledge and experience, we expanded our presentations and displays to include information on gardening exercises and body mechanics, enabling tools, plant selection, joint safety, back safety, vertical gardening, and container gardening.  The presentations, displays, and unique hands-on opportunity has been extremely well received.

We encourage feedback from our attendees providing them with a survey form at each presentation.

Some of the comments received include:

“I have so many of these tools and now I know how to use them properly.”

“I learned the importance of standing up straight, reducing stress on the back.”

“I learned of great new tools I did not know existed.”

“I learned I am gardening wrong and I need to make changes in body position, tools, etc.”

Due to the positive responses and success of our project, requests for presentations began to exhaust our time and resources.  In order to meet requests throughout the state, we thought we could best accomplish this by adding the power of technology.  So we created the “Toolbox” to share our knowledge in a way that could be replicated by other master gardeners to present in their counties.

The Toolbox is available to everyone and includes:

  • Lifelong Gardening Mission Statement
  • Basic Information to Enable the Gardener
  • Easy Care Plant Selection for Southeast Wisconsin
  • Gardening Exercises and Body Mechanics
  • Tool Book/Inventory – includes descriptions, features, availability, and approximate cost
  • Tools Recommended Based on Budget
  • Tool Checkout Form (used by the LLG Committee)
  • Survey Form
  • Gardening for Life Video (3-part)
  • PowerPoint Presentations
    • Joint Protection
    • Back Protection
    • Vertical Gardening
    • Container Gardening

LLG Board Displayed at Presentations Panels include information related to:

  • Lifelong Gardening – About Our Mission and Us
  • Member Presentations and Plant Selection
  • Protecting your Back and Joints
  • Using the Proper Tools for the Job
  • Good Advice and Gardening on a Budget
  • Garden Up – Container and Vertical Gardening


Next Steps

We are proud of the work we are doing to share our information with the public and other Master Gardeners.  We are currently developing a Train-the-Trainer and Mentoring Program that will be delivered to any Master Gardener Chapters that would like to replicate this project.  We will stay up-to-date on adaptive tools and injury prevention so that we can share this information with gardeners, groups or associations who are interested in lifelong gardening practices.  As additional information or educational needs are identified, we will develop and include that new material in our Toolbox.

We think everyone can benefit from the Toolbox – Open it up – Dig around – See what you can find!
We wish everyone happy, healthy gardening for a lifetime

2017 Innovative Projects 1st Place – Composting and Worm Composting Video Series, Orange County, CA

Monday, June 12th, 2017

UCCE Orange County Master Gardeners harnessed the outreach strength of their website ( to accomplish the Master Gardener educational mission by teaching the public to successfully compost in their backyards, community gardens, and other gardening locations.  Master Gardeners prepared materials to illustrate the process and assist home gardeners in their composting efforts with as a series of videos with step-by-step instructions on how to compost, build a bin, start and maintain a pile and troubleshoot problems.  The short and concise videos provided demonstrations with verbal explanations. A second set of similar videos was prepared to address composting with worms.  By strategically keeping the videos short and covering a single topic in each one, the Master Gardeners offered the viewer the option of finding the exact information needed to answer a specific question, or of watching the entire series to understand the complete process.

Use of the website in this manner for public outreach placed the resources of the University within reach of anyone who visits it.  Viewing the videos prompted visitors to explore other resources such as the Master Gardener Hotline, Radio Podcasts and the Gardening Event Calendar.  The website also provided links to University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources sites, and other reliable gardening information. To date, visits to the site number more than 22,000.  Since January 2015 there have been more than 9,796 views of the composting video series and the traffic keeps increasing.

Only University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Master Gardener educational material and guidelines were used to create the videos. The preferable UC method of composting, the Hot or Rapid Method, was emphasized in the composting video series. Also, because gardeners may be limited by backyard space, availability of materials, or other considerations, an alternative video series, Composting With Worms highlighted its advantages and benefits. Having videos on both methods provided gardeners with choices and helped ensure success for a wider audience.

The team responsible for this project has extensive computer and video filming expertise as a result of their work experiences.  For this team, and for any others with this kind of background, the project is straightforward.  Beginning as an assignment for students in the Master Composting certification class, it consisted of a series of nine videos on the composting process and six videos on worm composting. Taped live in a composting environment, the videos featured narrators who are members of the Master Gardener Speakers Bureau and have experience in giving group lectures.  Once the scripts were written using the guidelines from the Master Composter manual, the videos were shot on site, edited and uploaded to the website.

The availability of these videos addressed the growing questions on the Master Gardener hotline for information and speaker requests on composting, especially in light of the management of solid waste requirements of California Assembly Bill 939. One goal was to reach a wide audience – a must in any gardening active community where time demand is greater than volunteer staff can manage. Using you tube-type capabilities in the form of quick and easy videos allows the information to be made available to a large audience on-demand in an easily recognizable and usable format. 

The decisions on which aspects of composting to highlight, what to cover in the videos, and how to keep it simple, were determined by the members of this team.  To our knowledge, there are no published guidelines for this type of project for Master Gardeners. All videos are available at



2017 Innovative Projects 3rd Place – The Mentor Approach: Building Community, Snohomish Cty, WA

Saturday, June 10th, 2017

“My mentor was crucial to my learning experience: she was encouraging, helpful and made me feel a part of a process that I, at first, found a little intimidating. She brought extra material to class and always made sure we had the tools we needed. A truly helpful person.”–Intern “She wasn’t an instructor, but a resource if we needed her.” — Intern

Where We Started: We realized that our MG retention rate was low, particularly after the second-year commitment was met. Interns expressed concern during class and volunteer time:  They had challenges understanding the content, program requirements and where they fit in with the program.

“We had the opportunity to get to know our classmates over a period of three months, as well as some veterans. Making connections is what builds community.”–Intern “Our mentor was an excellent help in explaining things that weren’t clear, helping in hands-on sessions and was available both at the table and on email.” –Intern

Our Solution: We developed a program to use our most valuable resource, our veteran MGs. During the twelve-week training course, each mentor was responsible for three to four students.  They also followed their students’ progress through their first year of volunteer service.  We held training sessions for the mentors on their responsibilities: communicating weekly, monitoring their students’ progress and mastery of course content, leading morning table-talk sessions, and acting as the liaison between students and class coordinator. Each mentor developed his/her own method tailored to their students’ needs.


“Always fun to see my mentor and table mates at the demonstration gardens!”—Intern “I had been through Master Gardener training in another state previously and we only met with our mentor a couple of times and they didn’t communicate with us much during the training. This was much more welcoming.”–Intern/Transfer MG “Each intern brought their own interests, questions and experience to discuss which makes the MG training a true exchange of learning.” —Mentor

Results: We experienced a significant jump in program retention. All students completed their minimum first-year requirements and in fact, many earned their hundred-hour pin. Many interns and veterans have requested to become mentors in the future.  Our students graduated knowing more veteran MGs, friendships blossomed and people found their niche.  Several unplanned benefits:  Mentors appreciated the refresher course, the community developed in class extended to the entire Master Gardener community and the Snohomish County Master Gardener Foundation membership grew significantly.  All of this was done with minimal cost.

2017 Youth 1st Place (tie) – Garden Lesson in a Box, Spokane County, WA

Friday, June 9th, 2017


Children and Ladybugs

The Washington State University Spokane County Master Gardeners involved in our Youth Program have created seven core gardening lessons geared toward children in Kindergarten through 6th grade.  These lessons were designed to be presented to the Spokane Public Schools after-school child care program called Express, but they have also been presented at a variety of other locations such as public and private school classrooms, church groups, scout troops, and boys’ and girls’ clubs.  Over the past 11 years, we have given these presentations to over 10,000 children.

Each “Garden Lesson in a Box” consists of a syllabus, list of materials, background resource information, and supplies needed for the presentation, all contained within a portable bin which can be easily transported to the presentation site.  The seven lessons with a brief description of each, are:

  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:  Garden Creatures:  Using pictures and life cycle models to start, children are introduced to nine different garden creatures (Colorado potato beetles, banana slugs, ground beetles, earwigs, spiders, aphids, praying mantis, ladybird beetles, and pillbugs/sowbugs) and their significance in the garden.  The children then observe and interact with live specimens.  For safety reasons, the children are allowed to handle only the pillbugs/sowbugs which they have to hunt for in open containers of compost. The children color drawings of the creatures and also plant flower seeds in newspaper pots of soil to take home.
  • Three Sisters:  The children act out the Native American story of the three sisters and learn the importance of corn, beans, and squash to the Native Americans and the principles of companion planting.  The children sow seeds of these three vegetables to take home and also color and label pictures of them.
  • Soil:  Children learn the function of plant roots, observe the different components of soil, and learn the value of compost as a soil amendment.  They hunt for living creatures in partially-decomposed compost and learn the function of each in the decomposition process.  The children color pictures of compost creatures and sow vegetable seeds to take home.  Singing along to the song ‘Dirt Made My Lunch’ by the Banana Slug String Band is a fun part of this lesson.
  • Pollination:  Using large felt diagrams of flowers, the children learn the flower parts and their functions, and the role that pollinators play in seed production and food produc
    Three Sisters lesson

    Three Sisters lesson

    tion for humans.  They observe real beehive components and learn how visits to flowers benefit bees.  They sow flower seeds to take home and also color pictures of flowers.

  • The Seed:  Using pictures and large models of bean seeds, the children learn the major parts of a seed which they then identify by dissecting lima beans.  They learn the conditions that seeds need to sprout, and they observe the process of seed germination in pre-planted demonstration materials.  The children create “Personality Pots’ where they sow seeds of rye or radishes in cups of soil on which they have drawn faces (as the seedlings grow, they create “hair” for the face).
  • Vegetable Garden:  We read the book Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens, a Common Core text exemplar and funny story about the edible parts of plants.  Then the children are shown real vegetables and identify which parts are eaten by humans.  Using a 4’x4’ square of brown felt as a garden plot and vegetables made from felt, the children lay out a vegetable garden, learning about spacing, sun exposure, succession planting, and vertical gardening.  The children sow seeds of vegetables to grow at home and draw pictures of their dream vegetable garden.  We also sing along to two songs by the Banana Slug String Band, ‘Sun, Soil, Water, and Air’ and ‘Give Plants a Chance.’
  • Trees:  The children act out a fable about deciduous and evergreen trees and learn about the value of trees for humans.  They examine cross-sections of tree trunks, identifying the major parts, and estimating tree age. They make crayon rubbings of different leaves, examine various tree seeds, and plant maple seeds to take home.

Our seven garden lessons cover a variety of garden topics, but in each one, children sow seeds in pots that they take home.  We feel that growing a plant from seed and caring for that plant is a crucial experience for children, allowing them both to witness the wonder of nature and to experience the responsibility of nurturing a living plant.

Vegetable Garden lesson

Vegetable Garden lesson

When we first decided to develop these garden lessons, we wanted to create affordable, fun activities that children would like doing. The homemade materials (felt boards and figures, felt vegetables, felt flower diagrams, seed models made from clay) were not difficult to design and make and were constructed by Master Gardeners with no crafting experience.  These materials are intriguing to children who love handling them, thus providing a tactile experience which adds to their learning.  Including songs to sing and stories to act out involves the children on an active level which helps to hold their interest and makes the lessons very enjoyable.

Purchased durable supplies include plastic bins (about $15 each), mesh insect cages (about $10 each), ladybird beetle and praying mantis life cycle models (about $6 each), and a portable CD player (about $20).  Supplies that need to be regularly replenished include seeds, potting soil, zipper-lock plastic bags, styrofoam cups for the ‘Personality Pots,’  live ladybird beetles (about $6), and praying mantis egg sacs (about $10).   Live garden creatures other than ladybird beetles are collected by Master Gardeners from their own gardens and compost piles.  Pots for children to sow seeds in are made from old newspapers by the Master Gardeners.  Handouts and pictures to color are easily found on the Internet and printed out.

Having a self-contained lesson enables a Master Gardener to present a lesson with a minimum of preparation.  These lessons can also be modified by the person doing the presentation.  Some presenters like to add more information and some omit certain activities that they are not comfortable with (such as singing a song).  Although the lessons were originally designed for children in grades K-6, they can be, and have been, modified for younger and older children as well.  The presentations are usually 45-60 minutes in length but can be shortened or lengthened depending on the age and number of the children participating.

Children look forward to our presentations and enjoy the time they spend with us.  We regularly receive charming thank-you notes from the children which include comments such as these:  “I like how you taught us. I liked when we did the play. The bugs were cool.”  “I love the fun active games. I loved learning about pollen and good and bad bugs.”  “I like the song you taught us too!”  “You showed us how plants grow.”

We have a lot of fun with the children in these presentations, and especially enjoy seeing their delight at discovering the joys of gardening.


Children and Ladybugs For further information, please contact Tim Kohlhauff at

2017 Youth 1st Place (tie) – Catherine Desourdy School Garden Mentor Program, University of Rhode Island

Friday, June 9th, 2017

Catherine Desourdy School Garden Mentors (SGMs) are specially trained University of Rhode Island (URI) Extension Master Gardeners who volunteer in schools on behalf of URI Cooperative Extension’s School Garden Initiative. This project, which tied for second place in the 2017 Extension Master Gardener Search for Excellence Youth Category, cultivates a love of nature, a respect for all living things, and a foundation in natural sciences for school-aged youth. Over sixty schools in Rhode Island and nearby Massachusetts and Connecticut have partnered with URI Master Gardeners to help children of all ages learn about the world around them and how to become its stewards.

The award will be given on July 11 at the General Session of the International Master Gardener Conference in Portland, Oregon.  The Search for Excellence is the recognition program for outstanding Extension Master Gardener projects throughout the United States, Canada and South Korea.

The garden at Waddington Elementary in East Providence, Rhode Island, has helped the children feel closer to nature and empowered to help protect it.  Art teacher/ URI Master Gardener Melissa Guillet has them study live insects and draw and make models from specimens. They look for evidence of tracks, scat, and homes, plant veggies, share salad, soups, and teas with their produce, and learn to work as a team.  They learn how seeds travel, seeking seeds out in the fall, and design their own seed packs.  They make art out of leaves and identify trees.  It’s non-stop exploration at this school, even measuring soil moisture and rainfall to track el Nino for GLOBE and NASA and designing their own anemometers!  They do this all through collaborations with URI Master Gardeners Desourdy School Gardens program, Barrington Land Trust, ASRI, parents, other volunteers, and the environmental curriculum developed by Melissa Guillet through 15 Minute Field Trips™.

Hamilton Elementary School in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, focused more exclusively on sustainable “green” gardening practices. Everyone learned about the importance of companion planting and its Abenaki Native American origins at the school’s Three Sisters Garden. Later, they planted a square-foot garden bed and harvested food for nearby food pantries.

Two hundred Cluny Elementary School children, in Newport, Rhode Island, gardened in the winter by planting seeds under hoop coverings and in ziplock bags, which were placed in milk containers in the snow. They also planted a raspberry patch and apple trees. At their plant sale students made $80 selling their own lettuce and that money was used in other school garden projects.  They hope to create a rain garden next year and hook up rain barrels to water their beds.

The School Garden Mentor project is named for the late URI Master Gardener, Catherine Desourdy, whose family made a bequest in her name after her death in 2008.  Its main purpose has been to connect youth to gardening. More than 13,000 children have learned to value growing locally, to understand the importance of vegetables in a healthy diet, the role of pollinators and beneficial insects, the need to recycle, and the stages of growth in plants, among other things. As Vanessa Venturini, URI Master Gardener State Program Leader says, “School gardens serve as living laboratories, giving students access to authentic learning environments to help them learn science, math, social studies and other concepts.”

Testimonies from those taking part prove her point. One teacher cites overhearing a boy instructing his grandfather on the importance of planting marigolds to “keep the bad bugs away” instead of spraying seedlings, which would “kill the bees and the good bugs” as well. Another recounts the responses of first graders to learning about vermicomposting, “We didn’t really like worms but now that we know how important they are to helping our earth and our garden grow, we love them.”

More than fifty URI Master Gardeners currently serve as mentors, with more interns training each year. A team of regional “School Garden Mentor Managers”organize and support the mentors.  School garden Mentors assist classroom teachers in a number of ways:

  • Bringing together school garden teams consisting of teachers, staff, parents and students to ensure long-term success and continuity;
  • Helping them make decisions in the garden such as choosing a site and selecting appropriate plants
  • Completing soil tests and making recommendations for amending beds prior to planting
  • Providing access to standards-based curricula for use in the garden classroom
  • Supplying school gardens with donations of seeds and seedling donations for pollinator and vegetable gardens
  • Making available the URI Gardening & Environmental Hotline, URI Plant Clinic and other URI Cooperative Extension resources to troubleshoot

The first School Garden Mentors volunteered in three suburban elementary schools in 2011.  Since then the project has expanded to include public and private schools, reaching K-12 students in urban and rural areas as well. As of 2016, a partnership has developed between URI Cooperative Extension and the Providence Public School District to develop and support school gardens on a district level.  This School Garden Initiative has generated best practices which are then shared through continuing education classes designed for School Garden Mentors working statewide.






2017 Youth 2nd Place (tie) – Science With Attitude (SWAt), Denton County, TX

Thursday, June 8th, 2017

Who we are? Beginning in 2009, the Denton County Master Gardener Association (DCMGA) began partnering with Elm Fork Master Naturalists, 4-H and Denton County School Districts to offer a summer in-service teacher training program focused around the Junior Master Gardener curriculum. Each year after the inception, additional course material was added. In 2013 teachers, who completed the enhanced summer training program, requested an outreach program for their students to ensure year-around education about horticulture, the environmental impact of human behavior and general nature topics.

set up for the fish demostrationIn 2014 because of requests from our trained teachers, the team created a plan to expand our efforts by establishing an educational outreach program providing research-based gardening and environmental education directly to children using guided observation and demonstrations.  The Science With Attitude (SWAt) Educational Outreach program launched in 2015 offering 17 topic choices selected or suggested by the teachers during their SWAt training.

What we do? Any educator in Denton County may request a presentation or demonstration from SWAt by registering and selecting a topic from the menu maintained on the DCMGA website. Available topics include but are not limited to: vegetable gardening, honeybees, worm composting, wildlife observation and habitats, birds, wildflowers, saving water and understanding the environmental impact of human behavior. Depending on the selected topic, Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, 4-H youth or a combination of these volunteers conduct the presentation or demonstration. Each training or demonstration topic has associated materials and instructions stored in the DCMGA resource room.

Before the presentation: After receiving the educational outreach request from an educator, the scheduling coordinator identifies an event leader who confirms date, time and location with the requester. Additional volunteers are requested depending on the class size and the nature of the activity. Just prior to the training event, the leader picks up the training materials from the DCMGA resource room, confirms the completeness of the contents of the topic storage bin, and signs out the materials from the resource room.

The project event team reviews the lesson plan with particular emphasis on the interactive activities that include interaction with the children and reinforces the lessons to be learned.

During the educational activity: In addition to covering the training materials, event volunteers strive to ensure enthusiasm, fun and interaction opportunities for attendees. Some activities lend themselves to hands-on interactions for the students, while others may be a presentation. Questions are encouraged and students are gently quizzed about what they lelearing about native plants and butterfliesarned and how they might change their future behavior after learning the lessons.

After the presentation: The event leader thanks the teacher and students and offers support for any follow-on activities the teacher has planned. The materials are inventoried to determine if orders need to be placed to refresh the supplies and the entire kit is returned to the DCMGA resource room.

Where we have been?

  • Fifty-Nine Master Gardeners supported the SWAt program at some time during 2015-2016 with nine contributors providing continuity from the beginning. The SWAt team reported 3,689 volunteer hours in 2015-2016 of which approximately 50% were in support of educational outreach to youth projects.
  • Thirty-Five Master Naturalists volunteers provided over 1,000 hours of service in support of SWAt Educational Outreach.
  • In 2016 volunteers engaged 2,601 youth at 48 elementary and pre-schools.
  • In 2015 volunteers engaged 3,795 youth responding to 44 requests from 8 school districts.

Where we are going? Each year the team receives excellent suggestions from teachers and team members about how we can make SWAt Outreach more responsive to the needs of our community. As we plan for the next semester, we list potential additions and changes, consider the ability of the team to implement each and then rank and schedule. In the near termstram trailer demostration, we are considering:

  • Increasing the data collected during presentations or demonstrations and reported on the SWAt evaluation form
  • Adding evening classes and activities
  • Tailoring some of the demonstrations to support graduated levels of complexity
  • Tying our educational activities into the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skill standards program
  • Automating some of the registration, contact hours and attendance tracking and tying registrations to the SWAt calendar and material’s inventory

2017 Youth 3rd Place (tie) – Hands on Horticulture, Brunswick County, NC

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

Description: For the last three years, South Brunswick Middle School 6th graders have arrived at the Brunswick County Botanical Garden for a full day of “Hands On Horticulture”. The 300-350 students arriving each year, rotated through learning stations in the Botanical Garden to take part in engaging and fun activities which align with the North Carolina Science Common Core Standards. The learning stations were spread around the garden in areas that corresponded to the lesson. For example, ‘Water Quality’ was taught at the edge of a Rain Garden and ‘Everyday Foods’ was taught among the raised vegetable beds. Other specialty areas included Roses, Southern Living Live Oak, River Birch Natives, Edible Landscape and the Pollinator gardens.


  1. Anticipation: Our Horticulture Agent and Master Gardeners visited the middle school  to meet with all the 6th graders and generate excitement about the upcoming field trip. Props included an insect collection, poisonous plants and a vermiculture bin! A pre-test was given on science curriculum topics covered throughout the year and student teams designed and drew  their own imaginary Botanical Gardens in anticipation of what they hoped to see.
  2. Action: Small teams of students visited each station as they were  guided through the garden by Master Gardener volunteers
    1. Seed Bombs for Guerilla Gardeners Purpose: Explore new techniques for spreading seeds on the home front; help re-establish native plants for pollinators
    2. Every Day Foods Purpose: Review basic plant anatomy and function while eating examples of each plant part; emphasize fruits and vegetables as healthy food choices.
    3. Plant scavenger Hunt Purpose: Identify plants based on certain physical characteristics and describe how these traits are helpful adaptations.
    4. Our Local Landscape and Water Quality Purpose: Understand how human activity affects water quality by collecting water runoff over turf and bare soil; what is their personal responsibility for protecting our water?
    5. Eco Tower Purpose: Students connect ecosystem processes using wooden building blocks and describe how various actions may disrupt or benefit our environment.
    6. Beekeeper Purpose: Recognize the importance of insect pollinators; learn about a career as a beekeeper and making honey
    7. Compost and Vermiculture Purpose: Observe how composting, recycling and worms can help humans adapt their behavior to promote a more self-sustaining environment.

Significant Learning and Impacts:
Pre-and post- test evaluations indicated a 70% increase in student knowledge after the test. The students were prepared for end-of grade testing. Teachers earned CEU credits after the first year was judged to present relevant information to enrich their curriculum. For 100% of the students, this was their first visit to a Botanical Garden and many promised to return and bring their families.  The budget for this exciting day of learning was minimal:

  • Fresh fruits & vegetables – $50
  • Wildflower seeds & clay – $100
  • Eco Tower blocks handmade and painted on used lumber
  • School  paid for bus transportation

Results for BCMGVA: 

Hands On Horticulture is a middle school educational program that fulfills the mission of NC State Extension and the Extension Master Gardener Volunteers, to provide science based information to the public. Since 2014, over 1,000 6th grade students have participated in the Hands On Horticulture program with nearly 80% showing an increase in applied knowledge. At least three students have since contacted Extension to gather more information on vermicomposting and three are currently enrolled in a 4-H Club in Brunswick County. Teachers have been so impressed with the program that they have requested it for other grade levels. Word of the possibilities of taking part in such an exciting educational program has spread throughout the county and we recently hosted our first home school group. One teacher stated that, “Your program was better than we could have asked for – I even learned some things that I plan on using in my own classroom.

The Hands On Horticulture also fulfills the Vision of the Botanical Garden Committee that the Botanical Garden will reflect beauty, excellence and inspiration for all visitors to learn about plants and the varied environments in our southeastern  NC  coastal plane. Each day approximately 15 Master Gardener Volunteers and Extension staff enthusiastically participated in seeing the world of nature through the eyes of children.

2017 Demonstration Garden 2nd Place – Pollinator Garden at Dawes Arboretum, Licking County, Ohio

Monday, June 5th, 2017

Creating a Pollinator Garden at the Dawes Arboretum

Nestled in the rolling hills of Licking County, Ohio is an environmental treasure – the Dawes Arboretum. Within this historic landmark site, seven Licking County Master Gardener Volunteers planned and developed a Pollinator Garden featuring native plants to serve the declining population of pollinators. They also set a goal to provide educational programs about pollinator needs for the 250,000 youth and adults who annually visit The Arboretum.

The Purpose
Dismayed by the alarming decline in the monarch and bee populations along with the loss of pollinator habitat, a small group of Licking County Master Gardener Volunteers (MGVs ) decided to create a certified model pollinator habitat. The habitat was designed to raise community awareness of this environmental concern and to inspire home gardeners to become part of the solution.




The Process
The work began in earnest with two directives:

  1. Talk to staff at the Arboretum about this shared vision
  2. Engage in serious study about ways to meet the needs of pollinators.

The administrators at the Arboretum were enthusiastic. They gave the volunteers the freedom to plan, create, and manage this new pollinator habitat. The MGVs met weekly to share their research of authoritative books as well as web resources including The Pollinator Partnership,The Xerces Society, and The Ohio State University Bee Lab. The group also attended lectures, seminars, and conferences regarding pollinators and habitat design. A wealth of information was gathered on how to attract pollinators, the varieties of pollinators, the importance of a diverse habitat design, the significance of native plants, bloom succession, maintenance, host plants and nesting sites.



Armed with their new knowledge, the MGVs set the goals of the project:

  • Create a model pollinator garden featuring native plants that meets the criteria to be a certified Pollinator Habitat
  • Provide educational opportunities for adults and children to learn about the importance of pollinators and ways to welcome pollinators into their own landscapes


The Planning
The Arboretum personnel and the MGVs met to review expectations for this collaborative partnership. The Arboretum staff determined that the volunteers could have a prime site near the Visitor Center. An MGV work plan was created that included clearing the space, purchasing pollinator plants, planting, weeding, and enhancing the habitat. The Arboretum plan included supplying funds for plants (initially $800), providing mulch, composting weeds, assisting with watering, creating signage, printing educational pamphlets, and promoting this MGV project in their publications.




The Planting

The 300 square foot space was planted with more than thirty native species. The native plants were chosen based on the favorite bloom colors of bees and other pollinators, bloom time successions, and host plants that  support egg-laying and larval growth. The shape of plant blossoms was also considered. Several non-natives and annuals were included to provide additional nectar and pollen. The plants were carefully arranged in clusters to attract pollinators of various sizes and different flight patterns – all to make nectar and pollen gathering more accessible. Rocks, weathered logs, and bunch grasses were added to meet the needs of pollinators for shelter, nesting, and overwintering. Wide, shallow dishes were placed in the garden for water. No pesticides or fertilizers were used. Paths and garden seating were added to draw visitors in to observe the pollinators at work. Hundreds of hours were spent planning, planting, and tending the garden. Records were kept to note the success of some plants and the need to add or replace others.



The Product

This new garden at The Arboretum meets The Xerces Society criteria and is an official Pollinator Habitat. It also meets the criteria to be a Monarch Way Station. MGVs work in the garden weekly and share information with the many visitors, young  and old, who meander through the garden. Visitors enjoy the beauty of the native plants and watching the pollinators at work. Their interests spark opportunities for MGVs to share anecdotes and information about pollinators including how to add native plants into their own landscapes to support pollinators. MGVs have conducted garden tours and programs for all ages on topics such as Using Native Plants to Attract Pollinators, Gardening for Pollinators across the Seasons, and Welcoming Bees and Butterflies to Garden. The garden provides a venue for The Arboretum staff to offer educational programs and Monarch Butterfly Tagging and Releasing, a favorite of the public. As part of their training, MGV interns visit the garden to learn about native plants and pollinator conservation.


Thanks to support from The Dawes Arboretum and the ongoing commitment of the Licking County, Ohio MGVs, the garden will be a permanent attraction for visitors to The Arboretum. New plantings, signage and educational materials will be added over time  to enhance the beauty and effectiveness of this model pollinator garden.

Luke Messinger, Executive Director of The Dawes Arboretum stated, “The garden provides education opportunities to over 250,000 visitors to the Arboretum each year. The potential of this garden truly would not have been realized without the vision, leadership and hard work of Master Gardener Volunteers who created and care for this unique garden. We are truly thankful for their efforts and ongoing support.