2017 Research 3rd Place (tie) – McCollum Park Pollinator Garden, Snohomish County, WA

June 13th, 2017 by Terri James

Pollinator Teaching Garden
McCollum Park, Everett, WA 98208
Information and Process of Construction and Reporting

When we began we realized we had quite a daunting job ahead of us. The garden that we had volunteered as interns to adopt was surrounded completely by parking lots and driveways. Others had tried in the past to take on this pretty little spot but had given up because there was no irrigation in the garden.

So it was, that we determined that our first order of business would be to figure out how to bring water to our garden.

We talked about many options:

1) Running a hose with sort of a tent to cover it, but people would have to drive over that and it could be a tripping hazard etc..

2) Digging a shallow trench and running the hose just under the surface then repaving, but then if it developed problems we would have to dig up the road.
3) We finally decided the best way would be to ask the foundation for funds to hire a company to boar down well under the freeze line and run a pipe so we could run plenty of water lines to accommodate all of our water needs both present and future. Thankfully our Foundation generously agreed to fund this.

After meeting with our coordinator, the person in charge of this particular demonstration garden, the facilities manager, the people at the county, their superiors and finally the inspectors who all gave us the necessary approvals. We were on our way….

This was a huge task. We dug holes on both sides of the driveway, then the company we hired came in with the boring equipment.

Our second step was to draw plans, both action plans and a garden design plans. Our Plan was to promote pollinators locally so we decided to make this garden a pollinator friendly spot. We envisioned bees, hummingbirds, bats, butterflies and a host of other insects flocking to our garden, so of course this determined what type of plants we would choose.

We wanted to make it a place to teach and to learn, for MGs, children, students and adults alike.

Next we needed a way in, so we made a path in to the garden and a place to sit and enjoy the flowers and flying and crawling visitors.

After the construction we began adding plants, trees, shrubs, a small mud bath , arbors, bug hotels, and bee boxes. We hope to add bat boxes later this year.

Some of the things we did to encourage pollinators were to:

  • We provided mason bee boxes.
  • We left some bare soil and provided a muddy area for ground nesting bees.
  • We built a bug hotel with 6 different sections, each containing a different medium such as reeds with holes in them for mason bees and other insects that like to climb inside, soft fluffy things like cattail and cottonwood fluff for hummingbird nests and other birds, straw, twigs and other items that various bugs and pollinators might use.
  • We built underground Bombus nests.
  • We provided misting to attract the hummingbirds. And…
  • We included rotting logs to attract decomposer insects.
  • We also made a display of a wasp nest enclosed in Plexiglas for the public to see.

And of course we wanted the garden to be pretty:
We dug a path, then added gravel.

We lined the gravel with large river rocks.

We added a Drip Irrigation System

We brought in mulch to improve the soil added a bench to sit on to enjoy the garden and started adding a plethora of plants. We tried to make sure we had something blooming in all seasons so that the pollinators always have something to choose from.

We added Fuchsia baskets to the arbors for the hummingbirds and put misters on each end for them as well. Then we waited for the pollinators to come.

We have also added some stumps and rock piles for other insects. We continue to add new plants every season and our garden has become quite a lovely place to sit and enjoy the afternoon.

Part of our job now is to observe what plantings are most effective and what nesting areas are most popular so that we can continue to improve the garden.


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

June 12th, 2017 by Terri James

UCCE Orange County Master Gardeners harnessed the outreach strength of their website (http://mgorange.ucanr.edu/) 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 http://uccemg.com/Soils-Fertilizers-Compost/Composting-Video-Series-386/



2017 Innovative Projects 2nd Place – Snetsinger Butterfly Garden (SBG): Satellite Garden Program, Centre County, PA

June 11th, 2017 by Terri James



In the fall of 2010 Master Gardener Pam Ford received a worried call from a teacher at Easterly Parkway Elementary School in State College, Pennsylvania. Her pupils were studying the Monarch butterfly life cycle, and in their display tank hungry caterpillars were fast depleting the supply of milkweed leaves. Someone had suggested that the teacher contact the Snetsinger Butterfly Garden; surely they would have some milkweed. Well yes, responded Mrs. Ford, and meeting at the garden, she helped the teacher gather milkweed leaves so that the hungry caterpillars might be rescued. A bit later, meeting at the Snetsinger Butterfly garden with other Master Gardeners and “Butterfly Bob” himself, the group discussed the incident. Ford wondered aloud, why not encourage the school children to raise their own milkweed? The children could observe the life cycle as it actually happened in nature. Watching caterpillars pupate in a tank is fun, but finding an egg or caterpillar on a milkweed plant outdoors, or seeing an adult sip nectar from a flower – now that is truly electrifying! The idea developed in conversation; soon students were planning their own butterfly garden. The next spring, Master Gardeners helped the children with design and planting, and gave presentations in the classroom. In this school setting the Snetsinger Butterfly Garden’s Satellite Garden program was born.


Today (2017) there are thirty-nine “satellite gardens” and more are planned. These satellites can’t be explained without reference to the “mother ship.” The Snetsinger Butterfly Garden (SBG) is a three-acre habitat within Tom Tudek Park, a public park in State College, Pennsylvania. The SBG came into being when Robert and Wendy Snetsinger, friends of the Tudek family, proposed a partnership to develop three acres in the park as a butterfly garden in memory of their children Clare Snetsinger and Tom Tudek. So around 1996 Robert Snetsinger, a retired Penn State entomologist, set about improving this old farm field as butterfly habitat. Thanks to Snetsinger’s steady work (he passed away in 2016) the number of butterfly species in the garden increased fivefold. In 2011 the garden was formally designated the “Snetsinger Butterfly Garden” in recognition of his achievement. Meanwhile in 2007 the Penn State Centre County Extension Master Gardeners had joined forces with Snetsinger. Under the direction of Pam and Doug Ford, Master Gardeners created several demonstration gardens that educated the public about gardening for butterflies and other pollinators. Before long the Master Gardener participation had grown to fifty; signature events like “Wings in the Park” drew hundreds of families; and the SBG’s lovely gardens and public programs had earned a glowing reputation throughout the region. As concern about monarchs and pollinators got into the news, more and more local groups got interested in doing something to help. The stage was set for the satellite garden program to take shape.

The innovative idea behind the satellite garden program is that Master Gardeners can multiply the power of outreach by teaching satellite garden stewards how (and why) to plan, plant, and tend a pollinator or butterfly garden. Satellite garden stewards then become actively involved in transmitting these gardening principles to their own constituents. They take ownership. This approach complements more passive techniques such as public presentations by Master Gardeners. The latter tend to draw self-selected audiences, but a pollinator garden project at a school, church, or retirement community has the potential to reach people who might not otherwise get exposed to ideas about pollinator conservation or native plant gardening.

The satellite garden program aims to disseminate science-based content about garden practices that promote habitat for butterfly species and for pollinators, mainly native bees. Briefly, we stress several basic principles: keep the entire life cycle in mind when planting; focus on natives; avoid pesticides; provide appropriately designed water sources; delay end-of-season cleanup until spring. Of course, more traditional presentation of information on specific plants’ horticultural needs and characteristics is part of the message, but the program is also innovative in that it encourages people to reconceptualize home gardening, to think about gardening not only for aesthetic enjoyment but for wildlife habitat.

By the Numbers:

  • Thirty-nine satellite gardens, each with its own Master Gardener “captain.”
  • Twenty-eight presentations at satellite garden sites in 2016
  • 2,130 contacts at satellite garden sites in 2016
  • Over 400 plants distributed to satellite gardens in 2016

The majority of SBG satellite garden sites are at schools, but there are also gardens at churches, retirement communities, public parks, a public library, a children’s museum, and a community organization dedicated to providing opportunities for developmentally disabled young adults. Typically the process begins with someone contacting coordinator Pam Ford. Conversations ensue and a Master Gardener captain is identified to serve as liason. (This aspect of the program affords leadership experiences for Master Gardeners.) A representative from the Master Gardeners will usually travel to the site and give a presentation about pollinator and butterfly gardening, tailoring the material to suit the prospective stewards’ ages and specific goals. The Master Gardeners help to develop a planting plan and list; a hands-on activity developed by Ms. Ford teaches about garden design principles specifically geared to pollinator and butterfly habitat. The plan in hand, a planting date is set. Stewards marshall their volunteers. If the garden is at a school a PTO group might help; at a retirement community or church it might be a garden committee.


The plants are mainly natives, of course, though nonnative annuals are important for late season nectar sources and to fill gaps while the perennials are still growing. Where do the plants come from? Occasionally a group will have funds to purchase plants on the commercial market. In general, though, this is a very low-budget program. For example, Master Gardeners winter-sow thousands of seeds in milk jugs. (The SBG website has details on how this is done.) Sometimes milk jug projects are incorporated into the satellite garden development process – this way school children can raise seedlings for their own satellite gardens and learn in the process. By using this method, satellite garden hosts can obtain robust plants at very low cost. Other plants come at no cost, from divisions dug up at the SBG itself. In a quite literal way the gardens are “satellites” of SBG.







Planting seeds in milk jugs,
State College Friends School


On planting day several Master Gardeners attend to demonstrate proper techniques. Plan in hand, stewards install the plants, water, and compost. As the garden matures, the captain stays in touch with stewards to advise on issues like maintenance, watering, cleanup, replacing dead plants, and the like. Often the stewards will hold a formal dedication. This can be an joyful and inspirational occasion as the community members gather to celebrate their achievement and to mark it with an official sign. Once the garden is established, the stewards are responsible for ongoing care, but Master Gardener captains are always available to ensure continuity, help solve problems, and supply educational resources.

Installing the satellite garden at Phillipsburg Elementary School

The satellite garden idea has sparked a ripple effect in terms of outreach. For example, at several elementary schools the fifth-grade class members serve as the official stewards for the garden. They “pay forward” by giving presentations to younger pupils. In this way they not only master important content and presentation skills, but foster an ongoing, school-wide commitment to the garden. The satellite garden becomes an integral part of the school’s life. This may engender still more ripples. When the Corl Street PTO decided to plant trees on the school grounds, for example, they asked for advice to make sure they chose appropriate native trees – an indirect result of the educational outreach that occurred when the satellite garden was first installed. Students have “paid forward” in other ways. At a nearby high school, for example, students in the Agricultural Sciences program established a pollinator garden and then gave presentations to the school board. They are expanding their garden (located in a heavily used parking lot area) nearly every year. At all the gardens, public signage creates another type of ripple effect by provoking curiosity on the part of random passers-by in settings like state parks, where people may visit out of an interest in nature but not necessarily connect wildlife habitat with gardening.

Another way the satellite gardens have a ripple effect is as educational resources in their own right. At Corl Street Elementary, for instances, the garden is used not just for science studies but even for art classes. One fifth-grade class researched all the plants in the garden and created laminated cards that will be posted at the garden site, so children can learn about the plants while interacting directly with them. And of course the kids will probably educate their parents too! Going forward, many garden stewards will pursue Pollinator Friendly Certification, and in the process they can keep on learning about pollinator habitat.

A number of materials have been developed to support the satellite garden program. Satellite garden guidelines explain criteria for qualifying, responsibilities of both the Master Gardeners and the hosts, and the like. A more detailed Stewardship Manual is in progress. Checklists for Master Gardener captains outline yearly duties. Several Power Point presentations geared to different age levels explain pollinator friendly gardening. An original garden design activity was created by Pam Ford. First, the presenter explains that pollinator gardens need to supply host plants as well as nectar resources from spring through fall. Then a brief discussion of design principles follows: plants should be in large clumps (to help pollinators find them); large plants should be placed behind shorter ones, etc. The activity kit contains laminated cardboard symbols that are labeled for color, height, whether they are host plants, etc. Participants move these around on a cloth background to create a design. Physically manipulating these symbols facilitates a powerful learning process. The SBG itself is a supporting resource, of course; satellite garden stewards often incorporate tours there as part of their learning process. Finally, the SBG website provides plant lists, a bird directory, planting plans, and many other resources that satellite garden hosts can use.

Results! Monarch caterpillar on
milkweed at Centre Learning
Community Satellite Garden

It is important to note that though SBG as a whole is large, the actual pollinator demonstration garden area at SBG takes up only the periphery of the three-acre site. So even though the SBG is unique, the satellite garden idea is certainly replicable. Any reasonably sized Master Gardener pollinator demonstration garden could potentially spawn its own “satellites.”



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

June 10th, 2017 by Terri James

“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

June 9th, 2017 by Terri James


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 tkohlhauff@spokanecounty.org

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

June 9th, 2017 by Terri James

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

June 8th, 2017 by Terri James

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 2nd Place (tie) – Morris Elementary School Greenhouse, Madison County, AL

June 8th, 2017 by Terri James

Morris Elementary School Project

The Morris Elementary School Project (MES), in its fourth year, is the result of a local Principal wanting her students to learn about gardening and the environment, and to be engaged in nature utilizing the school’s unused greenhouse and center courtyard. Our primary goal is to teach them the principles of horticulture to demonstrate healthier food choices and to make them aware of the things around them and that they just don’t miraculously appear on the table. The program teaches them confidence, planning, nurturing, marketing and charity. We introduce them to healthy food options each week during a 45-minute class period utilizing the Junior Master Gardener program and incorporating science projects. We invite speakers from the Huntsville Botanical Garden (HBG), MGNA, NASA and other community experts to present a variety of topics: growing food in space, perennials, migrating birds, and how animals survive the winter.


Children learn by planting and maintaining gardens. Daylilies, bulbs, perennials and annuals have been planted by the students under the tutelage of MGNA members. The students have installed two lasagna gardens, square foot gardens, various bird houses and feeders around the school. Weekly a student researches a new fruit or vegetable and gives a presentation to the other students, thus practicing research and public speaking. Samples are passed around and seeds are planted if possible. The students learn about recycling and sustainability by making ‘news’paper pots and old race tire flower gardens, painted in vibrant colors. Leaves were recycled for mulch and compost. Donated hub caps were painted and ‘planted’ in a flower bed to help hide an ugly fence. Plastic water bottles were reused to make worm bins for the classrooms and watering bottles for the gardens. Donated landscape rocks were painted with encouraging and positive words (e.g. hope, smile, be happy) to decorate a barren pond area during the winter.

Conservation methods include three rain barrels near the gardens used for watering.  Two different composting systems aredemonstrated and used; students often bring material from home to add. After hearing a local expert speak about pollinators, the class planted wildflowers and registered for the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. Bird feeders are made annually from pinecones and toilet paper rolls and hung outside the classrooms and library for the enjoyment of the school children. One student reported that he used his newfound knowledge to make birdfeeders over the Christmas holidays for his home.

Students journal after each garden class; Master Gardener volunteers collect the journals to read them, make notes and answer questions. Each week a student uses my camera to take photos, learning about color, composition and angles. These photos are shared with the local association newsletter, Facebook and the school – to the utter delight of the children.

Science and math projects are incorporated using transpiration and seed growing experiments. When we have a special day with cookies or pizza, the children have to trace the ingredients back to plants before enjoying the treat. Lessons are built upon weekly.  Our end of the year scavenger hunt culminates the year’s lessons and results in a new garden being completed. Students answer questions such as “I am made up of paper and used to mail items to people. I can be placed on the ground to help deter weeds from growing. What am I?” After answering cardboard they went on to the next question, “I can be found on cars and trucks. There are usually 4 of me and I am round and black, but today I’m a different color. What am I?” (A tire) They find the tire, place it on the cardboard, and started to build their recycled tire garden.

Giving and community involvement are taught and encouraged, the majority of the vegetables grown are donated to a local Food Bank. Last year, after their first successful plant sale, the students wanted to share what they had earned and elected to give a portion earned to a local Elementary school to help fund a newly established song bird garden. Mother’s Day plants are raised and sold to students for $1 each (or 3 quarters and a Chucky Cheese coin!).

Non-participating students, teachers, school staff and visitors often stop to see what the week’s events include and to ask how they can get involved. The program has a huge impact on the children. At the end of the school year, a winning essay read at graduation talked in detail about how Master Gardeners “teach us how to grow different kinds of plants, encourage us to research and taste different plants, and they plan special activities for us. They helped us grow plants to sell, so we could go to camp next year.


We also had a scavenger hunt and planted lilies in painted tires. We have painted rocks, hubcap flowers, bird feeders and small gardens all over the school. This helps Morris look really nice.” Each week the students were excited to try the new fruit or vegetable. Towards the end of the school year, when offered cookies instead of a vegetable, the students all choose the vegetable!


2017 Youth 3rd Place (tie) – Yaquina Bay Lighthouse and School Garden (YBLG), Lincoln County, OR

June 7th, 2017 by Terri James


This garden is a collaboration between Newport’s Elementary Schools and Lincoln County Master Gardeners, Lincoln County Master Gardener Association, Oregon State Parks & Recreation, Friends of Yaquina Lighthouses, Lincoln County School District and the local Food Share and local food pantries. The garden is a historical and cultural gem in the community. MG’s provide instruction to students in seed propagation at the school greenhouse and planting at the YBLG during the spring, along with a full harvest field trip in early fall. A nutrition lesson and tasting of vegetables grown at the garden is a welcome treat for the students, hopefully sparking a lifetime interest in gardening and sustainability. In 2015, we celebrated our 20th anniversary. This is not a traditional demonstration garden as the entire garden is a living project from seed planting at the Sam Case Elementary School greenhouse to final harvest and putting the beds to winter rest at the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse. This year, a second student class from Yaquina View Elementary School was introduced to the YBLG garden and they grew our edible and pollinator flowers and herbs



YBLG is an educational heritage garden that is meant to recreate what was likely a small scale garden at this and many other lighthouses during the 1870’s, when the garden would have provided a partial source of food self-sufficiency to the light keepers and their families. Students are taught food propagation and community service. Raised beds and a drip irrigation system have brought it into the 21st century. All the harvests from the garden are donated to the Lincoln County Food Share. Organic gardening practices are employed-Pesticide Free Zone and Pollinator Garden designated.

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

June 7th, 2017 by Terri James

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.