We've heard from indoor gardening teachers, "All of our bean leaves are dropping off-what could be wrong?" or "Do you know any activities with flower bulbs that I can use with my first graders?" Master Gardeners are a national network of resource people who can help answer these types of questions and enrich your classroom gardening effort.
Many of the Cooperative Extension offices (found in nearly every county in the country) have Master Gardener programs which offer extensive (40-120 hour) horticulture training to community members. In exchange, these gardeners agree to use their new horticultural expertise as volunteers in their communities.
Caroline Kiang, a Cooperative Extension horticulturist, trains Master Gardeners in Suffolk County, New York. When she receives requests for horticultural assistance from schools and other groups, she often matches them up with one of the "experts" she's trained.
Caryn Popowitch went through the Suffolk County program and has been helping out in schools ever since. She started in her children's school with a school beautification project, then encouraged the PTA to donate a GrowLab Indoor Garden. Using her Cooperative Extension and community connections, Caryn has brought new resources and project ideas to the gardening teachers in the school. The program has been so well received that the PTA agreed to buy more GrowLabs.
Caryn visits the GrowLab classrooms once each week to help teachers with special projects and problems. Herbs were the focus for one semester. Students grew catnip, basil, thyme and rosemary from seeds and cuttings. They made herb window boxes which were raffled off at "grandpersons" day. Herb vinegars, pot pourris, herbal recipes and herb folklore, and even catnip mice followed. When students found a recipe for a 'cure for baldness' in a resource book, they tried some of their own herbal alchemy!
Said special education teacher Nancy Hall, "It's been wonderful having Caryn's support. I had never done classroom gardening before. I've learned so much from her, and we're able to combine my teaching strategies with her horticultural knowledge to produce some really nice projects. Caryn's connections got us involved in exhibiting at a local ecology center, My students developed displays about their indoor gardens -- were they proud!"
To learn more about Master Gardener Programs in your area, visit the site of the American Horticultural Society. You'll find a map that will connect you with Web sites for Master Gardeners in 46 states and 3 provinces at this page: www.ahs.org/master_gardeners/. Or, contact your local Cooperative Extension office (look under "Cooperative Extension" or under the name of your county in the phone book).