Garden Business Partnerships Bloom

By Eve Pranis

"There are so few young people interested in going into horticulture today," said Forest Lake Greenhouses owner Lisa King. "Our industry needs good employees...and the future of the world rests on young people understanding the natural world." When nearby Savannah Grove (South Carolina) Elementary School scheduled a summer science camp, Lisa and her husband Tim were invited to share their knowledge and love of plants with fifth graders.

Lisa and Tim worked side by side with fifth graders on propagation projects and fertilizer explorations, and invited classes to the greenhouse for tours. When students returned to classrooms, participating teachers reported that their interest in plants remained high. "The kids were so excited about what they learned that they shared their experiences with parents," Lisa said, "and many brought parents into the greenhouse."

Some nurseries or garden centers offer discounts to teachers doing classroom gardening programs. Others donate products (seeds toward the end of the gardening season are a good bet). While not all garden centers are inclined to offer discounts or donations, they may support classroom gardening in other ways. One nursery business agreed to grow students' second-generation space seeds in its greenhouse when the school GrowLab was filled to the brim with a salad project.

Plant of the Week

A "plant of the week" project in the Lexington, MA, elementary school was made possible by a partnership with a local plant business. Science consultant Stephanie Bernstein reported that a local florist agreed to loan a different plant each week with the understanding that the plant would be returned in good condition.

Each Monday morning, a parent volunteer put the plant of the week on display (with a sign thanking the nursery) on a table in the main school hallway. A sign highlighting the plant name, country of origin, care requirements, and other interesting information was placed next to each plant.

Mini-oranges, pocketbook plants, and other delights brightened the hall throughout the year. Said Stephanie, "The students and teachers eagerly anticipated the new plant each week. I would leave one leaf aside that students could handle and more closely observe. Back in the classrooms, students had questions that lead to further explorations and activities -- like raising their own 'garbage gardens' from lunch fruit seeds, for example." At the end of the year, the students sent a big thank-you card which bolstered the florist's interest in helping again the following year.

Tips for Approaching Businesses

Some plant-related business owners may immediately see the value of donating resources or time to classroom gardening projects, and others might be supportive with a little nudging. Consider these suggestions when asking business owners to support your growing efforts:

* Describe (better yet -- have your students describe) your growing project. Let them know specifically what types of materials (e.g., potting mix, seeds, containers) you will need.

* Highlight what you think your students will gain from integrating plants with classroom learning. Remind business owners that their support will help cultivate the gardeners, consumers, and decision-makers of the twenty-first century.

* Invite the business owners to your school to lead an activity or presentation, help brainstorm growing projects, attend a salad party, or conduct a workshop for teachers.

* Let them know their support will be recognized to parents, other teachers, and the public through letters home, signs in the classroom, and newspaper articles or other public relations efforts.

* If you do receive support from a garden-related business, make sure to thank them personally and publicly. Original student thank-you's can go a long way toward ensuring continued and enhanced support.

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