Helping to grow little gardeners

Club: Two Howard County educators share their knowledge and love of plants with about 30 Ellicott City pupils.

October 15, 2003|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

After a day of working with special education students at Atholton High School, teacher Laura O'Donnell headed to Centennial Lane Elementary to give more instruction. Once a month, she volunteers at the elementary school's Junior Garden Club.

O'Donnell and Joanne Winters, a reading specialist at Centennial Lane, are members of the Howard County Garden Club, which sponsors the program, and they run Centennial Lane's gardening club.

Winters said the Junior Garden Club is more than an opportunity to teach children about nature. It also fosters a sense of ownership of their Ellicott City school. Last week, after working on fall flower arrangements, the first- through fifth-graders who participate in the club planted mums at the school's entrance.

"One of our major goals, besides teaching children about gardening, was to get them to help us maintain the gardens in front of the school," Winters said. To that end, the club continued to meet during the summer, when children rotated the responsibility of watering Centennial Lane's flowerbeds.

O'Donnell and Winters plan the junior club's activities together. They have had a floral designer speak to the children about wearing flowers, and this year they hope to have a landscaper visit and talk about designs for the school grounds.

Giving schoolchildren an opportunity to meet people who use plants and flowers in their work is another component of the club. "We try to incorporate the ideas of why are we doing this. Everything that we do with them, we relate it back to gardening and why people do this in gardening," Winters said.

Kelly Klomparens, 10, a fifth-grader in the club, learned at last month's meeting "to pull out the dead parts of the bush and so that way it would have some more time to grow during October," she said.

The Howard County Garden Club has sponsored many junior programs over the years, including a program at St. John's Parish Day School in Ellicott City. A parent and club member founded the Centennial Lane Junior Garden Club last year. Participation has doubled from about 15 children last year to more than 30. The Howard County Garden Club and the PTA provide materials for the crafts and activities, so membership is free.

Five parent volunteers helped the children design their arrangements last week. Then they took the youngsters outside, where O'Donnell and Winters taught them how to avoid tree roots when shoveling holes for the mums.

Parent Sue Gentry has a first-grader, Katelyn, 5, in the club. Gentry said her daughter "couldn't wait to do the garden club. She does a lot in the garden with us. ... She was disappointed it was only once a month."

One of the benefits, Gentry said, is that children of many ages work together. "I'm glad to see it's a multi-age group, an experience with different kids," she said, because knowing older pupils makes Katelyn feel more comfortable in the school.

Eight-year-old Rachel Shirey, a third-grader, agreed that socializing is part of the club's appeal. "You can have fun while you're doing it, and you can be with your friends," she said.

Winters said children will stop her in the hall to give her updates on how the flowers are doing. "We encourage them to watch the plants or the bulbs or the rhizomes or whatever they put in," she said. "They kind of take more of an interest when they've planted things and they know where it's supposed to be."

All of the flowers used in the children's arrangements came from O'Donnell's and Winters' home gardens. "We try to use plants that are seasonal - we try to use what we have, what's out there, what we see in their gardens now, what they see in their neighborhood. We didn't go and buy roses," O'Donnell said.

Third-grader Erica Hoobler, 8, has applied the lessons of the garden club at home. She said she likes "weeding, planting flowers. ... Now that I know how to garden, I've been gardening with my grandparents."

For O'Donnell, working with the Junior Garden Club doesn't feel like work at all. "I enjoy the children. They're all very enthusiastic," she said. "They really do love it. You can tell by the crowd."

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