Master Gardeners Inspire Future Plant Lovers

By Andrea Bowles, Fairfax Master Gardener
As a master gardener, one of my greatest joys is sharing a love of plants and gardening with the next generation through a program called Ready, Set, Grow! A 4-H-sponsored enrichment program, Ready, Set, Grow! (RSG) serves 4th-grade students in Fairfax County Public Schools, private schools and youth groups, such as Girl Scouts.

Volunteers from both the Fairfax County and Green Spring master-gardener organizations deliver the RSG program, sharing basic plant information with children in fun, interactive ways. Last year, about 45 volunteers presented in more than 80 classrooms in 21 elementary schools. This represents almost 2,000 students being introduced to the world of plants in one year alone, as well as hundreds of volunteer hours to make that happen. In its 16-year-history, the program has reached as many as 30,000 children.

45 volunteers, 80 classes, 21 schools, 2,000 students

So what exactly do we master gardeners teach these children in our two-hour presentations? Each RSG team of two tailors their time with students to include a few core topics, such as parts of a plant and the plant lifecycle — plus optional activities, such as dissecting a flower, so that the children can see up close all the parts of a plant. “I love the way kids get such a kick out of dissecting the bean seed and flower and using a hand lens to identify the parts,” says Beth Janick, a retired social worker who began volunteering with the RSG program last year.

One of the core activities is called the Fantasy Plant. The kids work in small groups to create a plant, real or nonsensical, and present it to the rest of the class. Anything goes with these projects, the only rules being that all parts of the plant have to be represented, and everyone in the group has to participate. Kids have created plants that cure a disease, help with homework, make pizza and walk pets. “I am impressed each and every time with the creativity the children display, as well as with the stories they build around their fantasy-plant projects,” says RSG volunteer Jana Tilinger, who hopes to use an RSG-like approach to introduce her four grandchildren, now toddlers, to gardening.

One of the highlights of the program is that the students plant a bean seed and a nasturtium seed to take home to nurture and observe.

As an RSG volunteer, I’ve been in schools to present in one classroom, only to have students from one of my earlier presentations in that school run up to me to report on how big their bean and nasturtium plants were growing. I’ve received hugs, smiles and homemade thank-you cards. Kids at this age are so sweet, and their enthusiasm is truly infectious. Beth Janick tells the story of a little girl who was so worried that her newl