Planting Seeds of Knowledge: How Tennessee Educators Embrace Horticultural Education

UT gardens in Knoxville hosted educators for a national symposium focused on children and horticulture.

A group of 125 dedicated educators gathered at the University of Tennessee to explore the world of horticultural education. Among them was Bianca Marquez, a first-grade teacher from Dallas, who embarked on this journey to broaden her horizons and bring a touch of greenery into her classroom.

Marquez was enchanted by the displays at the UT Gardens, where artisans had meticulously adorned three-dimensional wooden cutouts of these creatures among vibrant flowers and plants. She understood the power of such experiences, explaining, “Taking a child out to a garden sets the tone that you’re not in the classroom. There are no right or wrong answers. We’re all out here just as learners.”

Bianca’s insight was echoed by many at the National Children and Youth Garden Symposium, a collaboration between the American Horticulture Society and UT’s Institute of Agriculture and the Gardens. Whitney Hale, one of the organizers, expressed the hope that this event would serve as a transformative learning experience for educators, inspiring them to ignite the passion for gardening in their young charges. She noted, “We hope we can provide a learning experience for them to immerse themselves in plants and an education space, and to maybe get ideas and get some inspiration for what they might be able to take home.”

The American Horticultural Society (AHS) celebrated its centenary last year, reaffirming its commitment to youth gardening education. AHS leaders firmly believe in the profound impact of placing a child among plants, teaching them the art of nurturing, and watching life bloom. Suzanne Laporte, an advocate for youth gardening, emphasized, “They’re digging, they’re planting, they’re measuring. They’re doing a lot of academic things without actually realizing they’re doing that. For them, it’s fun. And of course, the amazing thing is when you plant something, and then it grows.”

James Newburn, another horticultural educator, shared his perspective, stating, “When you put a child in a garden, it is time for exploration.” The UT Gardens is not just a one-time destination; it hosts numerous youth programs aimed at connecting children with the wonders of the natural world. Newburn added, “Having them out here where they can explore the bugs, the bees, and the flowers and the trees – they begin to appreciate what nature means and how they should care for it.”

As schools across the country prepare to reopen their doors, these educators will carry the knowledge and enthusiasm they’ve gained in Knoxville back to their students. With every plant they nurture and every garden they tend to, they will be sowing the seeds of curiosity and environmental stewardship in the hearts of the next generation.

In the words of Bianca Marquez, “Sometimes teachers need to learn,” and it is in the embrace of nature’s classroom that these educators are discovering the boundless possibilities of horticultural education. The future of our planet, it seems, is in very capable hands.


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