By Sandra Zunino
Since 2003, Nancy O’Connor of Stevensville has been teaching youth the fundamentals of gardening in the Kent Island Young Gardeners group.
The Kent Island Young Gardeners project is sponsored by the Kent Island Gardening Club. Denise Swayne, 2003 club president, sought out Nancy because she was not only a certified master gardener; she was a retired schoolteacher.
The club’s motive is to involve children with gardening and flowers. Children from Queen Anne’s County ages 8 through 12 are invited to participate free of charge. The club meets at the QAC Free Library, Stevensville Branch the third Tuesday of the month during September, October, November, March, April and May.
Class sizes have run from six to sixteen students, although Nancy says she is going to limit participation to 12 students for the future. “The ideal class size is 10 to 12 to really give individual attention to the students,” she says.
Classes run for about an hour starting at 4:30 p.m. Children enjoy a snack as arrivals trickle in from destinations throughout the county. Parents often run errands or visit the library while waiting.
Nancy provides 30 minutes of instruction about a particular aspect of gardening. The children then participate in a craft project pertaining to the lesson for the remainder of the hour. While learning about friends in the garden, for instance, children made bee figures out of miniature clay pots. Children also decorated holiday wreaths made from grape and honeysuckle vine. “This helps them think about what they learned,” she says.
Nancy admits she could not conduct the classes alone. “The garden club backs me up,” she says. “I’ve never had less than three members show up to help.” The club also donates money for the class supplies.
Nancy says she derives her lesson material from many sources including her own personal gardening experiences. 4-H, youth gardening programs and the internet provide valuable resources. “Once I get an idea, I will expand on it,” she says. “I bring it down to the children’s level so it is not too complicated for them to understand.”
During her teaching career, Nancy taught second to sixth graders. She says this helped her work with the different ages of her gardening students. “As part of teacher training you learn to read your audience,” says Nancy. “You can tell if they comprehend the information or if you’ve gone a bit too far by their expression.”
Nancy says she developed her love for gardening at an early age when she helped her father with farming chores on their Nebraska farm. “I have a love of nature myself,” she says. “You have to love nature to teach gardening.”
Nancy’s gardening lessons have included information on grass, plant and tree species, growing bulbs, choosing healthy plants and helping plants flourish. “I’m trying to get children to garden at home with different kinds of plants,” she says.
Next year, Nancy says she is going to cover floral arrangement, although she admits this is not her specialty as she has mixed feelings about cutting blooms from her own garden.
The Kent Island Gardening Club is a non-profit organization associated with the Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland. For more information about the club, contact Linda Elias 410-827-6981. For more information about the Kent Island Young Gardeners, call Nancy at 443-249-0646.