A recent outing to the Garfield Park Conservatory sparked youth in a male mentoring program to find their inner green thumb.
The Northwest Austin Council (NWAC) devoted a small section of their roof for a garden after noticing the reaction of students to the conservatory’s children’s garden in early August.
The conservatory displays a variety of plant life and flowers. But for 12-year-old Quentin Hogan one plant in particular caught his attention-the Venus Fly Trap. Hogan was amazed to discover an insect-eating plant. Now he says he is pondering a career in botany.
“I learned that when the fly touches one of the hairs inside the mouth, it’s like a trigger. It closes,” said Hogan, a student at Canter Middle School. “That got me interested in plants.”
Youths, ages 7-16, spent the summer pruning and planting hostas, sunflowers, zebrinas and mints from donated seeds and potting planters. The students also learned the difference between perennials and annuals and went on a community garden tour hosted by Austin Green Team.
While the program teaches conflict resolution and life skills to prepare students for the school year, NWAC’s Ricky McGrew, said the agency can tweak programming based on kids’ interest.
“With these young men, you know what they’re used to in the streets so you want to throw them a curve,” he explained. “You never know potential in these young men until you do something like this.”
The students have gone on other cultural trips to museums and baseball games, but McGrew took them to the conservatory to show them how to beautify their neighborhood with a simple garden. The Austin community lacks green space so planting a few flowers in the yard can add color often missing in urban areas, program officials explained.
McGrew also noted that showing kids how to nurture things teaches them respect for life. Many youth become immune to the violence in their communities, on television and in video games, said program officials.
“Giving them their own plant to be responsible for is about teaching them how to nurture things, not murder things,” McGrew said.
With high incarceration, murder and dropout rates, NWAC President Stephen Robinson wanted the kids to experience different things so they can have options when they get older.
“You experience more; you know more,” he said.
Both officials agreed the rooftop garden was a success, especially for kids who have never gardened before. McGrew said the youth were excited to see plants blossom from seeds. Sometimes, he noted, he had to stop the kids from over-watering the plants. But the garden, McGrew added, did teach them patience.
They hope to continue the rooftop garden into an after school project or increase the number of plants from the 10 pots they already have.
Terrell Henry, a student at Ella Flagg Young School, hopes the program will extend into the school year.
“It’s fun,” said the 8-year-old, who has relatives in Mississippi that own a farm. Henry said he is very familiar with gardening, but he rather plant watermelon, tomatoes and pumpkins-items he hopes to have in his garden when he gets older.
Denzel Hampton, 13, also an Ella Flagg Young student, said he didn’t like flowers all that much. But the trip to the conservatory gave him a better appreciation for them.
“Plants are beautiful,” he said, “but they’re a lot of work.”