Youth outreach is one focus of the education activities of the Native Plant Society of Texas. One of the more ambitious activities of local chapters has been the planning, planting and maintaining of native plant gardens and landscapes with youth involvement and education. There are three key considerations for creating and implementing successful, sustainable native plantings and related educational opportunities.
First recruit the people who will be involved with the youth and adults of their communities for the duration of their campus projects. Leadership with a small team of on-site participants and volunteers with a long term commitment results in a quality program. From this group of adults come the liaisons sharing their expertise: gardening with native plants, instructing others, soliciting resources and numerous other pertinent skills. Involvement of organizations that are actively supported through volunteer hours and material donations such as P.T.A., scouts, Junior Master Gardener programs and local businesses, maximizes the efforts of our youth.
Next develop an inclusive planning component for all phases of the native planting site with the youth, their families, staff and volunteers. There are many considerations such as location of site, (e.g. visibility for the community, convenient to water source, adequate sunlight); defining the purpose of the garden such as transitioning an existing garden to native plants; expanding the biodiversity of the more common vegetable gardens; creating a new butterfly garden and creating a program for container gardening; selection of locally sourced native plants and seeds appropriate for the age group; and year round maintenance plans. This list only begins to address what is needed for the establishment of sustainable native plantings.
The third key to success is to promote real life education focusing on the core concept of Native Plants = Healthy Habitats. Learning can be supported at any time during daily schedules, coordinating with an existing curriculum, attaining scouting badges and gardening certification programs. It is common for school garden programs to include vegetable gardening and programs that focus on nutrition and healthy living; this is a good starting point for understanding healthy habitats as well. Unique opportunities and traditional lesson plan activities can be happening throughout the natural cycle of the garden beyond the initial planting time.