Nature’s Classroom: Learning Through Gardening at TCMU-Greenville

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Vibrant yellow marigolds, fresh tomatoes, and fragrant green herbs are just a few of the plant varieties growing in our garden at The Children’s Museum of the Upstate-Greenville. With the help of several expert gardeners from the Greater Greenville Master Gardeners Association, we have been able to bring the TCMU Garden to our community.

Introducing the TCMU Garden

The TCMU Garden can be found nestled on the outdoor patio right outside of the café. The garden consists of three raised beds that include colorful flowers, fresh herbs, vegetables, and fruits. This project was initiated in 2023 and has been led by experienced and dedicated Master Gardener, Kelly Toadvine.

Toadvine has nurtured a lifelong love for gardening, beginning in childhood when she would pick flowers and arrange them in containers as a young girl. Her passion for horticulture has led her to tend to numerous gardens over the years, from cultivating flowers as a young mother to planting and pruning at her home in England during her four-year residency there.

Years later, she moved to Greenville, South Carolina, where she became an active member of two gardening clubs. Joining these clubs gave her the opportunity to enhance her knowledge of gardening and foster meaningful connections with fellow enthusiasts. Many members of the gardening clubs began taking the Master Gardener course, and eventually, Toadvine decided to interview for the course herself. She has now been a certified Master Gardener in Greenville County for 16 years.

Toadvine and her fellow members of the Master Gardener program dedicate themselves to educating the public about horticulture and garden-related activities. Through the TCMU Garden project at TCMU-Greenville, Toadvine says that she and the Master Gardener team hope to teach children about the value of plants and that bugs and bees are helpful friends. She says that they also hope to engage parents by teaching practical gardening techniques for starting a small garden at home. Toadvine finds joy as a Master Gardener simply by “talking with people and reassuring them that they can grow something.”

Teaching Kids Through Gardening

The TCMU Garden is set to become a place where education and nature intersect. By engaging with the garden and connecting with Master Gardeners, kids can experience the joy of growing their own food, understand the life cycle of plants, the importance of pollinators, and develop a deeper appreciation for the natural world. The garden is more than just a green space; it is meant to inspire curiosity and foster a lifelong love of learning. It is essential to the health and continuity of the TCMU Garden that we understand a little bit more about the plants that are growing and the unsung insect heroes that help our plants flourish.

What Is Pollination?

According to Smithsonian Gardens experts, pollination occurs when pollen from the male part (the anther) of a plant is transferred to the female part (the stigma) of another plant of the same species. After pollination, the plant undergoes the process of fertilization, resulting in the production of seeds and fruits. Successful pollination is a year-round process that can sometimes require a pollinator to visit a single plant multiple times. Pollination is crucial to the health of natural ecosystems and agriculture and is made possible by the diligent efforts of animal pollinators.

Who Are Pollinators?

Over millions of years, plants and pollinators have evolved and adapted together. Plants have evolved with vibrant and distinctive features such as bright and colorful leaves, unique shapes and sizes, and sweet-scented nectar to attract pollinators. Pollinators have evolved with sensory adaptations to locate pollen, specialized mouthparts to extract pollen, and bodily adaptations to transfer pollen from one plant to another. These specialized adaptations underscore the interconnectedness and mutual dependence between plants and their pollinating partners.

Pollinators come in many different shapes and sizes. Common pollinators include bees, beetles, butterflies, moths, bats, flies, and hummingbirds. In some cases, the wind can act as a pollinator alone by carrying large quantities of lightweight pollen grains from plant to plant. Pollinators can also specialize in specific plant varieties in their local environment. For example, most moths are nocturnal and tend to pollinate night-blooming flowers like four o’clocks and moon-flowers. On the other hand, hummingbirds have slender bills and tend to pollinate long tubular-shaped flowers like honeysuckles and bee balm.

According to Toadvine, bees are the most frequent visitor in our garden. Bees are not picky pollinators and tend to visit a wide variety of flowers. Toadvine says that we might also see species of small birds, beetles, and other animals. These pollinators will help to keep our bright and beautiful garden in full bloom.

Safely Engaging with Plants and Pollinators in the TCMU Garden

There are many ways that we can appreciate the TCMU Garden and safely interact with the plants and pollinators that inhabit it.

  • Be Gentle: The garden is a fragile ecosystem with delicate plants and lots of little critters. To avoid disrupting or startling the plants and pollinators, move slowly while observing the garden and avoid making any loud noises or sudden movements.
  • Interact Through Sight: There is so much to see and observe in the garden! Toadvine says that we can see many fascinating things happening just by looking with our eyes. She adds that her team of Master Gardeners will handle all of the necessary touching involved with garden maintenance, including pruning and any possible harvesting.
  • Stay Educated: Learning about the plants growing and the pollinators at work is an easy and exciting way to safely interact with our garden at TCMU-Greenville and take home new gardening knowledge. On Tuesday mornings from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., there are usually two Master Gardener volunteers at the gardens to answer any questions and to point out any visiting pollinators that day.

What Does the TCMU Garden Bring to Our Community?

The TCMU Garden features a wide variety of plants, including flowers, vegetables, and herbs in raised beds and in the ground. The flower variety includes catmint, yarrow, marigolds, verbena, and bee balm. These flowers add golden yellow, deep purple, and vibrant pink hues to the garden space.

There is also an expansive collection of herbs including fennel, spearmint, thyme, chives, parsley, rosemary, basil, and several others. These fresh herbs make for a rich aromatic experience.

Additionally, our garden boasts various vegetables and fruits such as eggplant, cucumbers, celery, lettuce, and three kinds of tomatoes in the raised beds and squash, zucchini, eggplant, and blackberry bushes in the ground.

The TCMU Garden is also a great and easy way to learn about the natural world. Whether you’re listening to the buzzing bees, smelling the basil and rosemary, looking at the beautiful purple verbena, or chatting with one of the dedicated Master Gardeners, there’s so much to explore and discover.

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