ISD, others, grow flourishing horticulture group


A group of students is applying skills they have learned to improve the appearance of MCCC’s campus.

The Monroe County Intermediate School District, North Monroe Greenhouse and MSU Extension Office have combined efforts with MCCC to provide a curriculum for students with special needs.

This is the second year in which students from the Monroe County Transition Center attend classes to hone skills involving horticulture.

MCCC’s greenhouse provides the classroom setting for lectures and hands-on experience.

Through the combined efforts of MCCC adjunct professor Melody Carmichael, Special Education Teacher Sharon Diefenthaler and Tammy Hemdal, a teacher’s aide, lectures and hands-on experience are provided to special needs students age 18 to 26.

Students attend class three days a week on campus. Two days of the week are set aside to incorporate a business type setting, where the students can apply their newly obtained skills at North Monroe Greenhouse. The students not only receive an education, but are also gaining valuable work skills that will assist in their future goals.

“The ultimate goal is to get a job…they’re (the students) learning how to become young adults and have employable skills.” Diefenthaler said.

“Horticulture isn’t just about a greenhouse.”

The program focuses on the entire spectrum of growing a plant, from the seed to supplying a product to customers.

For example, North Monroe Greenhouse is a retail outlet, and Matthis Greenhouse provides wholesale experience for students

Students learned that insects play a vital role in nature’s plant life.

“We learned what an insect is…and we set bug traps,” Carmichael said.

“There are four units to the Master Gardening curriculum: plant classification, water, soil and insects…we do a lot of experiments,” she said.

Diefenthaler said the experiments are an important part of the program.

“We can read all we want about how a plant grows, but no two plants grow alike and the weather’s not the same every day, so we never know what we’re going to get.”

Students become knowledgeable about what is good for specific plant life, and the problems that may cause interruptions in healthy, productive plants.

“We’re learning how to plant different kinds of plants, how they grow, replanting, and how to cut and to take care of them,” said Christopher, one of 14 students participating in this year’s course.

“This is our second year, and I have 10 of my students who have returned this year,” Diefenthaler said.

“Last year, the students came certified as a Junior Michigan Gardener through the Michigan State extension office,” she said.

“They receive lifelong credit hours.”

Becoming employable in the community is a goal this year by building upon skills learned last year.

“I have four students who started in the Summer Youth Employment program, with some stimulus money coming from the government,” Diefenthaler said.

While most students are practicing their skills at North Monroe Greenhouse, one student has the opportunity to help at Birds ‘N Butterflies of Ida.

Student Justin Warren is working three days each week for Birds ‘N Butterflies, which specializes in bird and butterfly releases for special occasions.

“We work with different plants that the butterflies lay their eggs on…it’s pretty cool,” he said.

Justin travels with the owner to fairs and exhibits, and for $2 customers can view the butterflies.

“I get to touch the butterflies and feed them on a Q-tip with Gatorade” he said.

He has also learned how to package and ship butterflies.

Student Patrick Doherty came to the class with a natural artistic talent, which may have never been discovered had he not enrolled in this course. He has a knack for making floral arrangements.

“He started out making green baskets at home,” Diefenthaler said.

Patrick now makes small basket arrangements for special occasions.

Another student, Joe Woody, has used skills learned in the class to plant vegetables at his home.

“I’m in this program because I want to become a farmer,” he said.

Joe has sold his plants to businesses in the area, becoming an entrepreneur with the knowledge gained from the program.

“We seeded out cucumbers such as Pickling, Market Sure and Burpees, (different varieties of cucumbers)” he said. “After the plants started growing in the pots, I put them in the garden outside.”

Here on campus, the students are combining their efforts in beautifying the Life Science building.

A perennial garden requiring low maintenance is nearly completed on the west side of the L-building.

“We’re going to make it a three-season garden,” Carmichael said.

“We’ve got bulbs planted now that will come up in the spring and we’re going to add a fall flower that will bloom in September. The hospices stay green and the irises come up in the summer.”

The group received approval to add a second garden just south of the first one.

There is much more to creating a garden than just planting, Diefenthaler noted.

The students get a bonus education in landscaping, she said. Measuring and centering, for example, are important when properly planting an attractive display that will last a long time.

“I am really proud of this whole group…they’ve really stepped up to the challenge,” Diefenthaler said.

“It’s something brand new through the school and the college. It’s a win-win situation.”