Cries of excitement echoed through Province Park, as the group of girls scrutinized the bark of the tree.
“Hey guys, come see that ant!” one shouted at the other campers attending this year’s Purdue Extension Johnson County Garden Camp. The children were in the middle of a nature scavenger hunt, finding objects such as clover leaves, worms and pine cones. Looking closely at the natural world of the park, the children found something amazing.
That was the goal of the gardening camp – to examine the world around them, be it a garden or a woodland, and learn to appreciate it better.
“You have to think like a child, what they would need to know that they maybe didn’t learn in school,” said Linda Pfeiffer, master gardener and volunteer counselor at the camp. “You try to take the things they learn and apply them. “
Each Wednesday in June, about 12 kids came to the Purdue Extension office in Franklin to learn about pollinating insects, the benefits of certain garden plants, and how to grow delicious vegetables on their own.
For the children who attend, the camp is a chance not only to develop their own interest in gardening, but also to open their eyes to the forces of nature that make it possible.
“I love learning and I love plants so it’s really fun,” said Cooper Farmer, one of this year’s campers.
The Garden Camp has been offered by Purdue Extension Johnson County for years. When it was created, the idea was to offer an educational camp for budding gardeners aged 8 to 12 to discover the science of plant development.
Now children learn everything from dirt to plants to insects, with programs built around these different topics.
“We want to inspire them. Not everyone grows up with the same love and understanding of gardening and the way things grow. So if they’re not doing it at home, we want to get them into the idea of growing things and learning, ”said Sarah Hanson, County Manager for Purdue Extension Johnson County.
The program is sponsored by the Trafalgar Country Gardeners, a community group focused on activities such as maintaining the demonstration gardens at the Johnson County Fairgrounds and hosting free public lectures by gardening experts throughout of the year, in addition to sponsoring the camp.
Drawing on the wealth of knowledge of local master gardeners as volunteer camp counselors, the program provides teachable moments through crafts, team-building exercises, and hands-on activities – even a snack.
Each of this year’s five-day camp program had a different focus.
During one of the days at the camp, children and volunteers learned about mason bees, important plant pollinators in Indiana. After Pfeiffer explained the role of bees in the ecosystem, campers were able to make their own mason bee hive from an empty Pringles box and small cardboard tubes.
They also made candles from beeswax from local bees.
At the Purdue Extension office, a collection of raised gardens provides concrete instructions on how plants grow and how best to care for them. Volunteers plant items earlier in the spring. So, as the camp takes place, the children can pick and taste fresh local produce.
Campers also help weed and care for plants, and plant their own marigolds while learning how the flower is a natural insect repellant. From a collection of herbs, children discover the vital role of these fragrant plants in food and nature.
“We just try to apply as much as possible in the activities where they are learning. We make it fun, but we make it informative, ”Pfeiffer said.
Their approach resonated with children. For Kaden Lanier, the whole camp was fun, but the best part was learning about the bees.
“I love plants, and I love butterflies and bugs and that sort of thing,” he said. “Bees are actually a good insect in the forest.”
The most interesting lesson for Cooper has also been related to the bugs.
“My favorite was learning about the parts of insects: their antennae, their heads and how they don’t have a skeleton like us,” he said.