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A new generation of gardeners

Twenty pairs of eyes are fixed on Master Gardeners of Clallam County member Diane Ross, or rather, her right hand.

On Ross' hand is Herby, a green felt puppet with leafy green ears. The second-graders in Cathy Raycraft's class at Greywolf Elementary are paying rapt attention to Ross as she explains how Herby grows from a seed to a full-blown plant. With detachable leaves and stems, Herby is a favorite with children, said fellow Master Gardeners.

"Herby is awesome!" yelled a child in the class to a chorus of agreement from the others.

The eight Master Gardeners visiting the class smiled at each other, satisfied. It is this excitement for plants and gardening that they want to instill in the young students.

"It is so neat because these little kids grow up and come to our clinics and remember when we came to their classrooms," said member Diane Thu. "I just think it's a really nice thing for our children to do."

In 1995, the Master Gardeners started the Youth Enrichment Program and began visiting a few classes in Sequim to explain what they do.

Thirteen years later, the program has expanded and members of the group spend March and April - and often a part of May - touring nearly every second-grade classroom in Clallam County, from Neah Bay, Forks and Joyce to Port Angeles and Sequim, said member Virginia Nelson. About 20 Master Gardeners split into two groups to visit the two second-grade classes at Greywolf, but up to four groups can go depending on the number of classes, Nelson added.

"We do it to kind of reinforce (what the kids learn in school) about plants and botany," Nelson said.

The Master Gardeners spend about a half-hour covering plants from moss to giant Sequoia trees and explaining the process of how a seed develops, with the help of Herby. The group then spends another half-hour helping the children plant vegetable seeds, usually beans or radishes, in cups they can keep and cultivate themselves.

"The students see what it's like to actually plant something," Thu said. "They enjoy it."

Thu added that she believes that whatever paths these students may take, in a career or otherwise, it is important for them to have at least a little lesson on cultivating plants.

"I don't know where they're headed when they grow up," Thu said. "But at least they'll have had a smattering of gardening."

How to join

The Washington State University Master Gardener Program trains volunteers to serve their communities by providing up-to-date information on horticulture and environmentally responsible gardening practices. WSU Master Gardeners address environmental and social priorities such as water conservation, the protection of water quality, reducing the impact of invasive species and healthy living through gardening. Those interested in training to become a certified Master Gardener volunteer may call the Clallam County office at 565-2679, send an e-mail message to Cynthia Warne at cwarne@co.clallam.wa.us or stop by the WSU extension office at 223 E. Fourth St. Port Angeles.

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