Blogger Alexa Newman

Teaching Gardens and Junior Master Gardeners

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need” ~ Cicero.

Well, I’ve got everything I need and more!  Besides being a Youth Services Librarian, I am a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener. (That means I’ve had training, continuing education, and lots of volunteer hours). In fact, I’m so lucky I have established and manage a Teaching Garden here at the Algonquin Area Public Library. As an EMG, I teach many classes and present programs at libraries, conferences, and for civic groups

At my library, our Teaching Garden is celebrating its second birthday. The garden consists of raised beds with a variety of different gardens. Last year we had a square foot garden, a cutting garden, a kids garden, and a sensory garden.

The first year was a learning experience for me and we learned that weeds are our biggest  bugaboo, especially since our next door neighbor is a prairie restoration project. We have relocated our garden beds this year, in part, due to the proliferation of prairie plants seeding our raised beds. My Assistant Director and I just constructed two raised beds out of cedar fence pickets and 4x4s. I’ll add landscape fabric to the bottoms and have soil delivered from a local nursery. The whole project will cost about $100.

I offer programming for all ages, from preschool to adults. Programming includes lectures, demonstrations, and hands-on gardening – I call it “In the Garden Lab”. We also have teen and adult volunteers to help with the garden. Some assist with  programs, others with garden maintenance.

This year, in an effort to have sustained participation by youth in the Library’s Teaching Garden, we are embarking on a new adventure and starting a Junior Master Gardeners chapter. The kids will do the planning, planting, and caring for the Teaching Garden.

Organized by Texas A&M University Extension, “ the Junior Master Gardener program is an international youth gardening program of the university cooperative Extension network. JMG engages children in novel, “hands-on” group and individual learning experiences that provide a love of gardening, develop an appreciation for the environment, and cultivate the mind. JMG also inspires youths to be of service to others through service learning and leadership development projects, and rewards them with certification and recognition.” (

The program includes a complete curriculum and handbooks as well as several companion activities for children in a variety of grade levels. The JMGKids website has extensive support materials for anyone interested in starting a chapter.

The good news is, thanks to the curriculum and handbooks, you don’t have to be a Master Gardener, or even a  gardening expert to start a chapter. You just need to have an interest gardening and working with youth. There are lessons on soils, botany, insects, and more. One set of lesson modules is titled Literature in the Garden  and it offers lesson plans pairing garden themed picture books with gardening activities.

I’m interested to know who else is gardening at their Library, and how you are involving your youth.  Please respond and share your experiences!



  1. Lee Waldo

    We have a kitchen garden adjacent to our house museum and teach seed planting techniques to school groups and would like to expand our programming. The Junior Master Gardener program looks ideal for our needs. Thank you for the information.

  2. Catherine Baer

    At the Rosemary Garfoot Public Library, in Cross Plains, WI, where I work as children’s librarian, we have a children’s garden that we planted to commemorate our 50th anniversary. This was our summer reading incentive a couple of years ago. Kids who read 50 books or 50 hours over the summer got to choose a plant for the garden, and then plant it themselves at our end of summer garden party. The garden was designed by one of our library moms from story time who is a landscape designer. The garden plan is literature themed with areas such as Peter Rabbit’s garden, the Little House on the Prairie garden (with tall prairie plants encircling a hiding place), and a yellow brick road leading into the secret hiding place. The kids who earned a plant are named on a plaque that is mounted just behind the garden.
    As the first LEED certified library in Wisconsin, we also have two rain gardens, planted with native plants, and a native prairie garden designed by a student from our high school’s Environmental Science class.

  3. Pingback: Spring, Warm Weather, and Gardens! Botanical Stories in Libraryland

  4. Zeeshan ALi

    Great to see libraries promoting gardening for kids. It’s an investment in our future. Keep it up

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