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Hands-On Learning Supported by AFE’s Educational Grants

To your average non-industry member, the scope of horticulture and floriculture may not run far outside of lawn care and gardening. Education is an excellent place to start when it comes to showing the scale of our industry to a broader audience of students and encouraging them to enter our field. Oklahoma State University’s Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture recognized this and utilized support from the American Floral Endowment (AFE)’s Educational Grants to offer a successful Hands-On Horticulture course in 2021-2022. The result? Enlightened students with a deeper understanding of this field, newfound hort knowledge, and industry promotion.

What began as an idea for an alternate science class became a fun, informative foundation for horticulture education at OSU. The idea was to create a below-intro-level option for students to learn what horticulture really is, keep students engaged, and have fun while doing it. The course description informs, “Recent studies have shown that many Americans are unfamiliar with horticulture…Many of the foods we eat, the landscapes we design, and even some of our medicines are horticultural products.” HORT 4990 used AFE’s Educational Grant funds for all kinds of engaging activities to build horticulture and floral knowledge around concepts like floral design and planting in raised beds, pruning bonsai in hand-made pots, making potpourri, setting out biological control cards in a greenhouse, mounting staghorn ferns, harvesting crops, and watching a demonstration by the USDA APHIS Beagle Brigade. This class had no shortage of engaging activities and certainly no lack of lessons.

“We got a lot of ‘I had no idea!’s’” says Dr. Shelley Mitchell, Associate Extension Specialist of Youth Programs in the Horticulture and Landscape Architecture Department at OSU and one of HORT 4990’s instructor. “The students had no idea about a lot of the activities and roles involved in horticulture and floriculture. They were thrilled to harvest carrots and re-plant leftovers like celery and green onions. They liked coming to class. Even if they don’t major [in Horticulture], they can still take enjoyable classes and learn it’s not just mowing.”

Administrators at OSU deemed HORT 4990 a success. Though not yet a “real” course, the impact of Hands-On Horticulture was significant. From English to Psychology and Engineering, students of all different majors came together in a collective realization of the horticulture and floral fascination. Some called the activities “relaxing” and took the fruits of their labor to other classes, sparking interest from additional students and promoting the course. “It looks like it’s catching on. We wanted this to be a science that anybody could take to expose more people to it. Now, other departments are starting to have similar class offerings,” said Dr. Mitchell. What’s more, this class sparked a curiosity in its students as they explore topics on their own, bring the knowledge back to the classroom, and educate peers and professors alike. “After pounding our own papyrus paper and looking at some papyrus I brought from home, one student looked up how to propagate papyrus, and it worked great! Even the instructors are learning,” notes Mitchell. Looking forward, this class will be developed into an available science credit, enticing even more students to get their hands dirty and explore horticulture.

It’s important programs like these that AFE is thrilled to uplift through our Educational Grants. This funding provides support for wide-reaching academic programs and resources that empower the floral industry to invest in continued education. The Grants’ focus is to not only attract young professionals to the field but invest in impactful educational experiences to solve industry challenges. From conventions to virtual events and Hands-on Horticulture, The Grants encourage education at all levels in any sector. If your organization or university is hosting an industry event or program, we encourage you to learn more and apply for AFE’s Educational Grants by June 1st.

Check out the gallery of photos from HORT 4990 below, and be sure to look out for student commercials filmed during the course for the Oklahoma Gardening Facebook! Thank you to Dr. Mitchell, the students of HORT 4990, and OSU’s Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture for sharing this experience.


By Shanley King, AFE’s Communications Coordinator