February 11, 2005 | By: Laura Skillman

Seventh-grade science students at Paducah Middle School are learning horticulture from a group of community experts and recently had a visit from a national gardening expert.

The Purchase Area Master Gardener Association will be in the classroom through May helping add to the students' learning experience. As part of that program P. Allen Smith, an internationally known garden designer, author and television personality, visited with the class while in the community to participate in the Purchase Area Master Gardeners’ Garden Gurus program.

Garden Gurus is an annual lecture series that brings noted horticulturalists and rare plants to the five-state region. It also includes plant sales, live and silent auctions and workshops, and other activities are added each year.

Smith told the children about how he initially planned to be a doctor before realizing that was not what he wanted and instead followed his passion of gardening into a career choice. He encouraged them to follow their own passions when deciding what they would do in their lives.

Student Ryan Hudson called Smith’s comments a “life changing experience.”

“I thought it was an honor that he chose to come to Paducah Middle School,” he said.

Smith said he believes the garden is a great place to teach children about life.

“I think you can connect the garden to every component of a curriculum whether that is geography or math or art or science of any form and I am always interested in projects that help children make that connection,” he said.

Smith said he also likes to encourage people to follow their own paths in life.

“I really believe that people should follow their passion, their bliss, and do something that makes a difference because it makes you a better person, it makes your community a better place and I think the more that you give the more it comes back to you and you become a happier person,” he said.

“What I also try to do when I speak to groups of young people is that I try to describe to them my journey. Because so often, they see someone at a certain point in their career and they look successful, they are on TV, they write books, there’s all this falderal around them,” Smith said. “But they don’t have the opportunity to hear what it took to get there and that there are obstacles and challenges all the way and they should look at those challenges as opportunities and that’s the message I wanted to get across to them.” 

Smith said he was aware that the Paducah area had “plant fanatics” like himself and was glad to participate in the Garden Gurus event. He also praised the Master Gardener programs across the country. The Master Gardener program in Kentucky is an educational program of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.

“I think the Master Gardener program is absolutely fantastic,” he said. “I think it has done more for American horticulture than any one organization that I can think of. It has raised the level of expertise and confidence and competence in people who are interested in gardening. It has given them a serious course outline to follow that they need to become a good gardener and I think it bodes very well for the future of gardening in America. I’m thrilled with the program and thrilled to be a part of it here in Paducah.”

Science teacher Cindy Glisson said this is the first year they’ve had the Master Gardeners in the classroom. “We are very fortunate,” she said. “We didn’t know for sure if Mr. Smith was going to come. He’s the best speaker we’ve ever had.”

Glisson said the students were excited by Smith and not just because he is someone they can see on TV.

“He’s someone that is personable and had something that they needed to hear about their lives,” she said. “They are at the age where they don’t know what they want to do but they have peer pressure, parent pressure on what they should do and he was saying be who you are not who somebody else wants you want to be. They will remember that. I think he definitely made a lasting impression.”

Master Gardener Carol Ullerich said they are working with the school through a “Plant a Seed” grant they received from the Garden Club of Kentucky. Having Smith speak to the class was an opportunity to expose the class to a true garden expert, she said.

“It’s an opportunity for us as Master Gardeners - because our mission is to educate - to go into the classroom and work with the kids and introduce them to gardening,” Ullerich said. “We have been doing a variety of experiments. We are propagating begonias both from leaves and stem cuttings. We’ve potted bulbs to be forced. Then, the students will begin a competition.”

The competition divides the classroom into five teams that receive the same amount of supplies and they will have to choose a goal and how to achieve that goal such as producing the largest carrot or the largest number of carrots.

For more information on Master Gardener programs contact a county Extension office.


Writer: Laura Skillman 270-365-7541, ext. 278
Contact: Kathy Keeney 270-554-9520