Junior Master Gardeners

“In March we finally start getting more daylight. We’ll be planning our spring planting and getting outside more.”
–Jason Botts, coordinator of the Wake County Junior Master Gardeners

by Jessie Ammons

photograph by Travis Long

It’s 6:30 p.m. on a Thursday evening at JC Raulston Arboretum. Elementary school students are perfecting their botanical sketches; middle schoolers are learning which seeds might grow best in the Southeast this spring; and high schoolers are gathered in a yurt on the back of the property, blending up pesto and talking vegetable gardens. They’re all here for the monthly Junior Master Gardeners gathering, a Wake County 4-H program for ages 4 – 18. “Each of the leaders has designed their program around their target group – high schoolers love to eat – but it’s always tied back to horticulture,” says Jason Botts, the overall coordinator.

Master Gardeners are adult graduates of a fairly extensive garden science certification program that emphasizes volunteering; this junior version is much less intensive. Any interested child is welcome to sign up online, and there’s a nominal voluntary donation. In adolescence, Botts says, there are no brown or green thumbs, only curious minds. “Kids love to dig in the dirt. We’re helping them learn about it.”

This is the first year the fifty-something JMGs have met at the arboretum (they were previously in the Wake County Cooperative Extension office) and the new venue has inspired them all. “Being here is like we’ve died and gone to heaven, because we’re surrounded by everything at work. The kids have really been having fun with it. It’s awesome. The sky’s the limit.” Or, rather, the ground.