Faculty conversations: Norm Lownds
In the Michigan 4-H Children’s Garden, there is a pizza made of plants.
"You can see we have chives, we have basil, we have tomatoes, we have garlic, we have peppers, oregano," said Norm Lownds, curator of the garden located on the Michigan State University campus. In the kid-sized, pizza-shaped garden — with a single slice taken out — there’s even a pineapple growing this year.
There are about 85 different theme gardens in the Children’s Garden, including the PB&J, herb, food plate and music gardens. There is also Monet’s bridge, dance chimes, a water-squirting frog sculpture and even a tame "Whomping Willow," just like the one in the Harry Potter books and movies, Lownds said. (It’s really just a weeping willow, he said.)
"One of the things we want people to do is we want them to take away the idea that, 'Oh, this is something that I can do at home,'" he said.
His research focuses on how kids learn through hands-on, experiential learning — specifically, how they use field trips to the 4-H Children’s Garden programs to learn about science. He works with students on a number of fun, interactive science experiments and incorporates technology into many of the things that he does with students.
Lownds, an associate professor in the Department of Horticulture, said that one of his goals is to increase MSU student involvement in the gardens. He already works a lot with MSU’s teacher education program, and MSU will also host the 19th annual National Children and Youth Garden Symposium July 21-23, which is sponsored by the American Horticultural Society. About 400 educators are expected to attend, he said.
The garden, which was dedicated in 1993 and was the first interactive, public outdoor garden for children in the U.S., attracts more than 200,000 visitors every year. It is open sun-up to sun-down every day, and in the summer the garden hosts a series of family event days centered on themes such as writing, storytelling, trains, bugs and art.
"You don’t need to have a child to come out here," Lownds said. "As long as you feel like a child or are willing to act like a child, you can always come out and have a real good time."