All of the gardens at Bullington Gardens in Hendersonville are certainly a sight to see this summer. But Director John Murphy believes four new additions deserve some extra attention: Those designed by students in the horticulture center’s BOOST program, one of several educational and therapeutic youth offerings.
Bullington Onsite Occupational Student Training, aka BOOST, helps sophomores with special needs in Henderson County Public Schools’ occupational course of study learn the basic job skills they’ll need to be independent upon graduation. At the end of the year, the students form teams by school and go head-to-head in a garden battle.
“The four gardens this year were the best ever as a group,” says Murphy. Each team picked a theme, with focuses on bullying (“victim” plants were separated from “bullies” by a row of supportive plant “friends”); remembrance and acceptance of Mexican culture (plants were chosen in honor of a student’s lost brother and the colors of the Mexican flag); school pride (called “Purple Reign” in honor of their knight mascot); and peace and harmony. The latter, by West Henderson High School, claimed victory.
“It has a blend of harmonious colored flowers, a natural trellis backdrop with a peace sign, and a dry river of sand flowing through,” Murphy says. The BOOST gardens will remain in bloom throughout the season.
Murphy started BOOST in 2003, when the occupational course of study — which requires sophomores to complete 180 hours of work — was fairly new to the school system. “Teachers were trying to find meaningful ways for students to get those hours,” he explains. “At the same time, I needed help to maintain the property.”
The students come once a week to assist in keeping up the gardens and nature trail, spreading mulch, clearing brush and potting plants in the greenhouse. All horticultural tasks, Murphy acknowledges, yet tasks designed to teach skills valuable in any work setting — from staying focused to getting along with coworkers to taking care of tools.
After completing the year, and particularly the culminating competition, Murphy finds that students walk away more self-assured and ready for the future. “Most of these students haven’t grown any plants before, let alone designed a garden,” he notes. “By the end of the semester, they’ve grown in confidence … they’re proud of something they created that they weren’t sure they could do.”