An analysis of adolescent involvement at public horticulture institutions

Purcell, Keelin
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University of Delaware
While gardens typically offer educational programming for adults and elementary school-aged children, many institutions struggle with serving the teenage audience, defined in this research as youth ages 13-19. The purpose of this research is to investigate the current state of adolescent programming in order to aid and inspire institutions to create and implement positive development opportunities for teenagers, and to take on a greater role in the cultural and horticultural education of today’s adolescents. Using a mixed methods approach, both qualitative and quantitative data were collected to characterize adolescent programming, as well as to identify the institutional benefits, the potential challenges, and the strategies of offering long-term adolescent programming. Institutional members of the American Public Gardens Association completed an initial survey. The Chicago Botanic Garden and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden were selected to serve as case study sites representing large institutions; the perspectives of smaller institutions were captured through phone interviews with staff at the Delaware Center for Horticulture, Fellows Riverside Garden, and Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve. A follow-up survey of directors of institutions offering long-term adolescent programming was also completed. The results of the survey yielded statistics on the current state of adolescent programming, including the amount and types of programming being offered. Seven institutional benefits emerged, with the three major benefits being building relationships with new audiences, building interest in horticulture, and supporting the institution’s mission and growth. And seven potential challenges were identified, with the three major challenges being funding, staff time, and adolescent interest. A list of seven overarching strategies was also developed, highlighting the areas of high quality staff, curriculum, partnerships, youth decision-making, compensation, engaging activities, and evaluation.