Adult Education in Botanic Gardens: Environmental Awareness Through Horticulture

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University of Delaware
An educator who wishes to plan a successful education program for adults must have a sound understanding of the needs and characteristics of the adult learner and the goals and principles of adult education. The ultimate purpose of learning is change, particularly change in behavior. The goals of adult education are individual development and, through this, improvement of society. The desire for growth--self-discovery, self-actualization, maturation--is one of the strongest motivations for an adult who seeks education. Adult learners, both as individuals and as groups, are very different from child learners and must be treated accordingly in the learning situation. Education has long been considered one of the functions of botanic gardens. They are particularly well suited to offer adult education, for several reasons. First, they usually have a number of important resources--a plant collection, a knowledgeable staff, physical facilities for accommodating the public. Second, since large numbers of people today are seeking gardening information, the botanic garden has a ready-made voluntary learner population. Third, a garden is an ideal situation for participatory learning. The education which botanic gardens can offer can be divided into four major areas: general gardening skills; beauty appreciation; self-education or random experiential learning; and environmental education. All four are closely interrelated and lead to sensitization, therefore growth, of the individual and betterment of society. A survey of United States botanic gardens conducted in February 1977 indicated that most botanic gardens do consider adult education to be one of their responsibilities and most do currently offer a wide variety of educational activities for adults. However, botanic garden staff members who teach adults are usually not specialists in adult education: few have training in adult education, and most are required to work with children as well as with adults. The survey also showed that most botanic gardens consider their main educational objective to be the teaching of practical horticulture. Administrators apparently do not believe that environmental education lies within either their responsibilities or their capabilities. Horticulture is an excellent vehicle for developing environmental awareness in adults while fulfilling many of goals of modern adult education. Many basic ecological principles can be explained or demonstrated within the context of practical horticulture. An instructor who is well-versed in the basics of ecology through course work or independent readings should with some planning be able to incorporate this information into his teaching of horticultural topics. Some botanic garden education programs are beginning to do this. Gardens are in a position not only to disseminate information but also to influence public attitudes toward plants, beauty and the natural environment, and they should consider this an important obligation. For many adults horticulture may serve as a trigger for the growth of a deep appreciation for nature, increased powers of observation and a growing sense of the urgent need to protect our natural resources. Advisor: Richard Lighty
Education - public gardens, Lifelong learning, Adult education, Continuing education, Environmental