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Life of a Mizzou Garden

May 28, 2014

Ashley Hackworth

Ashley Hackworth shares what she learned about some of the medicinal uses of the valerian plant growing in Mizzou’s Discovery Garden.

Ashley Hackworth, a senior majoring in biology, draws a crowd of onlookers’ attention to a tall plant topped with rounded clusters of white flowers that grows along the distinctive double helix sidewalk behind the Bond Life Sciences Center. The roots and leaves of the valerian plant, she tells the crowd, are edible and known to have a calming effect on humans.

“The root is used as a sedative to help you relax,” she said, adding that you can ask for valerian root in your smoothie at the Catalyst Café located just inside the Bond Life Sciences Center.

Hackworth was one of eighteen biology seniors who spent this past semester getting to know one of Mizzou’s many campus gardens as part of course called “Life of a Garden.” As a final activity, the class invited staff from MU Campus Facilities – Landscape Services and the public to tour the gardens. Along the tour, the students shared what they learned about select plants as well as some of their favorite moments spent in the garden.

Although Hackworth focused on Discovery Garden and the valerian plant for her project, she said the course awakened her attention to the campus flora in general.

“I never really noticed how beautiful our campus is or how many beautiful trees there are before we started tracking the progression of all of our plants,” she said.

Professor Candi Galen with the Division of Biological Sciences designed and teaches the three-credit hour course. She said that while the capstone course for seniors has many goals, she did hope that students would walk away from the course with a greater appreciation for gardens.

“If you leave this class with a love of being in gardens and enjoying plants and learning more about them, then that’s something you could be a lifelong learner at,” said Galen. “If that worked, and it sounds like it did, then it was a success.”

Students got to know their gardens by spending a half hour each week in it taking notes, snapping pictures, and doing a research project of their choice. Each student also adopted a plant in the garden to visit each week and learn about over the course of the semester.

This is the first time Galen taught the course using the gardens on campus. Last year, she said, students went to the Missouri Botanical Gardens in St. Louis for the day. At the end of the year, she asked students what they liked best about the class.

“Almost everyone said spending time at the garden,” recalled Galen. “So, I thought, well if that’s the case, we should use the botanic gardens we have here on campus.”

Pete Millier, director of Campus Facilities – Landscape Services, was one of the twenty-some individuals who toured the gardens with students. He said he likes the idea of incorporating the campus gardens into student courses.

“I think it’s terrific,” said Millier, who also directs the Mizzou Botanic Garden. “We’re here to provide an academic environment, and if students and teachers can use the gardens to do their teaching and research, than all the better.”

Hear what some of the students said were their favorite moments in the garden.

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Written by: Melody Kroll

Related categories:
Science Outreach, Undergraduate Studies