Norm Lownds, Ph.D., known as “Dr. Norm,” curator of the Michigan 4-H Children’s Gardens since 1997 will retire June 30.
The Michigan 4-H Children’s Gardens opened in 1993 as a place for children to learn about plants and science while satisfying their innate wonder and curiosity.
The Michigan 4-H Children’s Garden was designed by MSU Parks and Planning designers Jeff Kacos and Deb Kinney, working in consultation with the garden’s founding curator, Jane Taylor. The Michigan 4-H Children’s Garden was the first garden in the United States developed specifically for the education of children on a university campus and launched a national and international focus on the development of gardens designed specifically for children. It has been called the “most creative half-acre in America.”
Under Lownds’ direction the gardens have received many awards for its innovative design as well as for the incorporation and use of technology, including an online virtual tour; Wonderwall – a website for students and teachers to ask questions and interact with MSU experts; Wonder casts – time-lapse videos of plants growing; and a Digitally Integrated Garden Network (DIGN) – an online digital community that connects schools and school gardens from across Michigan to the 4-H Children’s Gardens and to scientists at MSU.
The garden footprint and reach nearly doubled under Lownds’ leadership. In 2003, the indoor garden opened providing year-round educational access to science-based learning. The Curiosity Classroom and Garden Gateway Classroom were also added as indoor classrooms for 4-H Children’s Gardens programming.
In 2008, the 2,500-square-foot Pete and Sally Smith Schoolyard Demonstration Garden opened to provide educators with ideas and learning concepts in developing outdoor gardens in schoolyards and community spaces, and as a demonstration space for environmentally-friendly landscape materials.
In 2018, community partnerships were established with the Capital Area District Library to install a story walk with book pages on display throughout the garden. Local artist Kelly Boyle also led a community mural project which is now on display in the gardens.
Over the past two decades, the 4-H Children’s Gardens program reach also increased significantly with Lownds’ vision. Each year approximately 100,000 people visit the gardens. This totals more than 2 million people, mostly kids, who have walked, ran, touched and often hugged their favorite things in the garden.
Annually, 14,000 youth, primarily in grades K-4, have participated in the Butterflies in the Garden and other programs through school-based partnerships. Head Start on Science (HSOS) is creating and testing new ways of professional development for Head Start teachers to specifically increase their comfort with, interest in and ability to teach science to preschool children. Seeds of Science multi-day 4-H Children’s Gardens field trip experiences develop and evaluate student attitudes toward science and changes in their specific content knowledge. For the last seven years, the 4-H Children’s Gardens educational programs have provided the Broader Impacts connection for numerous National Science Foundation grants where students have been engaged in cutting-edge plant science, how plants tell time and even strawberry DNA extraction.
The Michigan 4-H Foundation looks forward to continuing its partnership with MSU Extension and the MSU Department of Horticulture in supporting and identifying the next curator for the Michigan 4-H Children’s Gardens.
Gifts to the Michigan 4-H Children’s Gardens in honor of Norm Lownds, can be made to the Michigan 4-H Foundation at: https://mi4hfdtn.org/memorial-tribute-gifts.