Horticulture: Pet Project or Life’s Necessity?

By Beth Novak, CCHS Horticulture Instructor

Is a hamburger a plant?   That’s a question I ask my students who always reply “no” until they break down the parts and realize – well a hamburger isn’t a plant, but it is an end product of plants – a fact that often comes as a surprise to them because in this world of technology, high academic requirements, and limited access to nature the important role that plants play in their lives is often lost.

Raised beds at Clarke County High School

Technology is both a blessing and a curse.   Texting, computer games, television, telephones are all things that distract and absorb time and attention.   To paraphrase Mark Tercek, President and CEO of the Nature Conservancy, our youth are more technologically advanced than any previous generation, but they are also more disconnected from nature than any previous generation.

Clarke County High School herb gardens

Our educational system is under constant scrutiny and pressure to improve the academic performance of our students, and rightfully so, because our world needs future generations to be well educated to meet the challenges that face them and their survival each and every day.   Key to this survival is gaining an understanding that we live on a vegetative planet and that we are dependent on those plants for our survival.

Horticulture, defined as garden cultivation, is the study of the comprehensive world of plants – growing, marketing, selling, and using plant products and the people who are involved.  It is a course that offers students that would not necessarily express an interest in taking an agricultural class, hands on opportunities to get up close and personal with nature. They may come in to the class with visions of flowers dancing in their heads, but they never leave the class without also learning that flowering plants aren’t just beautiful, they also provide our food, shelter, clothing, and medicines.   Along with that comes the knowledge that whether they plan to be a farmer or a lawyer, everyone has a responsibility when it comes to the stewardship of the land.

CCHS’s horticulture and agriculture programs differ slightly from other school systems because they do not require students to take Agriculture I class before they can take a horticulture class. That has sometimes been a controversial topic, but far from taking anything away from the agriculture program, it has enhanced our program by offering opportunities to a wider, more diverse population of students.

Beth Novak is a Horticulture instructor at Clarke County High school in Berryville, Virginia

Will students in horticulture and agriculture necessarily become florists, farmers, landscapers, plant researchers?   Maybe, maybe not, but the goal of education is to provide students with the skills and knowledge they need to become productive citizens.   The choices they make and the paths they follow are their own, but they must be able to make informed decisions and knowledge of the land is an important piece.

Mr. Dunning’s implication that horticulture is somebody’s pet project is a fascinating take on the discussion taking place in Clarke County about whether or not to even move the agriculture/horticulture program to the new school.   Defining it as a pet project implies a negative connotation, but it’s really not a bad way to put it, because the health of this planet needs to be everyone’s pet project.  We need well informed students to carry that message forward and horticulture provides a pathway for helping them to reconnect with nature so they can become wiser stewards of the land.

Clarke County High School Horticulture Greenhouse


  1. Well Said!

  2. with my wife being a master gardener, I am prejudiced ,of course, to your point of view, but not without reason.
    Teaching the love and care of plants is far more important to this world in the long run than many other things we spend money on in our schools. Sports are important, but no more than horticulture, and that is especially true in a County that promotes itself as an agricultural community that desires to preserve the land. It is a shame we have not figured out a way to more appropriately balance the allocation of our limited resources. Excellent article.

  3. Anonymous says:

    In a county with a Board of Supervisors that tries so hard to keep business out and maintain and conserve the agricultural integrity of it’s land, it seems a bit ironic and contradictory that they do not support the education that is necessary to live on, work on, and protect that very same land.