TEN Years, hundreds of men, 1,000s of flowers

This month marks my tenth year teaching horticulture to minimum security men at the Boston Pre Release Center (BPRC) in Roslindale.  The program has evolved to teaching the Master Gardener Curriculum which I have designed and tweaked over the years.  We have met EVERY Wednesday for the last 520 weeks!  Hundreds of men have attended the classes, some for a few weeks, most for a few months, some for a year or more.  The garden is a teaching garden more than a production garden however over the last couple of years thanks to our ever growing turkey population (34 this year and, NO, we do not foster these guys!) we have become a garden for things that turkeys do NOT like!  It seems they don’t like a lot of flowers so we have become a real production garden for flowers.  Every week during the growing season we harvest flowers to donate to visitors to the BPRC.  It’s so nice for the men to be able to offer a plant or a bunch of flowers to their family and friends who visit on Wednesdays.


These flowers from last year will bloom again and be ready to be given to all kinds of strong women on Mother’s Day this May. The pride is palpable when we bundle up the flowers and display them in the visiting room to be taken home.

Yesterday in class we read SEEDFOLKS by Paul Fleischman about a fictitious community garden with each chapter written in the worlds of a different person from a different culture.  The men read with eagerness, reluctance or not at all.  Some proudly stood to read, others shared one pair of reading glasses that were missing one arm and were taped together. One man stumbled over the words and was helped by others, another man’s reading was so melodic it entranced me.  Another student left and when he returned his neighbor graciously told him what page we were on.  One student who is an ever present participant in class declined to read at all.   Another student who can barely stay seated in class because of attention issues read the most chapters aloud and was centered and still while reading.  After reading he hopped up and left the room as usual only to return a few minutes later to ask to read again. Who knew when I walked into the room yesterday what grace I would find when I asked 6 tough guys to read a young adult book about flowers.  I suppose “I” did since that’s why I keep going back every week, every month, every year.








Give back what you are able to give


These last few months in the classroom have been really pleasant.  Not being outside is always a challenge but I continue to bring the natural world inside and plan lessons around the seasons.


In November and December I foraged ivy, hydrangea blossoms, pinecones, rose hips, bark….  Week after week on Wednesday mornings we made wreaths to give away to visitors, 13 some weeks, 17 another.


The talk revolves around what the season has to offer and using foraged matter and recycled supplies to create beauty and gifts to share with visitors.  The wreaths were received very well and one recipient said she loved the wreath as it aged and made a dry scratching noice when she opened her door everyday.  Her children wanted her to take it down because it was old and she responded “Would you take me down when I am old?”


In December and January we potted up paper whites by the dozens.  Purchased bulbs but recycled pots and pine cones, leathery hellebore leaves and dried flowers all created a swirl of beautifully scented winter joy.


Using what nature provides and finding lessons in every season makes the classes informative, positive, hopeful and productive.