September 21, 2006

By Karen Pye, Victoria County Master Gardener

Edited by Charla Borchers Leon
Whoever said, “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” didn’t know about Master Gardeners, Victoria County Master Gardeners (MG’s) in particular, because that is precisely what they are doing.  In 2001 they began the very ambitious project of developing Victoria Educational Gardens (VEG) on a weed-filled lot adjacent to a building that was once a military facility.  The area being developed surrounds the old Officer’s Club at Foster Field at Victoria Regional Airport.  The primary purpose of VEG is education. Even during the construction years VEG provided area students and teachers, garden clubs and study clubs with hours of instructional tours that included potting plants, vegetable growing and uses in nutrition, native plants, xeriscape principles, butterfly gardening and birding and sensory areas.

Expansion of VEG

Phase I of this project has been completed, thanks to the thousands of hours volunteered by the MG’s.  Every MG played an important role in seeing this project succeed.  From hands-on excavation of the land, building trellises, arbors, fish ponds, planning the flower bed layout, organizing plant sales twice a year to help raise the needed funds, propagating plants for those sales, publicity for the project, grant writing and garnering donations for the expansion, the MG’s willingly gave of their time and talents.

Phase II was started this past spring.  A beautiful large arbor was built by MG volunteers behind the officer’s club that will connect VEG to the front area of the property.  This area will be designed, planted and tended to by MG’s and will have some fifteen different areas, including a shade garden, rose gardens, international gardens, a xeriscape layout and more.  As this area has a large patio on one side, it will be the perfect place for weddings and other events.

Victoria’s “Education” Garden

VEG is a wonderful educational tool for area students and teachers. It helps to guide the young and young at heart to a lifelong appreciation for the living world and their part in its ecosystem.  According to an article published by Washington State University, “Gardening programs do more than teach plant science and stimulate an interest in gardening. Classroom gardening projects have been documented to increase the understanding of specific concepts, increase enthusiasm and interest in science, plants, and learning, and increase a sense of pride, a sense of accomplishment, self-esteem and confidence while improving environmental awareness and concern.” That web site is

To date in 2006 there have been 13 tours with 660 students, 16 adult sponsors, 75 area club members and 2 weddings in our educational garden.  Others tours have already been booked for the fall starting in the next few weeks. The students touring the gardens range in grades from Pre-Kindergarten through 3rd grade.  Activities and instructional tours are arranged according to age group and in conjunction with what the students are studying at that particular time, which is coordinated with the teachers.  When the students arrive at VEG they are divided into groups.  One group will do a hands-on activity while the other groups each tour a section of the garden.  After a designated period of time the groups rotate until every student has seen all areas of the garden and worked on an activity to take with them.  Working in groups allows us to effectively teach 70 – 100 youth at a time
Hands-on activities include making insects out of egg cartons; coloring paper butterflies; making grow cards out of paper maché and seeds; planting seeds in ‘special’ pots made of newspaper – and a whole lot more.

Areas in VEG

The areas in VEG include the sensory area, where students see so many different shapes and colors - hear the wind and the water trickling through various ponds; smell the scented geraniums, mint, society garlic and rosemary; and feel the different textures of the plants and grasses. The native area has the various plants that are indigenous to Texas; the larger-than-life big bird house serves as a classroom where a group will gather to learn about birds and their habits through stories; the productive vegetable garden will have either summer or fall vegetables growing.  For many children this is the first time they have seen where their vegetables come from. The butterfly area is always a winner, especially in the spring when there is an abundance of life in the butterfly house.  Imagine the look of wonder and joy on a child’s face as he or she watches a beautiful butterfly emerge from its chrysalis, or when they open the door and release butterflies into the garden. There is a rainbow garden and animal alphabet garden, challenging the young to see and name, in alphabetical order, plants with animal names; i.e., “A” Alligator tongue, “B” Bat face,  “C” Cat whiskers, oh, my! The children love this! There is also a state-of-the-art greenhouse, where plants are grown both for VEG and for the fundraising plant sales. Each tour requires a minimum of 9 MG volunteers to guide the students through the different areas and to help with the hands-on projects.

Booking Tours

Yes, VEG is truly an all-encompassing learning experience for children, and a serene and tranquil place for clubs and tourists to visit.

VEG is located at 333 Bachelor Drive, inside Victoria Regional Airport and is open every day, free to the public, from dawn to dusk. Why not plan a field trip to VEG with your children and their friends?   Take a short road trip out to VEG just to see what it is all about.  You’ll be glad you did.

To book a tour for a field trip or a group tour call the Victoria County Extension Office at 361-575-4581.
“Students from Shields Elementary School learn “hands-on” about daisies from Victoria County Master Gardener Helen Boatman on a tour at VEG.”
“Victoria County Master Gardener Roy Cook describes where vegetables come from to Shields Elementary students as they tour VEG with their teacher looking on.”
Student Activities at VEG
Pre-Kindergarten – 3rd Grade
Making insects out of egg cartons; learning insect parts

Coloring paper butterflies; putting them into a chrysalis

Learning how caterpillars become butterflies

Making grow cards out of paper maché and seeds

Planting seeds directly in the ground in ‘special’ pots made of newspaper
since the paper will disintegrate over time
Book a Tour of VEG

Visit VEG at 333 Bachelor Drive at Victoria Regional Airport

Book a Tour by calling 361-575-4581.
Garden Areas in VEG
Sensory area – to hear, see, smell, and feel plants
Native area – with plants indigenous to Texas
Birding area - with a larger-than-life bird house classroom
Vegetable area – with a productive vegetable garden in either summer or fall vegetables
Butterfly area – with a house full of butterflies fluttering to be released into the garden
Rainbow and animal alphabet areas –to learn plants with animal names alphabetically
State-of-the-art greenhouse - where plants are grown for VEG and Master Gardener plant sales