During the warm months, the rose gardens at Naugatuck Valley Community College are a thing of beauty to behold; they are serene spots on the College’s Waterbury campus where students and community members can stop to contemplate the wonder of nature. But the impact of these gardens goes well beyond aesthetic splendor. Two rose gardens, the Earth-Kind Experimental Rose garden, located on the hill on the south side of Ekstrom Hall, and the American Rose Trials for Sustainability (A.R.T.S.) Garden, located on the north edge of Parking Lot E between Tech Hall and Founders Hall, offer spaces where students, staff, and faculty engage in research and scholarship through immersive hands-on learning. As the only community college in Connecticut to offer a horticulture degree, NVCC is proud of its latest achievement in this field: this month the horticulture team will be recognized by Texas A&M University’s AgriLife Extension Service with a Superior Service Award for its critical research and work as the host to the first Earth-Kind rose trial in New England. The objective of Earth-Kind Landscaping is to combine the best of organic and traditional gardening and landscaping principles to create a horticultural system based on real-world effectiveness and environmental responsibility. Earth-Kind Landscaping uses research-proven techniques to provide maximum garden and landscape enjoyment while preserving and protecting the environment. Earth-Kind Landscaping encourages:
· Water conservation
· Reduction of fertilizer and pesticide use
· Energy conservation
· Reduction of landscape wastes entering landfills
NVCC’s horticulture program is being praised not just for the clean and complete research data it collected on more than 100 rose shrubs, but because NVCC exceeded Texas A&M’s expectations by providing extensive feedback and critique of their plant performance evaluation protocol and data recording format. NVCC’s suggestions and specific efforts to streamline the data collection process catapulted it into a leadership role in the newly-formed A.R.T.S. organization which performs independent and scientific plant performance evaluations of the newest roses coming into the American nursery market each year. Since 2014, NVCC has hosted an official A.R.T.S. trial garden and continues to play a leadership role among all of their trial sites.
While the partnership between NVCC and Texas A&M began in 2012, the preparation for the rose garden where the trial and data collection take place began many years prior. Michael Schwartz, Academic Assistant to NVCC’s Horticulture program was tasked with starting up the college’s first rose gardens seven years ago by NVCC’s President Daisy Cocco De Filippis, Ph.D. Schwartz says before starting the garden, he read every book pertaining to roses that he could get his hands on and volunteered his time with the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) in exchange for some hands-on learning on rose cultivation. The many hours Schwartz invested in study, travel, and observation were worth it. Aside from the valuable horticultural lessons Schwartz received, he forged great professional relationships with folks at the NYBG and through this, he was invited to join the NYBG’s collaboration with Texas A&M University. As the Earth-Kind trial for assessing roses had not reached New England, Texas A&M was thrilled to include NVCC’s gardens in its trial. From 2013-2015 data was collected on NVCC’s campus by students, faculty, staff, and community volunteers who evaluated 144 shrub roses every month according to the same protocol that the Earth-Kind National Team has been using since 1994 at all of their partnering sites across 27 states and six countries.
As part of the leadership in the Earth-Kind Program and A.R.T.S., NVCC is engaged in discussions with plant researchers from other universities and botanical gardens about developing a standard plant performance evaluation protocol that is unbiased, scientific, and capable of identifying which plants perform best in low-input conditions within each of the different climate regions of the United States. These discussions respond to the need for increased integrity in the area of environmental stewardship within the horticulture and nursery trade. This group of horticulturists was assembled and the “Environmental Landscape Performance Evaluation Team” was formed. For this team award only 15 names can be included and while many people throughout the country are involved in this effort, Michael Schwartz asked Ben Carroll and Brendan Lyga, both graduates of NVCC’s horticulture program, as well as current horticulture student John Aguilar to represent NVCC at the Texas A&M conference and receive the award on his behalf.
NVCC is the only community college in Connecticut that offers a degree in horticulture. Through the program, students can continue their education at a four-year university or apply for employment in landscaping, greenhouses, garden centers or landscape design centers. More than 500 students have received training at NVCC and have gone on to start their own businesses. The University of Connecticut is the only other college in the state that offers a horticulture degree and graduates from NVCC’s program can expect to seamlessly transfer to UCONN to earn a bachelor’s degree.
The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service is an education agency with a statewide network of professional educators, trained volunteers, and county offices. Major efforts include mitigating drought impacts; conserving water use in homes, landscapes, and production agriculture; improving emergency management; enhancing food security; and protecting human health through education.