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Casey Hentges (right), host of “Oklahoma Gardening,” explains how to use recycled tires in backyard gardens to Kam Bessinger (left) and Dana Bessinger. (Photo by Jill Scott)

Gardening For Everyone

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Media Contact: Jami Mattox | Agricultural Communications Services | 405-744-8061 |

Old tires, water troughs and pallets are not the first things to come to mind when one thinks about a garden, but at The Botanic Garden at Oklahoma State University, these junk pieces are just some of the materials used in the new backyard garden exhibit.

Casey Hentges, assistant OSU Extension specialist and host of the "Oklahoma Gardening" TV show, first saw demonstration gardens being used at the Noble Research Institute in Ardmore, Oklahoma, she said.

“The backyard garden project started as an in-kind donation from the Noble Research Institute,” Hentges said. “They disassembled the gardens and transported all the materials to OSU in 2020.”

The Noble Research Institute changed its focus to regenerative agriculture and no longer could use the backyard gardens, she said. She saw the potential impact the demonstration gardens could have in The Botanic Garden at OSU and asked if they could be moved to Stillwater, she added.

“People are inspired by The Botanic Garden as they walk around, but sometimes they feel like they don’t know how to accomplish the same concept in a backyard setting,” Hentges said.

The backyard gardens project has three different types of gardens designed to demonstrate different techniques and methods, Hentges said.

Although open to anyone, the School Yard Garden has a focus on teachers and those who want to engage with youth, Hentges said. It uses recycled materials like old tires and water troughs as planters. The School Yard Garden also has several types of raised beds for individuals who cannot bend over easily, she added.

The Cow Creek Place Garden is designed to be a practical example of growing a large quantity of plants while upcycling unexpected materials, Hentges said. This garden has a hobby hoop house, which does not need electricity, and uses upcycled materials like animal mineral tubs, she said. This garden has more of a unitarian purpose, she added.

The Country Club Residence Garden is designed to demonstrate how to include edible plants in a landscape while maintaining the yard’s aesthetics, Hentges said. This garden includes a hobby greenhouse and a potager garden, she added.

Many people think they must sacrifice the appearance of their gardens to grow food, but this is not the case, she said. This garden is a good example for people who live in a neighborhood where they have to maintain a certain appearance, she added.

“The idea is to give people options and to make them aware of different types of systems and technologies they can employ in a backyard setting to grow food or flowers,” said Steve Upson, horticulture consultant who assisted with developing the project. “The emphasis is for food security.”

People think food deserts are either an urban or a rural problem, but they are everywhere, Hentges said. Having a backyard garden gives people more control over their food, she added.

Cost may prevent people from starting a garden, Upson said. Many think gardening is too expensive for them; however, by exposing them to different systems they can purchase or build, they can find the best solutions for their situations, he added.

People can create a cost-effective garden if they do not mind getting their hands dirty and putting a little “sweat equity” into the project, he added.

Much of the backyard garden construction was featured on "Oklahoma Gardening," a TV show produced by the OSU Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources that airs weekly on Oklahoma Educational Television Authority, Hentges said.

“Everything in the garden is educational whether you notice it or not,” said Bailey Lockhart, project coordinator for Oklahoma Gardening. “Around the garden are QR codes in front of the displays. If you scan them, they will take you to a video showing you how to build that concept.”

The gardens have been planned all the way down to the walkways, Lockhart said. One walkway connects the three gardens, and the walkway’s pavers change for each garden to show visitors different patterns and styles they can use in their own gardens.

The backyard gardens are located within The Botanic Garden at OSU, which is open year-round. Visitors are encouraged to walk around the backyard gardens, scan the QR codes, and learn how they can bring gardening to their own backyards, Lockhart said.

“We want to show people that gardening does not need to be expensive,” said Shelley Mitchell, associate extension specialist in horticulture and landscape architecture. “Anyone can do it.”

Gardening Education

On March 18, 2022, the first Backyard Gardening 101 event was hosted at the Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center. Registration was free and 39 people attended.

The event was advertised for beginning gardeners and gardeners in an urban setting, said Bailey Lockhart, project coordinator for "Oklahoma Gardening."

“I came for some tips from experts, and I sure got them,” said Dana Bessinger, attendee. “They gave me a lot of great ideas and things to do and how to take care of problems that might come up.”

Story By: Jill Scott | Cowboy Journal

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