MSU grad student opens gateway to gardening fun

MSU grad student opens gateway to gardening fun
Photo by: Kevin Hudson

A Mississippi State University graduate student is using a centuries-old teaching method to plant the seeds of success in would-be gardeners.

Kandiace Gray of Fulton is working on her master's degree in horticulture. She has created a hands-on workshop series designed to share the how-to side of the pretty pictures found on Pinterest gardening boards.

In March 2014, Gray and MSU CALS professor Geoff Denny had successfully launched a monthly Saturday workshop series featuring the MSU Variety Trial Gardens, MSU specialists and timely topics, such as rose pruning and plants for pollinators. But they wanted to appeal to college students by addressing trendy topics.

“Dr. Denny basically turned over the Tuesday night workshops to me and let me run with it,” Gray said. “At the first workshop, we had more than 60 people attend, ranging from 14 to over 60 years old. It was my first time to teach completely by myself. I was extremely excited but a little overwhelmed by the number of people who came out in the pouring rain to learn about container gardening.”

Gray said the Tuesday night workshops have proven to be very popular, with 40 to 60 people attending each session.

"I have hand-outs for them, and they build the project during the workshop so they have something to take home," Gray said. "We've done succulent wall frames, fairy gardens and hypertufa pots, which are basically artificial stone pots. Every workshop has been a big success, and I've had a lot of undergraduate horticulture students volunteer to help just because it’s so fun."

Denny credited Gray with making the Tuesday workshops a success.

"The audience can relate to her because she's young, cheerful and easy to get along with," Denny said. "She makes them think they can do it, because she can. She has 10 times the attendance at the Tuesday workshops because her topics appeal to a lot of people, and it’s a good time for people because they aren’t losing family time on Saturdays."

Participants also like the idea of leaving the class with something, he said.

"We draw our inspiration from trends, and people like doing a small version of something they might want to do on their own," he said. "They overcome their lack of experience, they get one-on-one interaction with someone in Extension, and they gain confidence in their ability to replicate it at home."

Denny's goals reach beyond the weekly and monthly workshops to helping Gray develop a career in Extension education.

"Kandiace is learning how to develop an idea into objectives, how to promote the educational event and how to physically conduct the program," he said. "She's been doing the curriculum development on her own with guidance and feedback. When she graduates, she could easily run a county program or a state-level program."

In the meantime, Gray is taking her workshops on the road.

"She's been invited to do some of these workshops in different counties, so she's gaining a lot of good teaching and learning experience outside of MSU and Starkville," Denny said.

To learn more about the MSU Variety Trial Gardens visit

Dated: 9/18/2014