sealPurdue News

August 6, 2002

Operation Thistle teaches horticulture to young gardeners

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Dr. Thistle kidnapped Queen Flora – or at least that is the story Junior Master Gardeners in grades six through eight will hear as part of Operation Thistle. The Junior Master Gardener program educates children in horticulture and environmental science, as well as teaching leadership and life skills.

The story starts as Col. Maranta, a praying mantis guide, briefs Agent 9, also known as a Junior Master Gardener, on Operation Thistle. Agent 9 must learn about plant growth and development in order to rescue Queen Flora from Dr. Thistle's lair in the Black Spore Swamp.

"Thistle is no petunia," Col. Maranta said. "This stickler means business."

Operation Thistle, or the Junior Master Gardener Level Two, is a book with the appearance of a computer game and graphics that resemble computer components.

This second book, for sixth- through eighth-graders, follows Level One, for third- through fifth-graders, as a part of the Junior Master Gardener (JMG) program. The Texas Agricultural Extension Service runs JMG, an international organization.

As Agent 9 continues through the story, he will thwart the Cocklebur Scouts by learning to dry flowers, gather information from Commander Riddle Thorn by trading a leaf collection, and kill deadly Black Spores by growing bean sprouts with hydroponics.

JMG adapts easily to any learning setting, either in the classroom or in small groups, said Kathryn Orvis, Indiana JMG program coordinator. The material can be used in 4-H, schools, clubs or other organizations with at least five children and one leader.

Teachers can use the skill sections included in each section for additional learning. These sections take the group activity and expand it into a larger lesson. The skill sections include academic standards of language arts, social studies, mathematics and science. Flower drying can turn into a social studies assignment about the history of florists and flower arranging. Leaf collecting can teach language by researching the Latin names. Calculating the costs of Hydroponic systems versus the traditional soil-based method can teach math skills.

"That's what makes it cool," Orvis said. "You can use it to talk about everything in a classroom."

The 4-H department at Purdue University developed an academic standards list for Indiana teachers for the first book to meet Indiana's academic standards. The list helps teachers incorporate JMG activities into the classroom. Orvis and the 4-H department are currently working on a new standards list for the second book.

To start a JMG group, only one book is necessary. Third- through fifth-graders need level one, sixth- through eighth-graders need level two, and all other grades can order the closest level. Books must be ordered directly from the JMG organization by calling (888) JMG-KIDS or online. Indiana residents can receive a shipping and handling discount by mentioning that their group is in Indiana.

While it is not necessary to be a registered JMG group, Orvis encourages all groups to register through the 4-H department.

"It doesn't cost anything to register and there are benefits to registering," she said.

The JMG organization sends each registered group a certificate. The group's name is placed on the national Web site. Individuals receive their own certificate after completing the program.

JMG certification requires the completion of at least one group and one individual activity for each of the eight sections, and one life skill activity and one service learning/leadership development project.

Indiana participants can register through Orvis and the 4-H department. For information about registration, books or other gardening information for kids, visit Purdue Extension GardenTIPS.

Writer: Virginia Retzner, (765) 494-6681,

Source: Kathryn Orvis, (765) 494-8435,

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes,;

Related Web sites:
Indiana 4-H

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

* To the Purdue News and Photos Page