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SMART Garden at RCTC

Designed, Built, and Maintained by Students


Students at Rochester Community and Technical College, Rochester, Minn., designed, built, and maintain the grounds of the SMART Garden, a 1.5-acre former floodplain near campus.
Photo Courtesy of RCTC Horticulture Department

Horticulture students at Rochester Community and Technical College in Minnesota gain some hands on experience and get their hands dirty at the campus SMART Garden. The outdoor garden is Sustainable, Medicinal, Artistic, Resourceful and Thematic.

At the SMART Garden, students are able to apply what they learn in the classroom. The entire garden is student-designed, built, and maintained, with the sole exception of the initial conceptual plan, which was done by a landscape architect. Over the years, students have been regularly adding to and changing the garden.

"We took this one-and-a-half acre space, which was essentially a floodplain with poor soil, and turned it into a community garden space," said Robin Fruth-Dugstad, horticulture program leader. "We get people coming over from the hospital to walk through the garden, photographers use the space to take photos, area daycares will bring their kids here."

After classroom instruction, horticulture students maintain the beds, calculate the proper amount of mulch and pre-emergent herbicide before applying them, remove and install shrubs, perform pond maintenance, build structures such as fences, arbors and gazebos, prune trees and shrubs, install hardscapes and more. Over the years, students have designed and built a koi pond, prairie garden, butterfly garden, vegetable garden, rose garden, and more.

"We go over it in the classroom, but getting hands on is really important," Fruth-Dugstad explained.

Despite the success of the SMART Garden, low enrollment numbers are troubling. The incoming class size for the horticulture program for the past couple of years has been around 15 students. "People don't really understand what it is that we do," she said, expressing the hope that both a better understanding of horticulture and the knowledge that people can make a living in the industry will bring enrollment numbers back up.

Learn more about Rochester Community and Technical College at

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November 19, 2019, 10:34 pm PDT

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