A woman pointing to the new sprouts in small tray of seedlings.

First sprouts are the beginnings of seedlings to plant in the garden

With a name like BUGS, who wouldn’t be interested in joining an extracurricular gardening project? Begun in 2012 and nurtured by Brenau University’s adjunct professor of sustainability and science Rudi Kiefer, the after-school gardens have evolved over the past 14 years. Next month, it will take the spotlight when it’s open for community tours.

On Saturday, May 18, BUGS will be featured as the public garden on the Hall County Master Gardeners’ biennial “In Our Own Back Yards” Garden Walk. Five private gardens will be on parade as well.

“Our students’ excitement is contagious for the opportunity to show off their work,” said Don Linke, Gainesville resident and former president of Hall County Master Gardeners. “Not only is BUGS a chance for students to get their hands in the dirt, they’ve learned about food and flower production, gardening techniques and are even raising vegetables that have been donated to area non-profits.”

Linke said he has found that many younger people who were not raised in rural settings or have parents that garden, really don’t know how their food is produced before it gets to the store shelf.

“It’s incredible how they react when they participate in the process,” said Linke, who has been involved with BUGS since 2015. “Some of my fellow Master Gardener volunteers lead Youth Gardening programs at Hall County and Gainesville elementary and middle schools throughout the school year,” he said. “They share stories of the students growing tomatoes or beans and then getting to eat the fruits of their labors.

“HCMG’s Youth Gardening program, created about 15 years ago in Hall, has been very successful with students, teachers, parents and administrators,” he said. “And as with BUGS, participants are always enthusiastic about the miracles of gardening.”

The BUGS acronym stands for Brenau University Garden Society. The gardens are located behind the tennis courts at Brenau. All of the raised-bed gardens are inside a tall fence to protect plants from being foraged by wildlife, including deer.

“The original fence was built by volunteers, but it was professionally reconstructed after the movie ‘Rampage’ starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson was filmed in the space,” Linke said.

A greenhouse and another outbuilding for storing tools and supplies are nearby.

BUGS also offers student field trips to local farms and hiking trails. A recent visit to Orchid Daze at the Atlanta Botanical Garden gave them a chance to tour the Fuqua Orchid Center. They’ve also been to Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground.

Two students on their knees next to a raised bed checking the flowers' growth.

Students check the growth of cosmos and zinnias.

Spring is the growing season and BUGs members have been working to raise a variety of plants for the public BUGS Plant Sale on April 18 on the campus front lawn. They’ve also been creating garden-related crafts, such as painted flower pots for the sale.

Brenau supports the program through the BUGS faculty adviser Kelsey Podo and the university’s digital editor William Forrester, who is manager of content development for Brenau’s marketing office. Brenau sophomore Bernica Torralba is this year’s BUGS President.

“More than a dozen Master Gardeners serve as mentors and provide hands-on instruction for BUGS members,” he said. “Having other adults who enjoy sharing their love of gardening and are willing to spend time with students sets an excellent example. It also builds confidence and other skills that will serve them well in life.”

Hall County Master Gardeners provide funds twice a year through its Youth Gardening Grant Program.

As for Linke, he’s always been a gardener, growing up in Iowa. In high school he was selected to be an American Field Service summer exchange student in Holland. That began his love for the people of the world and when his own children were in high school, his family hosted a student from Germany for a year and then a student from Spain for the next year. He spent 10 years in the US Air Force as a pilot and continued his flying career for another 26 years as a commercial pilot with Northwest Airlines.

“Being in the Air Force and serving as an international pilot gave me an extraordinary view of the world,” he said. “Everywhere I went I tried to learn all that I could about that country, its culture and people.”

His work with Master Gardeners and BUGS is a natural for Linke.

“It’s not only the students who gain experience and enjoyment through BUGS,” Linke said. “I am always learning more, every time I help a student or go on a field trip with them or give a talk. Gardening is a life-long activity that people can begin and participate in at any age. There’s just such satisfaction in being with friendly people – as gardeners are – plus getting outside and sharing the joys of nature.”

For more information about BUGS, visit www.brenau.edu/organizations/bugs/.


Get to know BUGS

  • Thursday, April 18 – BUGS Spring Plant Sale, Brenau University front lawn at 204 Boulevard beginning at noon. More info: www.brenau.edu/event/art-on-the-green/.
  • Saturday, May 18 – In Our Own Back Yards garden walk, featuring BUGS and five private gardens in Hall County.

More info: www.hallmastergardeners.com/garden-walk.

Photos: by Don Linke