Horticulture Teacher Elizabeth Garvey Retires After 34 Years at ISBVI
By: Seth Johnson
Since joining the staff at Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI) in 1989, Elizabeth Garvey has transformed the school’s grounds while also cultivating the ISBVI horticulture program. Now after 34 years, though, Garvey is set to retire, leaving behind a storied legacy of introducing students to the art of gardening.
A graduate of Purdue University, Garvey truly embraced her love of working with people and plants in college, where she majored in horticulture and minored in therapeutic horticulture. While earning her master’s degree from Ball State University in landscape architecture, Garvey became enamored with the ISBVI campus as she was working on her thesis, which focused on the school’s connection with the Monon Trail.
After finishing her coursework at Ball State, Garvey approached then-ISBVI superintendent Michael Bina about coming on board to head up the school’s grounds crew, but Bina had an alternative proposition.
“He said, ‘No. I don’t think that’s a good idea. I think I’d like to use your undergraduate degree in horticulture to start a horticulture program,’” Garvey says. “I said okay. When they hired me, they hired me as a year-round position, so I got to work with the kids during the school year. And then, in the summer, I stayed on to maintain the flowerbeds and do all the maintenance that needed to be done in the summer.”
When she first started working at ISBVI, Garvey says the greenhouse had not been built yet. Instead, she teamed up with her mentor teacher to find other ways that she could introduce students to horticulture.
“When they hired me, my mentor teacher was Marc Reynolds, who was the industrial arts teacher,” Garvey says. “So I had a room over there in D dorm out of his wood shop. He got a few light stands, and we just started propagating plants. Then, we had higher aspirations, so we started growing perennials, and we built some cold frames. It was wonderful because we had this opportunity to put our classes together. So his students and my students built cold frames, and we built the soil bench that’s in the greenhouse right now.”
After the greenhouse was built in 1995, Garvey and Reynolds continued working together to make sure it was fully equipped for future ISBVI horticulture students. “When we finally got the greenhouse, our classes were once again together, and we built all the benches in the greenhouse,” Garvey says. “We poured the concrete sidewalk, and we did the landscaping.”
Since the early days of her class, Garvey says she has also coordinated plant sales featuring plants grown by ISBVI students. As she’s been able to recruit more and more volunteers to help at the greenhouse over the years, ISBVI plant sales have blossomed into beloved Broad Ripple-area events. With help from the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation, Garvey was also able to start a website for the ISBVI greenhouse, allowing even more people to be informed about upcoming plant sales.
“We got our website back when the pandemic hit, and we ended up having our first online plant sale,” Garvey says. “We couldn’t have done it without IBCF because the state doesn’t allow us to use credit cards. I think that really put us on the map, and people took notice.”
In reflecting on her time as ISBVI horticulture teacher, Garvey is ultimately grateful for the opportunity she’s had to help students grow closer to nature.
“I’m just passionate about helping kids get out into nature because if you don’t see something you might not be curious about it or maybe even a little intimidated by it,” she says. “I think that plants and gardening have so much to offer our students when it comes to work skills and team building. I really think what drives me and keeps me going is seeing the kids embrace and enjoy learning about plants.”
Looking ahead to the future of ISBVI’s horticulture program, Garvey expresses confidence in her successor.
“Through a friend of a friend of a friend, we found Carmen Breedlove,” Garvey says. “She was a teacher in Westfield-Washington Schools, where she’s been teaching developmental preschool. She knows IEPs back and forth, so she has a lot of experience working with kids with disabilities. That makes me feel so good because I know the kids are going to be in good hands with her.”
At the end of the day, Garvey hopes Breedlove can find as much fulfillment in the role of ISBVI horticulture teacher as she did during her 34 years at the school.
“I just hope that I can be around to be a mentor to her and support her with whatever she needs,” Garvey says. “I hope she falls in love with our kids the way I did.”