Passion for plants: Gardeners judged tops in the state

Published 11:00 pm Saturday, May 10, 2014

When the 2014 Master Gardeners State Conference rolls around next week in Oxford, the Lincoln County Master Gardeners will be recognized as the most outstanding gardening association in the state.

The recognition isn’t unexpected, said Rebecca Bates, local Extension Service director, who mentors the Lincoln County gardeners’ group. “They work tirelessly to promote gardening and educational outreach,” she said Friday afternoon. “I’m not a bit surprised they won the association award.

“They are a passionate group – passionate about horticulture and sharing that passion with the community,” Bates continued.

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Compared to many of the associations in the state, the Lincoln County group is relatively small, Bates said, “But they get as much done or more than the larger groups.”

Gardeners’ associations were judged on their membership activities, reports and records, education programs and speaking programs.

In announcing the award to the local Master Gardeners, Dr. Lelia Scott Kelly, Extension horticulture specialist and professor of horticulture, wrote, “Wonderful and thorough application – you do a lot of good service, in the judges’ words.”

Among the local gardeners’ programs are an amaryllis bulb project in the schools, a plant sale at the Ole Brook Festival, an herb booth at the Crystal Springs Flower and Garden Festival and a potting booth for kids at this weekend’s Farm Day at the Fair, among other projects. The Lincoln County Master Gardeners also served as the host organization for last year’s state conference, and they hold a Gardening Extravaganza each spring for the local community.

Bates said Master Gardeners all must go through 40 hours of horticulture training and return 40 hours of volunteer service to the community before they can be certified. Then each gardener must also participate in continuing education.

Completing the application for the state award took a considerable amount some time in and of itself, according to Lincoln County Master Gardeners President Edna Bishop. The local gardeners applied 60 days before the conference. Detailed information on each project and program had to be provided.

“There was an emphasis for the year on education for children,” said Master Gardener Shirley Estes.

One of last year’s main local programs involved delivering amaryllis bulbs to each third-grade class in Brookhaven and Lincoln County and teaching the children how to grow and monitor the progress of their plants and evaluate the eventual blooms.

“The kids compete to see who can grow the largest amaryllis,” Bishop said.

This year, the gardeners have another youth horticulture educational project under way. The group is giving away packets of watermelon seeds with instructions on how to grow and harvest the fruit.

The kids are invited to bring the biggest watermelons to the Ole Brook Festival this fall and earn cash prizes for first ($100), second ($50) and third ($25) place.

“Our object is to get the kinds to grow something,” said Master Gardener Steve Edge. “We chose the “Black Diamonds” because they aren’t very common around here, and they’re pretty well known for growing big melons.” The variety is very dark green, he added. Kids can pick up packets of the seeds from any Master Gardener or from the local Extension office, he said.

With the state conference – scheduled for May 20-22 – only a few days away, the local gardeners are looking forward to being acknowledged by their colleagues for the work they have been doing in Lincoln County.

“It’s exciting for all of us because of all the years we’ve grown,” said Estes.