HER Cover Story

Mas­ter Gar­den­ers of Hot Springs

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Contents - By Limd­sey Wells

Gar­land County Mas­ter Gar­den­ers are part of a na­tional Mas­ter Gar­dener pro­gram that started in 1972 in Sno­homish County, Wash., in re­sponse to a grow­ing num­ber of “ur­ban” farm­ers.

Ex­ten­sion of­fices were no longer able to han­dle the vol­ume of phone calls and lacked the man­power to re­spond to public in­quiries and re­quests for as­sis­tance. As a re­sult, trained vol­un­teers were used to sup­ple­ment the ex­ten­sion of­fice staff and, 30 years ago, U.S. Congress passed leg­is­la­tion to cre­ate the Mas­ter Gar­den­ers pro­gram.

Arkansas adopted the Mas­ter Gar­dener pro­gram in 1988 in four coun­ties, Gar­land, Jef­fer­son, Pu­laski and Saline. It now ex­ists in 67 of Arkansas’ 75 coun­ties, with more than 3,400 vol­un­teers statewide.

“We are de­voted to pro­vid­ing re­search- based in­for­ma­tion to the public,” said Sharon Dent, a 10-year Gar­land County Mas­ter Gar­dener.

Ac­cord­ing to the Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas Co­op­er­a­tive Ex­ten­sion Ser­vice’s web­site, some of the jobs done by Arkansas Mas­ter Gar­den­ers in­clude cre­at­ing and main­tain­ing demon­stra­tion gar­dens, giv­ing talks to groups in­ter­ested in hor­ti­cul­ture, pro­duc­ing a monthly home hor­ti­cul­tural news­let­ter, an­swer­ing ques­tions for the public, and par­tic­i­pat­ing in on-site lawn clin­ics.

When Arkansas first adopted the Mas­ter Gar­dener pro­gram in 1988, Dent said the first step was to ed­u­cate ev­ery­one in the pro­gram, so they were all ed­u­cated to­gether.

“Then, even­tu­ally, big coun­ties or groups of coun­ties started train­ing trainees on their own. But we fol­lowed a for­mat that the state want-

ed us to use to en­sure con­sis­tency in knowl­edge,” Dent said. “There is a huge em­pha­sis on our con­tin­u­ing ed­u­ca­tion, to our­selves and pass­ing that along so that we cre­ate a more in­formed pop­u­lous on good hor­ti­cul­ture prac­tices. Also, in the process of do­ing that, we be­came very, very in­volved with the com­mu­ni­ties in which we re­side and help­ing to beau­tify those places.”

Each Jan­uary, the Gar­land County Mas­ter Gar­dener pro­gram holds a 40-hour train­ing pro­gram for new Mas­ter Gar­den­ers. At the end of the pro­gram, par­tic­i­pants must put in 40 hours of project time and 20 hours of ed­u­ca­tional time in the en­su­ing year to qual­ify as a cer­ti­fied Mas­ter Gar­dener. From then on, there is an an­nual re­quire­ment of 20 project hours and 20 learn­ing hours per year.

Five of the more than 200 Gar­land County Mas­ter Gar­den­ers that are work­ing to ed­u­cate and beau­tify our county in­clude Claudette Cooper, pres­i­dent of the Gar­land County branch, Sharon Dent, Karin Gr­isham, Sherry Matthews and Marty Lynch.

One of their ma­jor vol­un­teer projects is Gar­van Wood­land Gar­dens. They have op­por­tu­ni­ties to vol­un­teer in the Sugg Model Train Garden, give cart rides, greet guests at the front door, work on the light­ing for the an­nual Hol­i­day Lights and work in the Southern In­spi­ra­tion Garden.

Ac­cord­ing to Dent, al­most 10 years ago when Gar­van was just open­ing, the Mas­ter Gar­den­ers were given a small grant for the pur­pose of start­ing a Mas­ter Gar­dener project at Gar­van, which is now the Southern In­spi­ra­tion Garden.

“The garden was grow­ing so fast it was kind of hard for them to fig­ure out how to in­te­grate a garden in­side the Gar­dens, so about five years ago we fi­nally de­cided on a site, we started the de­sign, then re­al­ized our ideas were far big­ger than our pock­et­book,” Dent said. “So we went out to re­cruit and cre­ate a coali­tion of garden en­ti­ties, some from around the state, but mostly around here. We had a sig- nif­i­cant in­vest­ment in in­fra­struc­ture-like hard­scape, and it took us over a year to do that. We started plant­ing and we are now in the third year and it is a glory. We work in it ev­ery Mon­day as long as the weather per­mits.”

Dent is the chair­woman for the Southern In­spi­ra­tion Garden, which was cho­sen as Project of the Year by the Mas­ter Gar­den­ers one year.

An­other huge project done by the Mas­ter Gar­den­ers at Gar­van is the an­nual re­plant­ing of 135,000 tulips, typ­i­cally in Fe­bru­ary, to pre­pare for the gar­dens’ Tulip Ex­trav­a­ganza in March and April.

“All of our tulips here we plant by hand, 135,000 ev­ery year,” said Cooper. “Tulips are a peren­nial which means they’ll come back ev­ery year, and the only rea­son we take them out and re­plant them is so that we can get this beau­ti­ful, pro­fuse dis­play of col­ors. Since it’s so hot in Arkansas dur­ing the sum­mer the bulbs can’t set and they have to be able to set. We plant dif­fer­ent kinds of tulips; you’ve got tall ones, you’ve got lit­tle ones, you have all dif­fer­ent kinds.”

Gr­isham is the chair­woman of the Mas­ter Gar­den­ers’ Xeriscape project, a garden lo­cated on the Hot Springs Green­way Trail. A xeriscape garden is de­fined as a style of land­scape de­sign re­quir­ing lit­tle or no ir­ri­ga­tion or other main­te­nance.

Dur­ing Memo­rial Day week­end in 2016, the garden was flooded, wash­ing away all of the dirt, mulch and plants and de­stroy­ing it. Gr­isham formed a com­mit­tee and they have been work­ing for more than a year to re­store it.

“All of the dirt, all the mulch, a lot of it we never even found af­ter the flood. It was washed all the way to­wards the lake, and this garden is not even close to the lake. It got washed,” Gr­isham said. “So we put dirt in and we just now got it re­planted. It has looked kind of bar­ren but at one time it was beau­ti­ful.”

Gr­isham said they plan to have a low-drip ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem in­stalled in the garden by fel­low Mas­ter Gar­den­ers.

“I had this idea last year to have an event out at the Xeriscape Garden to teach the com­mu­nity about how they can save money and their backs and wa­ter by plant­ing things that are na­tive to Arkansas, or at least drought- tol­er­ant things so you don’t have to get out and wa­ter them very much,” Gr­isham said.

Hot Springs Xeriscape Day will be­gin at 10 a.m. June 17 at the Xeriscape Garden. Guests will learn about the seven prin­ci­ples of xeriscape gar­den­ing and draw­ings for plants will be given away each hour.

“Along with the city we are go­ing to ded­i­cate a new sign that ex­plains what xeriscape is and I’m go­ing to give a lit­tle talk about it, about what to plant, and there will be hand­outs sug­gest­ing things to plant in your garden at home,” Gr­isham added.

Gr­isham was named Mas­ter Gar­dener of the Year for 2016 and ap­pli­ca­tions have been sent off for her to com­pete at the state level. Matthews was named 2016 Rookie of the Year.

“They are both be­ing rec­og­nized for lev­els of in­ge­nu­ity and the amount of work they’ve done. But it’s not just ours; it has a lot to do with how cre­ative they are, how in­spir­ing they are, and how they’ve man­aged com­mit­tees or started new as­pects or projects and so forth,” said Dent.

Gr­isham also ac­tively works on sanc­tioned com­mit­tees for En­tergy Park and the city green­house.

Lynch and Matthews are in­volved in the Gar­land County Mas­ter Gar­dener Youth Ac­tiv­ity pro­gram, which works with stu­dents and teach­ers in se­lected Hot Springs and Gar­land County schools to pro­mote hor­ti­cul­ture knowl­edge and teach about the cor­rect way to grow and care for veg­etable plants and flow­ers. Lessons are taught fol­low­ing the Ju­nior Mas­ter Gar­dener cur­ricu­lum.

Matthews vol­un­teers at Hot Springs In­ter­me­di­ate School and Lynch at Hot Springs Mid­dle School.

“We are teach­ing chil­dren to garden, and we start at the be­gin­ning. They help pre­pare the soil, they plant the seeds, they weed, they

take care of the garden, they har­vest the pro­duce and then we do var­i­ous things with it. Some stu­dents will take it home to eat,” said Matthews. “The whole idea is just to in­still a love of gar­den­ing in young chil­dren be­cause not many of them get ex­posed to it. A lot of them think that our food comes from the gro­cery store. They don’t know what veg­eta­bles look like when they’re grow­ing so they get re­ally ex­cited when they get to har­vest their pro­duce.”

“Dig­ging in the dirt and see­ing things grow from seeds or lit­tle trans­plants have a pos­i­tive psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fect on chil­dren as well as adults. We’ve read a lot about the vet­er­ans that have re­turned and how they’re in­volved in farm­ing and how it has a pos­i­tive ef­fect af­ter post trau­matic stress syn­drome. It has an out­reach for chil­dren up to adults,” said Lynch. “We do a lot of artis­tic things too; I try to do one art ac­tiv­ity a month with the chil­dren. This month they’re go­ing to make scare­crows to put out in the garden.”

Cur­rently, six schools re­ceive the teach­ing as­sis­tance from Mas­ter Gar­den­ers: Jessieville Ele­men­tary School, guided by Vicki Sched­del; Hot Springs In­ter­me­di­ate School, guided by Matthews, Hot Springs Mid­dle School, guided by Lynch and Karen Ma­son, and Hot Springs Mid­dle School ALE pro­gram, guided by Bev Mer­ritt; Lakeside High School ALE pro­gram, led by Ann Hiers; and Lake Hamil­ton School green­house, led by Bar­bara Smith.

On April 29, the Gar­land County Mas­ter Gar­den­ers will host their an­nual plant sale, their big­gest fundraiser of the year, at the Hot Springs Farm­ers & Ar­ti­sans Mar­ket. The Mas­ter Gar­den­ers work all year prop­a­gat­ing and grow­ing the plants for the sale.

“We raise money and we do­nate it to dif­fer­ent schol­ar­ships. We have do­nated it to the 4H Club, so we have a 4H re­cip­i­ent ev­ery year, and then we also have a Ris­ing Se­nior that is in a col­lege-level pro­gram and they are get­ting $ 1,000. We have com­mit­ted $5,000 to that pro­gram for a ris­ing se­nior,” Cooper said.

Guests at the sale will be able to bid on auc­tion items, in­clud­ing four hours of work in their own garden pro­vided by the Steel Mag­no­lias, a group of seven Mas­ter Gar­den­ers and three non-Mas­ter Gar­den­ers.

Cooper and a cou­ple of other Mas­ter Gar­den­ers formed the Steel Mag­no­lias as a way of cre­at­ing and help­ing each other with large projects.

“We have these things called our Of­fi­cial Sanc­tioned Com­mit­tees, like the Steel Mag­no­lias, that do dif­fer­ent projects. But then we have other ef­forts where we are in­volved in­di­vid­u­ally with things in the com­mu­nity,” Dent said.

Other Mas­ter Gar­dener groups in­clude the Veg­etable Garden Fo­rum, which holds field trips and talks about veg­etable gar­den­ing, and the Garden to Ta­ble Round­table group, which is a talk­ing group about gar­den­ing and preser­va­tion of food. They are also on a ra­dio pro­gram once a month called Talk of the Town.

“All of these things are a mar­riage be­tween do­ing and telling,” Dent said.

The Gar­land County Mas­ter Gar­den­ers are also at the Hot Springs Vil­lage and Hot Springs Farm­ers Mar­ket ev­ery week from May through Septem­ber.

“We are there sim­ply to an­swer ques­tions, pro­vide in­for­ma­tion, talk with peo­ple about gar­den­ing. But one thing we’re go­ing to start this year at the Hot Springs Farm­ers Mar­ket is a demon­stra­tion ev­ery week on gar­den­ing. We’re go­ing to be teach­ing peo­ple about prop­a­ga­tion and all sorts of things,” said Matthews.

If you’ve ever driven through down­town Hot Springs, chances are you’ve seen the hang­ing plant bas­kets scat­tered on Bath­house Row, an­other project be­tween Mas­ter Gar­den­ers and the city of Hot Springs.

“That com­mit­tee works at break­neck speed for a short pe­riod of time putting those bas­kets to­gether. It’s one of the most high pro­file things that we do in the com­mu­nity,” Dent said. “Not only do we do those bas­kets but we work on in­ter­sec­tions and mon­u­ments to en­hance the ar­eas around those. We have a won­der­ful re­la­tion­ship with all kinds of gov­ern­men­tal en­ti­ties.”

Dent added that about two-thirds of their projects are “dig­ging projects,” which are projects sim­i­lar to what they do at Gar­van Gar­dens. Other dig­ging projects are done at the city’s green­house, the Farm­ers Mar­ket, the Hot Springs Con­fed­er­ate Mon­u­ment, and Como Square, among oth­ers.

In June 2016, Cooper de­vel­oped a talk called “Tool Talk” to try to help peo­ple in their gar­dens when it comes to the right tools to use and help­ing them work smarter, not harder.

“I try to give peo­ple ideas of how to work more ef­fi­ciently in their gar­dens. I have a drill with an auger, so if you’re plant­ing five flats of daisies, rather than dig­ging each hole, you just use this auger,” Cooper said.

“That’s the thing about Mas­ter Gar­den­ers — Mas­ter Gar­den­ers do their own work, as op­posed to hir­ing some­body to do it,” said Dent.

The group also has a strong re­la­tion­ship with the Gar­land County Li­brary and has rec­og­nized the li­brary as their Cor­po­rate Friend of the Year. The Mas­ter Gar­den­ers host any­where from six to eight pro­grams per year at the li­brary as part of a se­ries called Know it to Grow it, which is free and open to the public. They also as­sisted the li­brary in start­ing their public seed li­brary.

Dent said any­one can join the Mas­ter Gar­dener pro­gram as long as they are will­ing to put in the ef­fort.

“Some peo­ple will go through the train­ing and then ei­ther some­thing will hap­pen in their life or they don’t have the time to keep go­ing with it, and other peo­ple stay 30 years. We have right around 200 mem­bers all the time, and we’ve got­ten up to 230 be­fore,” Dent said. “At the state level, you can imag­ine, with all the coun­ties we have, it’s a very big or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

A view of the Southern In­spi­ra­tion Garden at Gar­van Wood­land Gar­dens.

Mas­ter Gar­den­ers Lin John­son, left, and Michael Carr work on some hang­ing bas­kets at the city’s green­house.

Mas­ter Gar­dener Karin Gr­isham work­ing in the Southern In­spi­ra­tion Garden at Gar­van Wood­land Gar­dens.

Mas­ter Gar­dener Va­lerie Nuck­els works with some hang­ing bas­kets at the city’s green­house.

Mas­ter Gar­den­ers Karin Gr­isham, left, Claudette Cooper, Sharon Dent, Sherry Matthews and Marty Lynch at Gar­van Wood­land Gar­dens.

A view of the Southern In­spi­ra­tion Garden at Gar­van Wood­land Gar­dens.

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