HER Cover Story
Master Gardeners of Hot Springs
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.