Saturday, May 7, 2011

Groups and Gardening

This afternoon, I talked with a lot of people at the Kastner-Hankerson garden as part of the 2011 Master Gardener tour of gardens in my county (an event titled “Through the garden gate”). I had signed on as a docent. The “garden” is the little farm at which my family has been helping out for the past few Saturdays in anticipation of this day (on which more than 400 people showed up to see the garden!).

One of the great things about helping out in advance is that I learned enough about the garden to be able to talk about it with people who come out to see it. Another great thing is that I have learned a lot about “gardening” on a much larger scale. A third great thing is that I have met even more people who are interested in growing good food and in sharing that food. What a great gift this has been!

This project is a perfect example of what I was hoping to find when I joined the Master Gardener program. Even though I already had been gardening for a long time and had a degree in Botany, my time in the classes was time well spent. I learned a lot, for example, about ornamental plants. Those are not my main focus –I’m about food and native plants – but plenty of people in the program are there because they have found a particular plant, or group of plants, to be beautiful, and they wanted to both know more and to share what they have learned.

For me, as for most people, the classes were only the beginning. What is learned after completing those classes, while working as a volunteer, is even more valuable.

The Plant-a-Row-for-the-Hungry garden (PAR) that is my main project (and for which I am a co-chair) tends to present a whole different set of problems than my own garden, so I learn from it as I learn from my own yard. When people come to me with garden problems, sometimes the answer comes out of my experience at PAR.

I also get to give talks on growing veggies, and being in a roomful of people who ALL are interested in growing food is almost too wonderful for words.

The other day, my friend whose veggie garden is all in containers on her driveway said that she has always wanted to join the Master Gardener program, but never thought she could. In general, the Master Gardener program is looking for people who can make it to all the classes and are available to volunteer for its various projects. She has a full time job and some health problems that she has thought would probably interfere with those goals.

Recently, though, she looked into the program again, and now she is thinking about applying for next year’s classes.

When I took the classes, they were WAY on the other side of Atlanta, and only a couple dozen people were accepted from each of the participating counties. The classes met two days each week, and sometimes it seemed as though we spent more time on the road than in class. Since then, our county has joined with a different group of counties for the classes, and they are much more nearby and have space for more participants. In addition, they are only one day each week, and most of the notes for each class are now posted online.

My friend’s job is fairly flexible in terms of scheduling, so the one-day-a-week class would not be a problem. She also figured out that volunteering includes activities like writing, giving presentations, and answering the phone (the “horticulture hotline” at the extension office). Those activities are well within the realm of her capabilities.

The Master Gardeners here in my county are a great group. We get a lot done even though many of us are "older." We all have family disasters and bad health years, and we adjust. We tend to make up for random infirmity through numbers --plenty of other gardeners taking up the slack. That is part of the beauty of working with a group!

My container-gardening friend said, in that same conversation, that when she is gardening, she never is thinking that she should be doing something else; her thoughts are all about her garden, and she is content and happy. That’s pretty much how I feel about gardening, and we are not the only two people who share that experience. A bunch of other people who feel the same way are in the Master Gardener program.

(I had hoped to post a picture or two from the Kastner-Hankerson garden, but Joe got his new Sighting Compass in the mail yesterday, and he took his new compass and the camera with him on a hike at a state park in North Georgia this morning.)

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