Conference draws gardening enthusiasts from across the state
(pictured above: Pearl Norman shows off the carnivorous plants she had available for sale at the vendors’ fair.)
More than 250 people took part in sessions and activities at the Hawthorne Inn and Conference Center from May 4-7.
Martha Wood, a master gardener and a former mayor of Winston-Salem, and retired county employee Nita Colvin co-chaired the event, which also included tours of area gardens and wineries. This year’s theme, “Picture the Piedmont,” reflected the collaboration of the five host counties: Forsyth, Guilford, Davidson, Davie and Surry.
“We want them to walk away with a good experience from Winston-Salem in particular, Forsyth County and the Piedmont,” Wood said of conference participants. “We want them to realize the rich resources that we have here, and we’ve tried in our programs to make that clear. We also want them to walk away with an understanding that they are part of a much bigger effort that works all over the state.”
Forsyth County is home to one of the largest gardening programs in the state; more than 300 county residents have completed the intensive training and contributed the volunteer hours necessary to achieve master gardener status. All told, there are more than 4,000 master gardeners in the state who disseminate information and lend their expertise to gardens and projects of every stripe.
“We are the stewards of the land, and it is our job to teach and share that information,” remarked Ann Williams, a master gardener and member of the conference’s steering committee. “I think that’s what we do, our job is to share what we know with the public.”
State Extension Master Gardener Coordinator Lucy Bradley said master gardeners provide a valuable service to fellow North Carolinians.
“They teach people how to grow food, how to make environmentally-conscious decisions in (our) yards,” she said. “…Unbiased, research-based information is what they’re providing. They don’t have any motivation other than helping people make the best possible decisions for themselves and others.”
Conference attendees heard from dozens of presenters, including Joe Lamp’l of the DIY Channel’s “Fresh from the Garden” and PBS’s “GardenSMART,” and Dr. Robert Lyons, a professor of landscape horticulture and director of the Longwood Graduate Program in Public Horticulture at the University of Delaware.
The conference also included a vendor’s fair and silent auction, where everything from carnivorous plants to yard decor and plant-themed artwork were sold. Tim Nichols, co-owner of Mr. Maple in East Flat Rock, sold Japanese maple trees and led a workshop – the “ABCs of Japanese Maples.” Nichols said he relished being surrounded by so many kindred spirits.
“I love it,” he said of the conference. “Master gardeners are actually some of the best people because they love plants and they love hearing about plants. For me, I love hearing the stories behind plants, and that’s what Master Gardeners love, too.”
Awards were bestowed upon some of the state’s most dedicated and successful gardeners and gardens. Rowan County Extension Master Gardeners took home honors in the small programs category for their Pocket Gardens project, and the Wake County Extension Master Gardeners received the large programs prize for their Waterwise Garden at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds.
Forsyth Extension Master Gardener Edie Jackson was ldauded for being last year’s top volunteer. She logged more than 1,000 hours in 2013, helping novice gardeners and fledgling gardening projects. Jackson, a retired federal employee, said people often ask her why she is so passionate about gardening.
“I want to do it. I’m interested in all of this,” said the Clayton, Ga. native, who is actively involved with several local gardens, including the 1761 Medical Garden at Historic Bethabara Park. “I just wanted to do all of this to find out what I really liked best, and the truth is I liked it all best.”
Jackson said the camaraderie that results among the folks who tend gardens is part of what makes it so enjoyable for her.
“I think that’s what means the most,” Jackson said. “You meet people you probably wouldn’t have known in any other circumstances, from all walks of life.”
Forsyth Extension Services will host master gardener training classes in August. For more information, or to enroll in the program, visit http://forsyth.ces.ncsu.edu or call 336-703-2850.