Master gardner program turning novices into pros

By Trina Trice

Not afraid to get their hands dirty, the Master Gardeners are doing just that for spring projects in the works in Clayton and Henry counties.

An offshoot of the Extension Service in both Clayton and Henry counties, the Master Gardener program is a volunteer program in gardening with extensive education in horticulture principles and pest control.

The program trains volunteers to help maximize Extension's outreach in the county.

For Master Gardeners to gain their training, they must successfully complete a 40-hour course that covers research-based information on horticulture.

"It's a pretty intensive course," Benita Smith of McDonough.

Smith recently moved to Georgia from the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The red dirt of Georgia is famous for frustrating gardeners, even like Smith who has always been an avid gardener. When she found out about the Masters Gardeners program she applied right away.

"I had to go to find out how to work this better soil and find out how to make things grow in it," Smith said.

"There's a great deal of pleasure in gardening for me. I like to grow flowers."

Upon completing the course, individuals must commit to 50 hours of volunteer time to assist the extension service. Some volunteer activities include plant clinics, phone and site consultations, newsletter production, youth gardening, community gardening and beautification and horticulture therapy.

On May 3 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Henry County Master Gardeners are having a plant sale at the county's Extension Service on 86 Work Camp Road in McDonough.

The Clayton County Extension Service conducts a Master Gardener training class every year. For years, a major volunteer project for Clayton County Gardeners has been maintaining gardens at Reynolds Nature Preserve in Morrow.

Recently, however Clayton County Master Gardeners are preparing soil, planting pansies and other horticultural flora, and spreading pine straw to spruce up the grounds at Spivey Hall on the Clayton College & State University campus.

Recently they planted ?Guacamole,' an award-winning Hosta (also called a Plantain Lily), along with Bronze Ajuga, in a visible area at the porte cochere of Spivey.

The contrast between the chartreuse leaves of the Hosta and the deep burgundy ground-hugging Ajuga will be a great attention-getter," said Russell Camp, grounds manager at CCSU.

Encouraged by the growth of the Master Gardeners in Clayton County, Camp, a graduate of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Ga., continues to teach the Landscape Design and Management class at the Harry S. Downs Center for Continuing Education at CCSU each semester. For the class, Camp teaches the design and management of a landscape plan for their own property. Some of the useful skills taught are drafting, pruning, mulching and soil amending.

For the Spivey Hall project, Master Gardeners turned over the planting area, mixing in several hundred pounds of sand and homemade compost (all by hand), then planted the new plants.

"Dave Wall, the unofficial Master Gardener organizer and Fire Chief of the City of Morrow, made an appearance too, but duty called him away," Camp said.

Recently, a Beautification Fund was set up through the CCSU Foundation. Reda Rowell, director of Alumni Relations at CCSU, said the fund will be used "to restore, enhance, and maintain the natural beauty of the campus landscape through the planned use of trees, shrubs, groundcovers, perennials, and annuals, and the supplies needed to grow them."

For thorough advice on landscaping or gardening at home, call the Clayton County Extension Service at (770) 473-3945

or visit the Henry County Extension Service Web site at www.co.henry.ga.us/ExtensionService/