HendersonvilleNews Stories

Master Gardeners are nurturing joy and natural beauty


By Pete Zamplas-“You don’t know how to raise a plant, until you kill it three times.”

So says Joellen Johnson, among dozens of experienced master gardeners in Henderson County who share their training and hands-on experience with newer gardeners. She meant by that quote that it takes trial and error, perhaps killing a few samples of the same species before figuring its best location and soil PH balance, sunlight, fertilizing, irrigation and drainage, mulching, soil erosion and pest control and other needs.

Typically, the first year or two requires regular watering so the plant takes root and solidifies its health. Once established, Johnson’s greenery is more on its own in her “tough love” approach.

This rainy summer expedited maturation. Pete Petersen has seen “incredible” rain saturation and growth on his property this year. “It’s exciting to watch it keep growing.” He prunes big shade trees to open areas for light, to boost nearby plants. Charles Fiske is into “amending” soil, for drainage and PH balance. As Gary Gilchrist notes, such native plants as hydrangea, azalea and “rhodos” like acidic soil common to much of this area. Yet, soil conditions can vary a few feet apart, and shift due to rain and sun exposure.

Master gardeners are trained through the local branch of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service in Jackson Park. Its Extension Master Gardener Volunteer program took roots in 1979. They volunteer in that office’s call center, also handling drop-in visits such as from people bringing samples to find out if it is a weed or what type of plant it is. Connie Smitelli said the key is to research to be sure of gardening tips.

Master gardener training then an internship each takes a person 40 hours. After that, the annual volunteering requirement is 20 hours per year to maintain membership. Statewide, according to N.C. State University, 4,169 gardeners volunteered 112,836 hours so far this year and 164,187 hours for all of 2012.

Volunteers tend to a community garden in Jackson Park. They also do community projects. For instance, Flat Rock Playhouse grounds were tremendously upgraded in the past half-decade. Tamsin Allpress led that effort.

Many master gardeners also volunteer at Bullington Gardens, the 13-acre horticultural center and its greenhouse in Clear Creek. Johnson is its volunteer coordinators. Connie Smith, also a master gardener for eight years, is impressed “how much everybody is involved here.” Camaraderie is a bonus.

Helpers do not need to be trained master gardeners. Henderson County Education Foundation has its office on Bullington grounds, and runs the non-profit center in conjunction with Cooperative Extension and public schools. Exotic Oriental and native plants, special gardens and trails abound. Dazzling Dahlia Days on Sept. 25 showcased 150 dahlia varieties and 450 plants in the front garden.

Master gardeners help staff Bullington fundraising seasonal sales of perennial and annual plants, herbs and trees. The holiday sale Dec. 6-7 will include Christmas trees and hand-crafted wreaths. Bright amaryllis are sold Dec. 2-20.

Several master gardeners spoke with The Tribune, at Bullington’s latest plant sale Sept. 13-14. Many have gardened for 20, 30 or more years — 55 for Grace Butler. Most on hand are into their first decade as master gardeners.

Transplants from other regions eagerly learned about native plants. Johnson learned rhododendron need water to drain through soil, to avoid “wet feet” and leaf rot. She and Jan Knapp found out how “invasive” the butterfly bush is, as well as English ivy. Johnson cautioned against over-pruning crepe myrtle trees to try to shape them — “crepe murder.”

With sun mild now, it is a good time to transplant and cut back trees and shrubs, gardeners noted.

The gardeners are among educators in workshops at Bullington, along with Director John Murphy. He will lecture Tuesday, Oct. 8 (3-4:30 p.m.) on horticultural therapy. That seminar is free; most have nominal fees. State pest control specialist Brian Heath reports Nov. 6 for free, about emerald ash borer and other pests afflicting native trees.

Tree expert Richard Fry on Nov. 8 demonstrates pruning back ornamental trees and shrubs to boost beauty and health, for $12 per person. Mary Martin leads an evergreen wreath-making workshop Nov. 25 for $40; that includes foliage collected at Bullington.

Call Bullington Center at 698-6104 about upcoming events, or volunteering. Call Cooperative Extension at 697-4891, about master gardener training.

Caption: Master gardeners who volunteer at Bullington Gardens include (L-R) Grace Butler, Pat Rinaldi, Jan Knapp, Joellen Johnson and Sharon Mendelsohn. Bullington Director John Murphy poses with them, in the dahlia garden. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

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