Tuesday, July 25, 2017  

Master Gardeners of the Northern Neck


Trained and supervised by Virginia Cooperative Extension and the land grant university of Virginia Tech, Master Gardeners are the homeowners’ arm of the extension office. With offices in the Lancaster Court House; Lancaster County, Heathsville; Northumberland County, Richmond and Westmoreland County, they cover a large area.

Master Gardeners are a breed unto themselves and the Northern Neck Master Gardeners are standouts! Eighty- four strong, with 10,627 volunteer hours and 29,064 contacts made during the year, they continue to amaze. In this economically difficult time, their time is valued at a savings to the taxpayer of $215,196.75 for the year 2008.

Master Gardeners are a permanent organization in the community, existing nationwide since 1972 and in the Northern Neck since 1989. In the area of youth activities, they act under the supervision of the 4-H Agent and the Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent.

The Master Gardeners are available to provide research-based gardening and horticultural information through the Lancaster, Northumberland and Westmoreland Extension offices. They man the phones at help desks April through October.

Plant clinics are run through the Irvington Farmer’s Market the 1st Saturday of each month and Heathsville Farmer’s Market the 3rd Saturday of each month, April through October.

They are the authors of “Gardening in the Northern Neck,” a book full of information pertaining to the specifics of gardening in this part of the world.

The Master Gardeners hold an annual seminar, “Gardening in the Northern Neck,” in March. Topics covered are shoreline preservation, growing and buying local, bayscaping and plants that belong in your garden. These seminars are complete with excellent speakers, topic appropriate vendors, and are very well attended.

This ambitious, energetic and well-educated group draws from all over the nation. They share their love of grubbing in the dirt, educating, learning and this place called the Northern Neck.

It is impossible to list everything they are involved with, but the following is a good cross section.

Children’s Education

SUMS and the ABC Garden
SUMS (Students Using Math and Science) is an after school program for 3rd graders at Lancaster Elementary School. NNMGs meet with about 20 children to study horticulture for one hour on Wednesday afternoons from October through May. SUMS began in 2000 by a third grade teacher Joan Gravatt, supported by a grant from Dominion Power. Master Gardeners acted as consultants to activities organized by teachers. It evolved into the Master Gardeners volunteering to plan and conduct the program.

In 2003, to explore horticulture outdoors, the children began planting flowerbeds next to the third grade wing of the school. Over several years, 4 beds increased to 8 beds. A berm was added to control rainwater. A set of outdoor benches and a table was given by the PTA to act as an outdoor classroom, and a pergola added to the space. The NNMG’s created a teaching garden called “A Backyard Classroom (ABC) Garden,” largely created from community donations.

This garden now has herb and vegetable beds, perennial beds, fruit trees and a grape arbor. There are trees offering shade, producing fruit and growing.

Teachers and students in all classes at the primary school use this garden for educational activities. There is a communication mailbox encouraging notes between the Master Gardeners and the teachers and students using the space.

Currently, plans are underway to explore the possibility of adding a rain garden with the help of the Soil and Water Conservation Board.

Twice a year, teachers, staff and parents, get an ‘ABC Garden newsletter,’ featuring new developments, growth and ideas in the garden.

Yearly the students and Master Gardeners host parents at a garden open house. Each child mans a station in the garden and eagerly explains its contents. Sue Lindsey, early developer of the garden, says, “You can teach/learn anything in a garden.”

3rd Grade Science Program
Twice during the school year, NNMGs present science programs to third grade students at both Lancaster and Northumberland Elementary Schools. The programs focus on soils and on shoreline ecology. These programs give the children opportunities to investigate the S.O.L. (standard of learning) objectives with their hands as well as their minds, while having fun.

The day long programs feature learning stations focusing on composting, littering, pollution, food chains, erosion, and many varieties of marine animals.

Earth/Arbor Day
As part of the annual Earth Day/Arbor Day celebrations in both Lancaster and Northumberland Elementary Schools, NNMGs conduct an educational activity, have a tree planting ceremony, and give every child and teacher a tree sapling to take home and plant.

Invasive Aliens
Ted Munns has been a Master Gardener Volunteer since 2004 when he completed his training at Green Spring Gardens Park in Fairfax County. He has always had an interest in growing things, but after retiring from a career with the Federal Government, now had the time and opportunity to spend with this passion. He wanted to learn more about the technical aspects of horticulture, botany, garden design and landscaping so he enrolled in the local community college to help round out his education. After three years, he was awarded an Associates Degree in Horticultural Technology. His interest in teaching and the scourge of invasive alien plants has allowed him to offer a program that educates the public on good landscaping practices. Some plants that began benignly in our gardens escaped into our roadsides, woods and parks. The coastal plain of Virginia offers a moderate climate that encourages homeowners to select a wide variety of “must have” plants that often escape from their yards. These plants, usually natives of Europe or Asia, choke off and smother our native flora to the detriment of our native insect pollinators, birds, and vertebrates.

Nothing grows in the thick tangles of kudzu, English ivy, or wisteria, and some plants like the tree-of-heaven exude a sap that kills other plants and can be caustic to the skin. The Northern Neck Master gardener volunteers offer educational programs to teach residents of the long-term problems of some common declining populations of butterflies, nocturnal moths, nesting birds, and wet land amphibians which are a direct result of lack of host plants for these creatures to feed upon. The more we know about eradicating exotic alien plants and encouraging native plantings, the more we will be able to stem this decline.

Horticultural Therapy
The Horticultural Association defines Horticultural Therapy (HT) as “The engagement of a client in gardening related activities, facilitated by a trained therapist to achieve specific goals.” HT is a process using plants and garden activities to improve the body, mind and spirit of people. HT is practiced throughout the world in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, hospice vocational facilities, nursing homes, senior and community centers, schools and prisons.

Volunteer HT, for example Master Gardeners, are knowledgeable trained gardeners that are currently involved in HT in Kilmarnock at Rappahannock Westminster Canterbury and in Warsaw at The Orchard.

Volunteer HT was originated and championed by Diane Rolf from Virginia Tech. Horticulture has been identified as the number one leisure pursuit of older Americans. Gardening is a therapeutic activity that enhances physical and mental health. Studies have found that 85–90% of nursing care residents has been engaged in some sort of gardening in their lifetime. The benefits include enhanced cognitive, social, and physical functioning.

Part of the training of MGs includes developing a project within one of the approved programs. Three MG’s developed written guidelines for the implementation of HT that could be used in multiple settings as a reference for those choosing to participate in HT in the future.

The Orchard HT group has completed the institution’s orientation requirements. They meet the third Friday of the month. Participants come from all three levels of care and the activity is adjusted based on the individual’s capabilities. They consistently see 10-12 residents. They introduce the project with appropriate history, assist with completion and follow up with a write up of the activity for future reference. A copy is given to the Activity Director for use in their planning meetings.

Northern Neck Master Gardener Tips
Gardening tips written by Bryan Kennedy, Marybeth Sisson and Kathy Powell, Master Gardeners of the most recent graduating class, was begun as a class project. This article is submitted monthly to the Rappahannock Record, Northern Neck News and the Northumberland Echo. It is also published in a quarterly newsletter and distributed at the farmer’s markets and public events.

And that’s not all!! There are annual pruning clinics, establishment of the gardens at Dream Fields, the gardens at the Lancaster High School…and the list goes on.

So the next time you are in the Northern Neck and you notice a whirl of dust…look carefully, it may be a Master Gardener.