Saline County Master Gardeners turn plants into scholarships

By Wayne Bryan Published April 10, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Nick Hillemann

Jon Mayer moves some heirloom tomatoes around in his greenhouse.

Ever purchased a shrub, a rose bush or a flat of plants, and they just didn’t make it through the summer heat? Maybe they looked great all summer and then shriveled and died at the first hint of frost.

That will not happen with plants from the Spring in Saline Plant Sale on April 19 sponsored by the Saline County Master Gardeners, or so say members of the gardeners organization.

“We have grown most of these plants ourselves,” said Sandy Morris, an eight-year member of the Saline County Master Gardeners group. “These are plants that do well in our gardens, so they will work in their yards, too. They can stand our heat and our cold, in our soil.”

The Master Gardeners will offer more than 2,400 plants from perennials to potted palms during their annual sale, held at the main exhibition building of the Saline County Fairgrounds. Admission is free, and the sale will start at 8 a.m., and members caution that shoppers need to get there early.

“Every year, people line up early and bring their wagons,” said Sherry Faulkner, another Saline Master Gardener. “The sale lasts 4 1/2 hours, and we might have 100 plants left by the time it’s over. Many are return customers who always clear their calendars and come year after year.”

Last Friday, several members of the Master Gardeners group in Saline County met at the home of Jon Mayer in Benton. Mayer has been tending to his plants all winter and is getting them ready for the plant sale. He has built a small greenhouse on his back porch and waters his plants using captured rainwater. He has a system that collects the water from his gutters in holding tanks next to his house.

Among the plants being watched over during the winter by Mayer are two avocado trees.

Morris said that in the spring as the weather begins to get warm, the gardeners push the plants with fertilizer so the roots are well developed and some blooms have opened. She said the real work comes in the fall.

“That is when we pot up the plants, especially the perennials,”

she said. “They will stay all winter in the pots, and we can bring many of them inside. Right now, we are cleaning up pots and removing dead sticks and generally sprucing the plants up.”

During the fall, Morris is also busy with what the Master Gardeners call the plant brigade.

“That is a team of us who help people who want to clean out their gardens or yards and thin out their plants,” Morris said. “Those plants then are saved for the sale in the spring.”

When the sale opens, Faulkner said, people come from all across central and south Arkansas to get plants for their yards and gardens.

“They come from Conway, Petit Jean, Montgomery County, and Garland and Pulaski counties,” she said.

“During the plant sale, we always see other Master Gardeners from other counties looking for something different for their yards,” Mayer said.

Beyond selling plants, the event on April 19 will include information at vendor booths, along with booths set up by horticulture clubs such as the Hosta Society and other specialized groups.

“You learn some real gems about all kinds of plants at the booths,” said Roy Matlock, another Saline County Master Gardener.

The Saline County Master Gardeners have 65 members, and they follow strict guidelines established by the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service about becoming and staying ranked as certified Master Gardeners.

“To become a Master Gardener, someone takes a five-day course, spread over five weeks with written tests,” Morris said. “To remain a Master Gardener that first year, the person has to volunteer for 40 hours of work on our projects and have 20 more hours of education. From the second year on, we all have to have 20 hours of work and 20 of education to continue our certification.”

The work hours can be preparing for the plant sales, the club’s monthly talks or demonstrations at the Saline County Library branches, as well as working at Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs. Members also get credit for attending special training sessions and the state convention.

“We generally have two new Master Gardeners a year,” Morris said. “Last year, we had five start the program, and three made it.”

One of those three was Ken Handwork, who used to be a landscape engineer.

“I’ve had a lifelong interest in plants, and I like working in the dirt with these knowledgeable fellows here,” Handwork said. “It is very educational to work with a more-experienced team of people like the Master Gardeners.”

Proceeds from the plant sale go to fund scholarships for students enrolled in horticulture and agricultural programs in the state.

“We try to fund two $500 scholarships a year,” Mayer said. “The students are selected by a committee of Saline County Master Gardeners.

For more information about the Saline County Master Gardeners or their annual plant sale, call the University of Arkansas Department of Agriculture Extension Service in Benton at (501) 303-5672.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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