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story.lead_photo.caption Linda Whitted, left, and Mary Ellen Nutter, both of Searcy, show a sampling of African violets that may be included in the upcoming White County Master Gardeners Plant Sale on Saturday. This year’s event will feature a wide variety of house plants, including Christmas cactus, African violets, peace lilies and succulents, as well as herbs, trees, shrubs, vegetables, annuals, perennials, hanging baskets, ornamental grasses, and container gardens for both sun and shade. - Photo by Staci Vandagriff

— Mother Nature may have been playing an April Fools’ Day joke on members of the White County Master Gardeners as they gathered April 1 at the Searcy home of Marilyn Sims. There was a definite nip in the air as they discussed their upcoming plant sale.

The third annual White County Master Gardeners’ Plant Sale will take place from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Carmichael Community Center, 801 S. Elm St. There is no admission charge, but patrons are advised to “get there early.”

“There is always a line [of people] before we open the doors,” said Sherri Sanders, agriculture agent with the White County Cooperative Extension Service, a division of the University of Arkansas System, and adviser for the local Master Gardeners program. “We’ve had great turnouts since we started the plant sale. We started the plant sale as a way to raise more money for our programs, especially for our scholarship fund for high school students.”

This year’s event will feature a wide variety of plants — herbs, trees, shrubs, vegetables, annuals, perennials, hanging baskets, ornamental grasses and container gardens for both sun and shade. A variety of house plants will be available, too, including Christmas cactus, African violets, peace lilies and succulents. Prices start as low as $2.

Two members of the White County Master Gardeners will present lectures during the plant sale.

Debbie Miller of Searcy will discuss Bringing Butterflies to Your Garden at 9 a.m., and Rose Ann Houston of Olyphant will demonstrate Straw Bale Gardening at 11. Door prizes will be offered during the lectures.

Houston, who is also a member of the Independence County Master Gardeners, is co-chairwoman of the White County Plant Sale, along with Kellie Miller of Judsonia and Lulynn Richards of Beebe.

Proceeds from the annual event benefit the Master Gardeners’ many projects, including maintaining flower beds at Spring Park in Searcy, the Searcy Art Gallery, Daniel Park in Beebe, the El Paso Community Library, Pioneer Village in Searcy and the therapy garden at the rehabilitation center on the Unity Health/Special Care campus in Searcy.

“The White County Fair is a project, too,” Sanders said. “The horticulture exhibits would not be there if it was not for our Master Gardeners. They take care of the exhibits when people bring them in for competition. They check the exhibits in and tag them. They oversee the judging and place ribbons and points on the items. Then they come back and check them out at the end of the fair. They provide an invaluable service to the county fair.”

Sanders said the White County Master Gardeners have approximately 110 members.

“They volunteered more than 7,000 hours of service last year,” Sanders said.

“The U.S. Department of Labor values volunteers’ work at $26 an hour for service to communities. You do the math. … The Master Gardeners provide a lot of free labor to our community,” she said.

That’s more than $182,000.

“We also have a lot of members who travel throughout the county and state, presenting workshops to the community. That’s another invaluable service to the community,” Sanders said.

“I’ve been to 10 different counties in the past,” said Ann Wood of Searcy.

Wood is a former White County Master Gardener of the Year; she also presented a lecture on tomatoes at the 2018 plant sale.

The 40-hour Master Gardeners training program is offered statewide by the University of Arkansas, Cooperative Extension Service, in 67 counties in Arkansas. Following the training, participants are required to volunteer at least 40 hours to the program and to accumulate at least 20 hours of learning within the next year. To maintain the status of Master Gardener thereafter, individuals must provide 20 “working” or service hours and accrue 20 “learning” or education hours per year.

For more information on the White County Master Gardeners and their plant sale, call (501) 268-5394 or email Sanders at ssanders@uaex.edu.

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