More and more people are giving gardening a try. While a great deal can be learned through trial and error, learning from others is of great benefit.
Horticulture education is a big part of why the Arkansas Master Gardeners program was developed. From those trained volunteers, there are demonstration and beautification gardens all over our state, along with public seminars on a wide variety of gardening topics. The Garden at the Vines is a Pulaski County Master Gardeners demonstration garden on the property of the Arkansas 4-H Center.
The Garden at the Vines was built to meet the need for a first-class, research-based demonstration garden where the public could learn by seeing plants grow and talking to the gardeners growing them.
Several years ago, a group of Master Gardeners worked with Randy Forst, the Pulaski County agent and staff chair, to find a centrally located spot associated with the University of Arkansas where a consumer horticulture demonstration garden could be built and maintained by local Master Gardeners. After looking at a variety of sites, they settled on the C.A. Vines 4-H Center at Ferndale.
The committee, led by then Master Gardeners president Kathy Ratcliffe, found sponsors for the garden. With financial support from Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation, the Stella Boyle Smith Foundation, The Lorene Martin family, Pinnacle Structures and many individuals, they had the seed money to get started. With an agreement with the Arkansas 4-H Foundation they were good to go.
The site was dedicated in 2018 with a groundbreaking ceremony, and then the work began.Gallery: The Garden at the Vines
PROS AND CONS
There was plenty of land to work with, so the site was chosen based on proximity to roadways, water access and buildings. While it had some great assets, it also had its weaknesses — rocky and thin soil, drainage problems and more.
In rural west Pulaski County there are a slew of deer and other animals that would love a garden as much as the gardeners would. A sturdy deer fence was built and a French drain was installed around the garden. Workers built a series of raised beds and trucked in rich soil. Drip irrigation was installed in all the beds. Finally, a layer of rock was brought in for pathways.
As this was a sanctioned Pulaski County Master Gardeners project, more than 20 members signed up to help. Scheduled workdays are Saturdays and Mondays, with various members checking on things in between. Members work around their own schedules as to availability, but most put in more than their required hours on this project. Members range in age from teenagers to 70-plus, with men and women involved. Some are experienced gardeners, while others are just beginning. It is a great blend of knowledge.
Before they began planting, they met with agent Forst to discuss what they would plant, and they continue to do so each season. The goal of the garden is to apply research-based information to the garden.
The garden is not just a vegetable demonstration garden. They try to encompass as many aspects of horticulture as they can. Several beds are dedicated to herbs; they have fruit trees, roses, annuals and perennials, and even beehives. Deer-resistant native perennials flank the outside fence; pollinator plants support their beehives and the garden is a Monarch Watch Waystation.
Money was raised to build a much-needed garden shed — which is heated and air conditioned — along with a restroom so the volunteers can meet year-round.
TRACK RECORD SO FAR
They keep excellent records on what is planted, how well the plants grow and how much produce is harvested annually. In 2020 they raised 680 pounds of produce, and so far this year they have raised 77 pounds.
Now that the C.A. Vines Center is back up and running (still with some covid-prevention restrictions), produce from the garden is used by the kitchen staff. Produce has also been donated to the Ronald McDonald House and several community centers.
In October, the Garden at the Vines will be featured in a farm-to-table dinner as part of the 40th anniversary of the C.A. Vines 4-H Center. The committee is hosting a garden party with appetizers from the garden and a signature cocktail sponsored by Rock Town Distillery.
As a demonstration garden, they also learn by trial and error. Last year they got hit by Japanese beetles, and they are back again this year. The gardeners keep a bucket of soapy water to knock the adult beetles in. They recently had an unscheduled visit from tomato hornworms and handled them as well.
Volunteers have been trained to sanitize pruners between cuts so they don't transmit diseases. The garden is not totally organic, but they use pesticides with great caution because beehives flank the end of the garden.
Late frosts had volunteers scrambling to cover tender plants, and they did discover that the garden can be a frost pocket — making the need for protection even more important.
For two years, they participated in a UA tomato trial, growing different varieties for the university to see how they developed and produced, and ultimately tasted. This year, they are doing their own tomato trial with a wide variety of plants. Their workers harvest, then sample and rate which varieties they like best. Taste, coupled with production data, can then help them choose varieties for next year.
They also grow the tomatoes in a variety of ways, from traditional stakes and cages to a tomato arbor this year.
In addition to staking tomatoes, they also vertically grow cucumbers and sometimes gourds. This year they are testing out a white cucumber called White Wonder, ground cherries and several varieties of edamame (soybeans). They experiment with cover crops, last year trying buckwheat.
A demonstration teaching garden needs to do just that — demonstrate and teach. The gardeners who are tending it learn something every year, and they impart this knowledge to anyone who visits the garden, the 4-H youth who come to summer camps, adult visitors who are at a workshop or conference at the center, or groups that schedule a tour. The volunteers are always willing to conduct tours or a workshop.
This group of Pulaski County Master Gardeners is doing way more than growing vegetables, herbs and flowers; they are growing community.
They have accomplished a lot in a small amount of time, but they aren't done. The group has lofty goals. More raised beds are in the works and a garden gazebo in the center of the gardens is planned. Composting facilities will be built, along with workshop ideas.
They do some plant propagating now and, in time, hope to have plants to sell along with their local honey.
They are always seeking sponsors, so if you want to help, call the Pulaski County office.
If you need ideas about which plant varieties do well in Central Arkansas, how to grow a specific vegetable or flower, insect or disease control, or you simply want to look at a pretty garden, a trip to the Garden at the Vines at the Arkansas 4-H Center in Ferndale could be just the ticket.
To schedule a tour or workshop, contact the Pulaski County Arkansas Extension office at (501) 340-6650.
Read Janet Carson's blog at arkansasonline.com/planitjanet.