GONZALES, La. – Since 2007, Master Gardeners in Ascension Parish have been taking on projects to beautify the parish and provide information to get others involved in gardening and landscape improvement.
LSU AgCenter horticulture agent Craig Roussel, who has been leading this effort for the past two years, said he's seeing the fruits of their labor.
“When I began working with this group, there was this fear of having to answer gardening and landscape questions from the public,” Roussel said. “But the more projects we get involved with, the easier it’s becoming for them.”
Roussel credits plant health clinics at local nurseries with helping his group “come out of their shell.”
He started by including LSU AgCenter experts and other landscape experts on the programs to help the Master Gardeners feel more comfortable.
Their library program is held each Tuesday night during the spring and fall at one of the parish libraries.
They present programs on gardening and landscaping, where LSU AgCenter and other professional landscapers present information, said Ascension Parish Master Gardener Barbara McCormick.
“The largest of the library series meetings happen in the spring when we have our plant swap,” McCormick said. “It’s held at the Gonzales library where Master Gardeners and the public bring plants to trade and to share ideas.”
The Master Gardeners all agree that the project that’s providing the most exposure for them is the raised landscape bed they have constructed at the Lamar Dixon Expo Center.
The idea came from Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez, who suggested that the Expo Center be upgraded from the magnolia trees that had lined the entrance but had started to die, Roussel said.
From late April through late May, the preparations were being made, and the work began to take shape, Roussel said.
“It took a little time to get the financing in place, and then we did the layout and made the decisions of how the garden would look,” Roussel said.
They decided to use Louisiana Super Plants in the landscape bed to show off plants that have been identified as superior and perform well in all areas of the state.
“In addition to using the Louisiana Super Plants, we also are using annuals at each end of the bed that we will be changing out twice a year,” he said.
When Martinez saw the finished garden he had only one problem with it, which happened to be a very good problem, Roussel said.
“He said the garden looks great, but you really need to put a sign out there to let people know who did this work,” he said. “That was a problem easy to solve, because we had already ordered the sign.”
Just the thought of how many people see the garden when they attend events at Lamar Dixon has been a morale booster for the Master Gardeners.
Harold Bourgeois, a retired chemist and one of the newer members of the Ascension group, said he was gently nudged into becoming a Master Gardener.
“I’ve always been interested in gardening,” Bourgeois said. “When I saw the gardening contest in the paper last year, I decided to enter. I won the small-garden division, and the rest is history.”
Mary Jo Pohlig said Master Gardeners are some of the best people she has ever met.
“It’s just been great for me,” Pohlig said. “They are always willing to share information and to jump in and help when needed. They’re just great.”
Roussel said the Master Gardeners’ next major project is to develop a demonstration garden at Lamar Dixon.
“There’s an area here that was prepared for a building when the expo center was originally planned,” Roussel said. “We approached the parish last year about creating a place to set up some demonstration plots, and they agreed.”
They plan to add a few fig varieties, some blueberries and some avocadoes, he said. In addition, Martinez wants to see some original Louisiana crops like cotton, sugarcane and even indigo that were once grown in the parish on display.
“We already have four raised beds for vegetables, and we have three satsuma trees growing already,” Roussel said. “We’re in the process now of securing grant funds needed to put in an irrigation system. Then we’ll be ready to begin.”
The Louisiana Master Gardener program is a horticultural service and education program of the LSU AgCenter.
For information on joining the Master Gardeners, contact your LSU AgCenter parish extension office or visit the Master Gardener web page at www.LSUAgCenter.com/Master Gardener.
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