Robert J. Souvestre | 4/19/2005 10:29:07 PM
BATON ROUGE – Rosemary Funk of Lafayette has been a Louisiana Master Gardener since 2000 – when she retired and decided it was time to start doing something in the yard.
"It’s a wonderful class," Funk said of the LSU AgCenter educational program that trains volunteers and encourages them to share their gardening talents with others. "It’s like going to college all over again."
Funk was among more than 275 individuals from across Louisiana who attended the first-ever Louisiana Master Gardener State Conference in Baton Rouge Friday and Saturday (Aug. 27-28).
Funk, who volunteers her new gardening skills with Habitat for Humanity and at Lafayette Community Hospital, said she enjoys "just meeting people and getting new ideas."
That, says Bob Souvestre, coordinator of the Master Gardener program in the LSU AgCenter, is what prompted the conference in the first place.
Souvestre said the statewide meeting was designed to combine education and recertification for master gardeners along with opportunities for networking and communication among the conference participants.
"If you don’t keep up, you get stale," the horticulturist said.
Louisiana boasts more than 1,500 active master gardeners who have completed at least 40 hours of intensive, practical horticultural training provided by the LSU AgCenter and have committed to donating at least 40 hours of service to their communities.
The LSU AgCenter started the program in Louisiana in 1994.
Souvestre said bringing the state’s master gardeners together will invigorate the program.
"People discover they’re a part of a larger unit, and their impact is magnified," he said. "Once you find out what others do, you get new ideas."
Robert Usher of Luling said he became a master gardener because "it sounded like something I want to get involved in."
The retiree has been a master gardener for three years and says he’s made a lot of friends. He’s part of the River Region Master Gardeners –made up of about 40 people from St. James, St. John and St. Charles parishes.
Among their activities, the group works with heirloom plants at the Vintage Garden at Destrehan Plantation, where volunteers "go at their leisure to weed and take care of the garden," Usher said.
Wendy Miller, who lives in Ponchatoula, recently moved there from LaPlace but is still active in the River Region group.
"I wanted to be a master something," she said, explaining why she first became a master gardener. She says she likes the people, likes the classes and likes learning new things.
She calls the Master Gardener program "a wonderful resource."
Colleen Scott of Independence discovered the resource five years ago when she joined the first Master Gardener class in Tangipahoa Parish.
Scott is from a farm background, "but it’s different in the South," said the Pennsylvania native who’s lived in Louisiana since 1982.
When she first moved to Louisiana, she had a hard time gardening, Scott said. "Master Gardeners was exactly the thing I needed.
"The Master Gardener program was more than I thought it would be," she said. "It’s very informative."
Scott said she enjoys the continuing education the program provides, and "learning from others is fantastic. It’s made me feel at home."
Scott uses her master gardener skills with 4-H clubs, local garden clubs, nursing homes, community gardens and "pocket gardens" in local towns and villages.
"You’re closer to God’s heart in the garden than anywhere else on earth," said Vivian Neely of Baton Rouge, who became a master gardener in 2002.
She said she enjoys volunteering and helping make the city more attractive.
Neely volunteers at the LSU AgCenter’s Burden Center. "The only place I felt very peaceful was at Windrush Garden," she said of her time in the Burden garden during a difficult period in her life.
She helps Peggy Cox in the Windrush Garden – planting, trimming and maintaining the plants in addition to volunteering at the kitchen garden at LSU’s Rural Life Museum.
Betty Hubbs of Baton Rouge, program chair for the conference, said her committee tried to invite speakers from beyond Baton Rouge and have them present topics with wide appeal – many in small sessions for interaction.
The program included such speakers as Bill Fontenot, manager of the Acadiana Park Nature Center in Lafayette; Greg Grant, a horticulturist and writer from East Texas; Terry O’Connell and Donita Brannon of Moody Gardens in Galveston, Texas; Dr. Dave Creech, director of the Mast Arboretum at Stephen F. Austin State University in
Nacogdoches, Texas; and Norman Winter, an extension horticulturist with Mississippi State University.
The program also featured a host of experts from the LSU AgCenter and several Louisiana master gardeners.
"We hear from Louisiana people often in continuing education classes," Hubbs said. That’s why her committee made it a point to invite out-of-state speakers.
The LSU AgCenter’s Souvestre said the conference had the support of more than 100 sponsors and contributors, led by the Louisiana Nursery and Landscape Association, Plant Development Services Inc. and the Gaylord Containerboard Division of Temple-inland Paperboard and Packaging Inc.