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From the Ground Up — Master Gardeners celebrate 20 years of service

Ever since they were founded in 2001, the Heart of Virginia Master Gardeners have been enthusiastic about sharing a love and knowledge of gardening with the local community.

Started as a close-knit group of individuals passionate about gardening and community involvement, they haven’t stopped since.

As soon as they completed their training, the new Master Gardeners group made plans to participate in a home and garden tour organized by several local garden clubs. Their unique contribution was a plant sale held at Longwood House.

The community found the idea of healthy, inexpensive plants very appealing, and so a tradition was born. The Heart of Virginia Master Gardeners have now sold thousands of plants at their annual sale at the Heart of Virginia Festival.

It’s quite an event. There are often activities for children, short presentations on current gardening topics, and generous advice on how to grow various plants.

Community beautification has always been part of the group’s mission. They planted and maintained a community garden at Grove Street Park, helped with landscaping for the Waterworks Players’ new facility, established a community garden near the YMCA, and have helped with the native plant garden at the Prince Edward County Extension Office.

Education has been equally important to the Heart of Virginia Master Gardeners. Over the years, their educational activities have evolved to meet changing community needs. For a while, they had an information booth at the local farmer’s market. Visitors could ask questions about their gardens and get help with solving problems.

The Heart of Virginia Master Gardeners also offered speakers to community-based organizations. Popular topics included native plants in the home garden, gardening myths, reblooming amaryllis, growing the best tomatoes ever, and basic botany.

As an adjunct activity, the Heart of Virginia Master Gardeners began offering a series of short, public workshops on topics such as pruning fruit trees, growing succulents, identifying and treating plant diseases, carving jack-o’-lanterns, designing fairy gardens, making hypertufa containers, and much more.

Eventually the workshops evolved into an ongoing lunchtime series called Lunch and Learn.

In addition, Master Gardeners published a newsletter, set up a website, and began a series of monthly informational radio spots on WFLO. One year, the monthly topics were compiled in a booklet that was sold at the spring plant sale.

And as if these ongoing educational activities weren’t enough, the group began a series of annual gardening symposia that featured high-profile local experts. The first event featured the ever-popular Richard Nunnally, who was the host of “Virginia Home Grown” and who also wrote a regular gardening column for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. His topic: “Oh, the Questions That People Ask!”

In a program co-sponsored by the Heritage Garden Club, Jenks Farmer, the South Carolina-based crinum grower and author of the book “Deep Rooted Wisdom” talked about how gardening wisdom used to be passed from one generation to another and how that wisdom is being lost now.

Plantsman Barry Glick discussed growing hellebores and other perennials. Several programs, including “Back to Nature in the Yard” and “Landscape and Water in Your Landscape,” have been cohosted with the Piedmont Soil and Water Conservation District.

For many years, the Heart of Virginia Master Gardeners group made regular donations of books, magazine subscriptions, and related items valued at more than $3,000 to the Buckingham, Cumberland, and Prince Edward libraries. They briefed local garden clubs about the donations and encouraged members to use these community resources.

After 20 years and more than 23,000 hours of volunteer work and encouragement of local gardeners, the Heart of Virginia Master Gardeners remain as enthusiastic as ever. They believe gardening is essential for understanding nature and our place in it.

As Carolyn Wells told a new group of Master Gardener trainees, “…you will learn the basics of how nature works as you become Master Gardeners, and in doing so, you will equip yourselves to help heal our planet from the decades of environmental insults it has sustained. Along the way, you will find delight in the wonder of nature’s intricacies; bring joy and peace to yourselves and to those with whom you share your knowledge. Enjoy the ride.”

Gardening has never been more important than it is today.

Happy anniversary to the Heart of Virginia Master Gardeners.