19 on way to becoming Master Gardeners

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Special to the News-Herald

It’s not unusual for the Suffolk Master Gardeners to focus on growing plants, especially this time of year. But, this spring they have also been busy growing the organization.

Nineteen students recently completed an intensive two-month training course through thehorticulture program, which operates through the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service and Virginia Tech.

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The graduates were recognized at a special ceremony and reception last month in the extension offices in the Human Resources Building on Market Street. Although they won’t be certified as Master Gardeners until they complete a 50- hour internship consisting of community service and hands on training, they have completed the first major step of the requirements to become Master Gardeners.

These 19 interns are well on their way to completing their additional hours and their certification. Describing the group, Nancy Marslender, president of the Suffolk Master Gardeners, noted that they were a wonderful, studious group.

&uot;Two students had even taken the horticulture classes at Tidewater Community College but felt they needed to take the Master Gardener training for the hands on learning,&uot; said Marslender. &uot;Since we are the only unit that offers classes at night, it gave those who work during the day the opportunity to take the course.&uot;

The interns have diverse backgrounds. Some are homemakers, retirees, a mammography technician, college professor, police officer, probation officer, a teacher, and even two landscape designers. All have the desire to know more about gardening.

One of the graduates, Alex Baxter, a negotiator at Northrop Grumman Newport News Shipbuilding, recalled his youth on the family farm.

&uot;I grew up on a tobacco farm in South Boston, and my uncle was a professor of plant pathology at Virginia Tech, so I think a love of gardening was in my blood,&uot; said Baxter. &uot;I read all I could about gardening, but when I found out that the Suffolk Master Gardeners offered a class at night, I knew I had to sign up. I was overwhelmed with how much goes in to educating the public. The speakers knew their material, and if you paid attention, you were sure to learn something. The group as a whole is so supportive, and their enthusiasm is infectious.&uot;

Another graduate, Sandra Smith, explained that taking the classes at night allowed her to explore her hobby.

&uot;I have always loved to be involved in yard work and gardening but did it by the seat of my pants,&uot; she explained. &uot;I came to work in Suffolk three and a half years ago in Probation and Parole. There is a lot of crime and drug activity with many families involved in the criminal system for generations. Through all the bad I have seen a city that wants change, and I wanted to be a part of that change. Working with growing things and knowing I can make a plain bed come alive with different plants and trees helps me be sane in an insane world. Gardening is my way of letting go of stress and bettering myself and hopefully my fellow man. I think if people would just stop sometimes and look at the beauty around them, their lives would be better.

&uot;I sure enjoyed the class, and I learned that, although it taught me a lot, I still have a lot to learn. Now I have a great network of fellow gardeners, and hopefully my tomatoes will be better this year.&uot;

Students who received certificates for completing the course included: Arthur Allmond, Ernestine Baggett, Judy Baldwin, Sharon Basso, Alex Baxter, Anne Bender,

Yvette Fields, June Gibbs, Nita Holt, Karen Houdek, Donna Nill, Joan Parr, Colette Reeves, Billy Rountree, Ed Shelton, Sandra Smith, Joe Talley, Judy Walsh, and Vickie Worley. In addition to classroom instruction, students took field trips to the Norfolk Botanical Gardens, the Agricultural Research and Extension Center on Diamond Springs Road in Virginia Beach, Smithfield Gardens, and a fruit tree farm in Chesapeake. They also worked on a variety of projects to give them hands on experience.

The Suffolk Master Gardeners Association works within the Suffolk community to encourage and promote environmentally sound horticultural practices. They participate in many projects benefiting the community, including designing and planting the Learning Garden at the Human Resources Building, the raised beds at Morgan Memorial Library, the Ready Set Grow program conducted in Suffolk elementary schools, a planned children’s garden at Sleepy Hole Park, the GrowLine (923-2055), where the public can call to get expert gardening advice, installing landscaping for the Habitat for Humanity houses in Suffolk and much more. There are currently more than 80 Master Gardeners in Suffolk, and in 2003, these individuals contributed a total of 5,886 hours of service to the community in Suffolk.

For more information about the Suffolk Master Gardeners, call the Virginia Cooperative Extension office at 923-2051.