A passion for plants

The Master Gardeners are looking for a few good green thumbs – or, for anyone who wants to learn more and eventually share their knowledge with others.

The program, administered nationwide by Penn State Extension offices, soon will hold classes for its newest group of volunteers. Anyone who is interested should contact their county Extension office before Aug. 30.

“It’s not like you have to be an expert or have a perfect garden,” said Caroline Brady, of Loyalsock Township, who has been a Master Gardener for about two years.

There are some prerequisites, though.

You “just have to have a willingness, passion and dedication to undertake extensive training to become a Master Gardener, and then to be willing to share that gardening passion with others in a professional and diplomatic manner,” said Carol Loveland, coordinator of the Lycoming County program.

Weekly classes will be held from Oct. 3 through Feb. 27. A fee is required, and it pays for the cost of training materials and expenses. Students get to keep an extensive binder full of handouts.

In addition, Master Gardeners are expected to volunteer 50 hours to the program. A variety of opportunities ensure that each gardener easily will be able to fill a niche that suits them.

“I work the hotline every two weeks. If someone calls or emails or stops in at the office with a question,” I help them, said Barb Brodie, of Roaring Branch. She has been a Master Gardener since 2003.

In recent weeks, Brodie has been asked when is the best time to plant elderberry bushers and which varieties do well in the area.

“Someone else asked about her tomatoes that were (misshapen). She wanted to know what happened to them,” Brodie said. “I’ve also written newspaper articles, worked in schools. I love working with the kids.”

On Saturday, Master Gardeners fulfilled several of their volunteer hours by manning various booths at their Garden Fest or giving presentations.

“I have a table at First Friday and at the grower’s market,” Brady said. “It is a commitment, but you get to help people learn.”

Education is a key aspect of the Master Gardeners, whether they are helping someone else or learning about their own gardens, flowers and yards.

“When you find a Master Gardener, you find someone who … maybe they’ve never been a teacher, but they are natural-born teachers about the gardens and the flowers,” Brodie said.

“We’re all like sponges; we can absorb it as much as we want. And (Master Gardeners) want to share that part of us that loves to garden.”

Brodie learned about the program when she lived in New Jersey.

“I used to go to the Extension office to get information on what to do in my garden and I found out about it there,” she said, adding that after she had raised her children and moved to northcentral Pennsylvania, she decided to take the course.

“It’s not just learning how to take care of your garden, but others’ gardens as well,” she said.

Brady, who not long ago bought a new house, said her gardens still are works in progress.

“I love to be outside,” she said. “I get a sense of peace when I’m in my garden. It’s a quiet activity.”

One of her favorite flowers is the violet and she also likes roses, daisies and coneflowers. She likes sunflowers, too, but “this year the chipmunks ate them.”

“Gardens help with water management,” Brady said. “And, I really do think they make a house look better overall. Flowers just add so much.”

In Brodie’s yard, she has planted about 50 varieties of daylilies, 12 kinds of coneflowers and 15 species of hostas.

“I have a big yard,” she said.

Along with quantity, she has quality and actual year round color. In the winter time, the heather plant produces bell-shaped flowers in shades of red, purple, pink or white.

Even moss has a place in her yards.

“I have 14 different kinds of mosses growing in this place. I love it,” she exclaimed.

“I can’t paint on canvas, but I paint in my yard. So, I always have color to look at,” Brodie said.

Healthy plants often attract other shots of color in the form of birds and insects. Just a few days ago, goldfinches visited the feeders and bee balm grove at Brodie’s home.

“Migration is on if the goldfinches are moving,” she said.

She, like the other Master Gardeners, is a wealth of knowledge about plants and everything that is intertwined with them.

“It’s a wonderful program and it gives you confidence,” she said.

Though Brady has held the title of Master Gardener for two years, she still considers herself a student and enjoys learning and helping others learn. She encourages anyone with questions to attend a meeting.

“I think it’s good for people to be with their hands in the dirt,” she said. “I think everyone should have a piece of earth.”