CULLMAN, Ala. – The Cullman County Master Gardener’s class recently finished a 14-week class full of learning and fellowship. The group came up with the idea for a beautification project outside of the Extension office to build together as their class came to an end. The designing of the project took about three weeks of meeting times to complete, starting with a few members before the whole class was involved.
Cullman County Extension Coordinator Kira Sims said, “They kind of designed it out and talked through how to maintain it and then I got a hold of the County and they said, ‘yeah go for it, that’d be great.’”
The plants were donated from member Richard Carpenter. The class poured mulch into the area surrounded by cement and planted liriope around the border to keep the mulch from spilling onto the pavement. They also planted caladium in the shaded areas under the crepe myrtle trees. The plants had to be low cost and low maintenance because of the limited access to water at the site of the project.
“It’s an opportunity for teamwork. It’s an opportunity for them to think through what plants will work,” said Sims. One of the things they had to think about is that the plants get morning sun but had to be plants that are adapted to some shade. Also, the soil is compacted and only goes about 18 in. deep.
For the class, the participants would attend an online zoom lecture in the mornings and in the afternoon, do hands-on activities. The students learned about propagation, herbicide, heard guest speakers and took field trips.
“Most folks get into it because they want to learn more about gardening; in particular, how to garden in Cullman County. We get people that are transplants that are coming from up north and say they don’t know anything about gardening here. A lot of them tend to be retired—not all of them—but we do have a fairly high retirement population, but they are usually educators or just want to learn. Then often times, they are very social. This is a social opportunity for them. This group in particular, they’ve kind of taken it upon themselves and every Thursday from here until July they will continue to meet at each other’s homes.”
The group has also learned about other topics from the members they met in the class. One member was experienced at winemaking, and another was a beekeeper, so the group was able to learn about much more than gardening from their time together.
Member Sonya Boyd said that the sense of community after Covid was what a lot of the members needed. “It was cool to come in and make 13 brand new friends from all different, interesting walks of life.”
The goal of the Master Gardener class is to get students certified as a Master Gardener. Part of the certification is to volunteer as well as being educated. The current group of students will get volunteer hours for their class project and applying their knowledge to the community.
The Extension also started a mentor program for the Master Gardeners this year. Sims said, “I paired them up with a current Master Gardener so each of them has their own mentor that they talk to throughout the three months of class. We had a luncheon to get them started and we had a luncheon to close it out, but one of the benefits they had was they had someone that was connected already. So, when they would go to the meetings, they knew somebody they could sit with.” Their mentors would answer any questions the new members may have about the class or their own gardens. “The benefits to that from our perspective with extension is it helps with retention. So, the more connected they feel, they more they are going to stay,” said Sims.
The next Master Gardener class that will be online only will begin in the fall. The in-person class will begin next spring with registration in early November.
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