‘The landscape is starting to breathe’

Master Gardeners revitalizing Sportsman Lake Wildflower Garden

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Left to right are Cullman County Master Gardeners Gail Tidwell, Holly Hirsbrunner, Richard Carpenter, Lions Club Member Brad Mitchell, Robin Pruett and Bill Grimmett. (Several members involved in the project not pictured.) (Sara Gladney for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – The Wildflower Garden at Sportsman Lake was first started in 1991 by the Cullman Native Plant Society, which had an average of 30 members at the time. In recent years, because of a lack of tending, the Wildflower Garden has grown out of control. Membership in the Native Plant Society has dwindled, and most remaining members have aged out. One of the few remaining members, Nona Moon, was recently commended by the Cullman County Commission for her 31 years of service tending the Wildflower Garden and given a plaque placed at the entrance of the garden.

The Cullman County Master Gardeners got involved because the 2022 class of gardeners needed a community volunteer project to work on so each gardener could complete his or her 50 required hours of volunteer work. The 2022 class, along with previous classes, and the remaining members of the Native Plant Society will be working at the Wildflower Garden every Tuesday morning cleaning out invasive plants and revitalizing the area.

Master Gardener President Holly Hirsbrunner was the one who suggested the gardeners work at the Sportsman Lake Wildflower Garden. She said Cullman County Extension Office Coordinator Kira Sims has been pushing an initiative to start a mentoring program in which seasoned Master Gardeners mentor the new classes during community projects.

“I knew that this was looking worse and worse every single day,” said Hirsbrunner. “I got here to Cullman in ’89, and it was just glorious to walk through. They had the little signs, and you could tell it was well tended, but over the years the climate has changed, the temperament of this whole area has changed.”

The area is full of walking trails that have been crowded with overgrown plants. A sign donated from Birmingham Botanical Gardens landscape architect Jane Reed Ross shows the original designs for the garden, which covers 3 acres.

“The bones are still there, but as time went by, the club didn’t enlarge; it shrank. So they lost control of it, but they did a fantastic job for the few people that they had. The landscape is starting to breathe. We came alongside because we knew they needed help and we needed something to do with this talented group,” said Hirsbrunner.

Hirsbrunner is a Master Gardener from the class of ‘04 when the group only had a few members. Now the Master Gardeners club has grown exponentially. She hopes for another good group of gardeners to join the next class, so that after the current class learns the ropes, they will be able to mentor the new gardeners.

“We can get them involved in the volunteerism like this – taking care of something. This class will do this for a year under our mentoring, then they will mentor the next class and get them involved.”

The Wildflower Garden project will be an 18-month to two-year commitment and then will have to be regularly kept up.

The Master Gardeners welcome any volunteers who would like to join them Tuesdays at Sportsman Lake. Anyone interested can message the group on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Cullman-County-Master-Gardeners-190326854386185.

“We can tell you what to do if you don’t recognize the plants, but if you do recognize the plants, you can help us,” Hirsbrunner laughed.

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