COLUMN: Celebrating in the Wundergarten – Gardener roots


How do we thank those who have taken the raw, sandy soil of the Cullman countryside and turned it into an Eden? One hundred-fifty years ago, the area’s visionary founder, Colonel Cullman, aptly predicted the sandy, pine-studded hills would become “The Garden Spot of America.”

Yesterday, it was my great honor to walk and work the Woodlands and Wildflower Garden at Sportsman Lake, with real-life gardening legend Nona Moon. When you visit this garden, look for the bright red Welcome Arbor, and through all four seasons, you’ll see the generous contribution Ms. Moon and her beautiful bouquet of “flower friends” and volunteers gave to this thriving place where I was inspired to write the folktale “WUNDERGARTEN.”

This week in the Woodlands and Wildflower Garden, you’ll smell the fragrant Fringe trees, hear the running brook, see trillium and Jack-in-the-Pulpit in the shady woods and lots of butterflies and blooms in the sun-blessed area. Last year, Cullman County Parks and Recreation erected a sign at the entrance which thanks Nona Moon for 31 years of digging-in-the-dirt, big-hearted community volunteer commitment.

Ms. Moon and her potting pals, like gifted gardener Maude Rutledge, planted, cleared pathways, sometimes prayed for rain, and other times prayed for sunshine. Ms. Rutledge’s daughter, Beth Glasscock, is a close friend of mine, and I’ve heard her talk of the many mornings Maude would join Ms. Moon and a small corps of their friends to magically transform barren plots into blossoming beauty.

Their gardening legacy planted seeds of inspiration which spread beyond Cullman County. Today’s active gardeners are building on a glorious past. In this time-weaving way, we all can transcend history while creating something fresh, vital and new. Nona Moon and her friends cleared a path for present-day gardeners and anyone reading this is invited to help us add joy with future paths.

YOU ARE INVITED: “Weekly Weeders” are welcome in the Woodlands and Wildflower Garden at Sportsman Lake. You will be guided by a Cullman County Master Gardener. Please join us any Tuesday, 10 a.m.-noon. Just bring your garden gloves, a bottle of water, a hand tool and a joyful spirit.

GARDENER ROOTS How do we thank them? Yesterday, two of my fellow, Cullman County Master Gardeners, Sheila Scott and Sue Livingston, greeted Nona Moon back to “her garden,” and we were joined by five, adult clients of the Cullman County Center for the Developmentally Disabled, and their “can do” counselor, Shannon Calhoun.

Nona, whom I had invited to come share her thoughts on our revitalization efforts, was hugely appreciative seeing her gardening legacy lovingly moved forward. She arrived donning garden gloves and carrying hand tools. Nona shared her enthusiasm for the many plants she and her friends had planted and fussed over. She regaled us with stories about the rewards and challenges of working with nature.

As we looked at some tall trees that were felled by strong winds last month, Nona reflected on a lovely Japanese-style bridge her husband, Bud, had created to span a creek. Like a horror fantasy from a Brothers Grimm story, or crisis in the “WUNDERGARTEN” folktale, Bud’s bridge had been destroyed by a giant, uprooted tree. However, “The Unsinkable Nona Moon” quickly moved from this discouraging memory to swooning positivity about the new Korean-style bridges constructed and installed by the building science students from the Cullman Area Technology Academy, ably directed by their terrific instructor, Mike Burkett.

Even though I somehow achieved the certification as an Alabama Master Gardener (a statewide program sponsored by Alabama Cooperative Extension System), I am far from one of the “greats.” Nona and all laughed when I told them I feared getting fined for impersonating a gardener, as I showed them my new Wal-Mart gardening gloves, stamped with the braggish branding “Expert Gardener.” Yeah, right.

Cullman County Master Gardeners do indeed have a number of great plants people whom we should honor for our deep “GARDENER ROOTS.” Fearing risk of omitting some, here are just a few I am sending this “THANK YOU” message of gratitude:

DONNIE and PETE DOUTHIT/PAT and DON NELSON These “gardening stars” deserve a “Lifetime Achievement Award” like the Oscars give to film stars. When you see all the gorgeous daylilies, irises and numerous other blossoms punctuating the Cullman countryside and the honeybees thriving, there’s a good chance these four folks have aided that natural beauty.

LINDA SCHAFFNER diplomatically, steadfastly worked with City of Cullman Mayor Don Green and others to create the Master Gardeners Demonstration Garden. Many of us have planted and weeded in the “Demo Garden” (a bit south of the Weiss Cottage next to the railroad tracks), but it was Ms. Schaffner who plowed it forward to reality.  This ever-blooming “oasis of color” has already given residents and visitors years of enjoyment and promises many more.

TERESA GOODWIN adds her gardening expertise throughout the county from her proud Garden City roots. Teresa is a “Cullman County Master Gardener of the Year” and has been especially contributing in her efforts to keep the “demonstration garden” vital and thriving.

PHIL GATLIN, now deceased, was my Master Gardener mentor, bless his heart, and he was also such a positive, can-do cheerleader for the group. Cheerful, hard-working Phil left some big, muddy gardening boots to fill.

MAGGIE WALSH, BILLY TATE and MARILYN WILLIAMS have served at separate times to keep Cullman County Master Gardeners operating in an orderly and efficient manner.

PAT SHARPTON has been a peace-making leader during divisive times and is a familiar face of the POP (Power of Produce) fun at the Festhalle Farmers Market. This former school administrator is the teacher you think may be really tough and then is so nurturing she becomes a favorite. IMOGENE HAMILTON has also been an understanding leader with a steady “voice of reason”—and a delightful sense of humor and fun.

VANDA ANTAILLIA and MILLIE EVERS Such skillful and knowledgeable gardening enthusiasts, they both taught parts of the Master Gardening training.

SONYA BOYD, RICHARD CARPENTER, HELEN DUNN, BRAD MITCHELL, SUE LIVINGSTON, TERI MOBLEY and SHEILA SCOTT are “new kids on the block” from the CULLMAN COUNTY MASTER GARDENER class of 2022 but have already been contributing in the transition of the Woodlands and Wildflower Garden which had become a Sleeping Beauty, and with plant sales and other volunteer gardening roles.

SUSAN ROGERS and STEFANIE LIGHT Speaking of plant sales, they just led the group to another super success with last week’s “Spring Plant Sale” and the dynamic duo have a great track record of such successes.

MICHELE POWELL, HULON NUNN, SARA GILBREATH, VANESSA JOHNSON, RENEE LAMAR, JOHN LYNCH, LORA RALEY, GAIL TIDWELL and MIKE O’LAIRE can grow about anything and are often key to the success of both plant sales and community planting projects.

ELLEN HALL is a gifted gardener/writer/photographer (published in Birds and Blooms Magazine) who has been the “communications hub” of the organization since Mark Twain was a cub reporter.

HOLLY HIRSBRUNNER, BILL PEINHARDT and RACHEL DAWSEY are what I consider to be the “spirit of the organization.” These tireless, talented “do-gooders” keep Cullman County Master Gardeners doing lots of good and adding bushels of beauty throughout the town and countryside.

EVERETT WIER passed away last year, which took some sunshine away. I’m not sure I’ve ever met someone more genuinely caring about his fellow gardeners and our community. Regardless of who starts our meeting with the Sunshine Report and then the “Master Gardener Prayer,” it is still Everett’s dear voice we hear deliver these words:

“Like a tree, I must be pruned of a lot of dead branches before I will be ready to bear good fruit. Think of changed people as trees who have been stripped of their old branches; pruned, cut, and bare. But through the dark, seemingly dead branches, flows silently, secretly, the new sap, until with the sun of spring comes new life. There are new leaves, buds, blossoms and fruit, many times better because of pruning. Remember, I am in the hands of a Master Gardener, who makes no mistakes in His pruning.”

HATS OFF to all these Cullman County “gardening greats” from the long service of Nona Moon to the current group of gung-ho interns in the Extension’s Master Gardener class of 2023! HATS OFF and now SLEEVES ROLLED for more gardening greatness as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Colonel Cullman’s vision for this “Garden Spot of America!”

CELEBRATING IN THE WUNDERGARTEN -This storytelling culinary series imagines tasty, traditional foods from the recipe box our heroine, Frau Ruehl, brought with her from Germany when she relocated to present-day Cullman County, Alabama. The widowed farmer and gardener would have proudly ladled this hearty garden-to-table soup from her cherished, heirloom tureen.




  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 1 parsnip root
  • 1 parsley root
  • 1 onion
  • 4 medium carrots
  • 1 leek
  • 4 potatoes
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1/2 small celery root
  • 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 garlic clove
  • Salt to taste
  • Large, non-stick baking sheet


  1. Pre-heat oven to 395F.
  2. Wash all vegetables and peel the potatoes, parsnip, carrots and onion.
  3. Cut veggies into four then dice into big chunks.
  4. Layer the veggies on large, non-stick baking tray; add the herbs, drizzle the oil and sprinkle some salt. Mix well using your hands.
  5. Bake for about 45 minutes or until veggies are roasted. Meanwhile, bring pot of water to a boil.
  6. Remove veggies from oven then remove sprigs.
  7. Transfer vegetables to large pot and cover with boiling water.
  8. Bring to a boiling again and boil for 10 more minutes.
  9. Turn heat off and leave to cool for 5-10 minutes.
  10. Use a blender to puree the vegetables in the same pot. Start on low for a couple of minutes, then increase to the highest setting until soup is smooth. Add hot water to get the desired consistency, bit by bit, while continuing to blend.


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