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Master Gardeners — or MGers — Share More Than Just Green Thumbs

This article introduces you to a few Ohio County Master Gardeners (MGers).

When asked, “What do you like most about being a Master Gardener?” “Wild Liz” Harper quickly responded, “Camaraderie! People of the same mindset meeting together … How they challenge you. They offer so many programs concerning horticulture, beyond learning about plants and their care: rain barrels, what plants attract pollinators, gardening tools.”

The Schrader Environmental Education Center in Oglebay Park is a nexus of gardening and ecological activity. With cirector and naturalist Molly Check’s blessing, MGers develop The Butterfly Garden and a lecture series.

Janell Loh directs the Schrader Butterfly Garden of host plants for native butterflies and bees to feed and lay their eggs. Milkweeds for Monarchs; wild carrot leaves (aka Queen Ann’s lace), parsley, dill and fennel for Swallowtails. Cone flowers (Echinacea), asters, bee balm (Monarda), black-eyed susans (Rudbeckia) and columbine attract pollinators. In 2018, Janell initiated the West Liberty University pollinator garden, recruiting Dr. James Wood as faculty sponsor. Faculty, staff, students and volunteers are keeping the garden going.

The free Public Gardener Lecture Series (aka PUGLS) at the Schrader Center, is spear-headed by Marlene Ingram and Deb Messham. Possible topics are Straw Bale Gardening; Perennials, Pollinators and Planning; The Spotted Lantern Fly.

Along with door prizes and refreshments, Marlene said, “We may include a plant-swapping exchange.”

MGers have unique goals. For “Wild Liz”“My mission is to promote the food side of growing … For 15 years, I went around the state talking about edible wild plants to put in soup and on the table.” Liz credits her Monongalia HS biology teacher, Dr. Betty Quintana, for “teaching me how to forage in the woods.

“A weed is a plant the value of which we are ignorant,” said Liz. “In the spring, you have the dandelion … You don’t have to buy it, just pick the leaves. I eat the flowers too — not the bitter stems — by washing them very well and putting them in salad or cooked in eggs. One plant with eight leaves and the flower head has more vitamin C than three oranges!”

About the garden, Liz said, “I like the wild look. Pruning with a microscope and … cleaning the garden up for neatness’ sake is not a service to nature.

There are seasonal flowers in your yard that are planted by nature such as spring beauties, trillium, wild geraniums and honeysuckle. Oh, you gotta mention the asters! They have been planted by the birds — four types — medium purple, blue aster; late September, the autumn aster that is white. These are weeds! And they are great for the pollinators! I don’t mow them because they are protection for the birds. The seeds provide food, and the stalks and stems provide shelter. I don’t cut everything down. Usually, I leave everything standing for the birds during the winter.”

I asked MGer, Jean Palmer, how she get​s nearly everything to grow. “I use fish fertilizer; compost comprised of vegetable food, pruning scraps and mulch I work into the ground and I don’ t spray my plants,” she said. “I crowd my garden with plants so weeds don’t have room to grow.”

Like Liz, Jean is patient with plant “volunteers” that pop up in her garden.

“I just get fascinated with things growing; it feels so good just to watch them,” she said. “Even a weed just gets to you. They have a personality.”

Preserving Wild and Wonderful West Virginia by cultivating native plants in locations where they flourish with minimal chemicals are major goals.

For information about the Master Gardener Program, volunteer and tree planting opportunities, contact the WVU Extension Office at 304-234-3673 or ohiocountyextension@mail.wvu.edu.

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