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Master Gardeners celebrate 30 years in Georgia
University of Georgia

This fall marks the 30th anniversary of the Master Gardener program in Georgia, and Master Gardeners gathered recently to celebrate the occasion by volunteering their skills at the Gwinnett Environmental & Heritage Center, located near Buford.

"Once we decided to go ahead and make the celebration a workday, we put out a call for locations,” said Krissy Slagle, a program assistant for the University of Georgia Master Gardener program.

Kathy Parent, Master Gardener and UGA Cooperative Extension program assistant in Gwinnett County, suggested the Gwinnett center because it's a green space and a teaching facility about water.

"We were looking for a location that would represent collaboration between Cooperative Extension and other educational organizations in the county, and the GEHC was just what we were looking for. Water has been a critical issue for the metro areas and the whole state, and it probably will be even more so in the future. They have done a great job creating an interactive educational exhibit for all of the generations,” said Marco Fonseca, the program’s state coordinator.

With tools in hand, 60 Master Gardens volunteered their services to build raised beds at the center. Kids who participate in gardening programs at the center also helped.

In addition to the raised beds, several other projects were completed.

Shannon Pable, a Gwinnett County Master Gardener, led an effort to extend a bed that she created soon after the center opened. The award-winning Georgia Gems garden showcases UGA plant introductions. Donated plants were added to the area to showcase low-maintenance ones suited for Georgia landscapes.

Throughout the year, Master Gardeners volunteer at the center, which is a model for sustainable horticultural practices.

"They willingly give their time and energy to support the Gwinnett Environmental & Heritage Center, sharing their knowledge with the public at our educational programs through Earth Day events and the Junior Master Gardener program and donating their time to improve our landscape,” said Catherine Long, exhibit program coordinator at the GEHC.

As Master Gardeners look back over the past three decades, Fonseca says that understanding, protection and enhancement of urban natural ecology are the future of program.

“We know that sustainable garden and landscape practices are in the best interest of all of our communities, and it’s our job to share that with others and to pass it along to the next generation,” he said.

(April R. Sorrow is a science writer with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.)

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