Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Volunteers plant beauty at botanical garden

New Master Gardener Mariah Doyle-Stephenson put her skills to work for GBG
Sharon Walluk, left, and Peggy O'Neal are faithful volunteers, preparing and caring for the accessible flower beds
On a warm evening in early June, cars rolled into the UAF Georgeson Botanical Garden parking lot, one after the other. Volunteers emerged with sun hats, gardening gloves, and hand spades.

Their mission? To transform the garden in one fell swoop, planting the annual flower beds under the direction of GBG Director Pat Holloway. In preparation for the work party, Dr. Holloway and her staff had prepared maps for all the flower beds, designating where the 350 plant varieties would go. There are approximately two dozen plants of each variety.

While most trial gardens are arranged in block style with row upon row of the same type of plant growing together, Holloway prefers GBG to be more viewer friendly. “We found that people were interested in color combinations and what plants would work well together,” Holloway said. “It makes it a challenge.”

Every year the garden is different, with about one-third of the 350 plant varieties being new to GBG. Varieties are grown for three years, then new ones are brought in, so that researchers can determine the breadth of what can be grown in Alaska. The Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station publications office publishes variety trials for the garden at the end of each research season. The trend in this year’s garden is a profusion of one color in particular, Holloway noted. “There is lots of pink this year.”

With so much work to do in a short time, volunteers are essential to the garden’s success. Holloway has a small year-round staff and several student workers for the summers. She particularly expressed appreciation to the Master Gardeners for their efforts. “These people are one of the greatest groups of people,” she said. “They are knowledgeable and enthusiastic and interested in everything related to plants. They keep pushing their knowledge.”

In Fairbanks, Master Gardeners are trained by Michele Hebert, land resources agent for UAF Cooperative Extension Service. Students do forty hours of classwork, then give forty hours of volunteer time to the community. Topics covered include: botany, entomology, flower gardening, fruit and vegetable gardening, lawn care, organic gardening, pesticide use and safety, plant pathology, soils and fertilizers, tree and shrub care, and volunteerism.

The public is welcome at GBG, which is a research facility of the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences. The garden is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, with a $2 admission fee (children under age six get in free). Guided tours are given on Fridays at 2 p.m. from June to August. Please leave pets at home.

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