Nancy Edmonds Hanson
Hungry for home-grown produce? The Master Gardeners have a deal for you. You can pick your own salsa fixings – free – at an unobtrusive garden waiting to ripen in downtown Moorhead … and, better yet, take advantage of a Clay County program designed to equip you to grow your own.
Alecia Hultgren and Lynne Flanders are two of the green thumbs who keep Moorhead growing. As graduates of the University of Minnesota’s 40-year-old Master Gardener program, they share their knowledge with the community in several garden plots around the city.
“The Master Gardeners’ mission is to connect people to the earth — to give them ideas, offer tips for better growing and perhaps inspire them to become master gardeners themselves,” Lynne explains.
Some, like Lynne, inherited their love of gardening from their families. She credits her grandmother’s gardens in the Twin Cities for inspiring her own love of the soil. Others, like Alecia, come to the volunteer program with a professional background, like her ten years as head grower with Bergen’s Greenhouses in Detroit Lakes.
Applicants complete a comprehensive course in nearly every phase of gardening either at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska or through a 16-week online course, the route both women followed. They’re considered interns for the first year afterwards. Only then do they earn certification as master gardeners – a designation maintained annually through at least 25 hours of local volunteering and five continuing education credits.
Their newest local project debuted last month at the ribbon-cutting for the new Clay County Joint Law Enforcement Center. Lynne and Alecia designed and planted the demonstration garden that greets visitors to the new facility. Besides brightening the landscape, the garden shows off a variety of perennials and annuals to inspire others who love to work the soil in their own yards, each variety labeled for newbies’ benefit.
The LEC garden is newest for the program, which Clay County extension agent Randy Nelson shepherds. Its first project, dating back 20 years, is just across the street in front of the county courthouse. Gardeners also tend plots at the Moorhead Library, Comstock House and other local beauty spots, often in cooperation with their master gardener cousins from Cass County, where North Dakota State University supports a similar program. They’ve also taken part in trials of new roses and grape varieties.
The Moorhead gardeners take special pride in their pair of public gardens flanking Fifth Street just north of the railroad tracks. On the east side, Lynne’s Salsa Garden perches in the southwest corner of the Scheel’s parking lot. She planted the vegetable patch with both education and eating in mind. As its produce ripens, passers-by are welcome to pick a rosy tomato, a pepper or two and a handful of fresh dill to take home to their own kitchens. They can also help themselves to plump beets, Moorhead’s vegetable of the year – another brainstorm of the gardening program. (Veggie lovers are invited to stop by the public library to vote on their favorite candidate for 2019.)
Across the street in Alecia’s Pollinator Garden, the dinner guests have wings and buzz for a living. “Bumblebees are our number one pollinator, followed by butterflies,” Alecia points out. The flat, open faces of old-fashioned blossoms that she and members of the Creative Clovers 4-H Club planted are perfect for the insects that pursue their nectar and pollen. Milkweed, echinacea, monarda (bee balm) and Joe Pye weed flourish there, along with annuals – zinnias, petunias, calendula and sunflowers.
Along with growing flowers and food, the Master Gardener program is devoted to raising an equally beneficial crop … more gardeners. Applications for 2019 are due by Oct. 1, with acceptance Dec. 1. The core course launched Jan. 1. For more information, contact Randy Nelson – (218) 299-7338. Information is also available online at claycountymn.gov/631/Master-Gardener.
Master Gardeners Share the Bounty
Nancy Edmonds Hanson