Thursday, April 22, 2010

Graduation Day!

It's official . . . I am now a Master Gardener!  Last week we met for our last session and turned in our final exam (one of the toughest exams I've ever taken, and believe me, I've taken some hard ones).  After a potluck lunch to celebrate our hard work for the past 11 weeks, we had a mini-ceremony, complete with mortarboards . . . with insects glued on them (I chose a dragonfly).  We marched in procession into the meeting room to the tune of "Pomp and Circumstance" played by a kazoo orchestra made up of our instructors and active Master Gardeners.  A great way to top off weeks of hard work!

My head is so crammed full of gardening information that I'm not sure how much of it I could retrieve quickly. At the end of each session I felt as though I needed another memory chip in my brain. However, the excellent manual we used along with a spiral notebook full of class notes should help me find most answers I need in the future.
Here are just a few tidbits of information I learned that have stayed with me:

Bee on cosmos, August 2009

1.  "If you fill one side of a balance scale with all kinds of insect pests, and place a single bee on the other scale, the benefits of that one bee will outweigh the negative impact of all the others."  Our session on insects turned out to be one of my favorites, probably because of our enthusiastic instructor.  Although we spent almost the entire time on harmful insect, he was passionate about the benefits of pollinators.  Needless to say, the emphasis on pest control was to use natural controls.

2. Most forms of "nuisance wildlife" are protected by law in the state of Illinois (and no doubt many other states).  A permit is required to trap and remove these animals from your own property. Songbirds and migratory birds, including Canadian geese, are further protected by federal law.  So, had I tried to trap these two geese that were frequent visitors to our yard recently or found an egg and destroyed it, technically, I could have been prosecuted.  No such liability exists for pets, however, which is a good thing because I haven't seen these two since Sophie chased them across the field one day.  (No, she didn't hurt them, but I think they might have had heart palpitations after the experience.)

3. Voles, fortunately, are not protected by law, so a homeowner can take measures to eradicate them without fear of prosecution.  I will remember this because in my first stint as a volunteer answering the helpline in the Extension Office one day, the only phone call I received was about voles.  After researching the manual for an answer, my mentor gave me the best advice to share with the caller:  Set mousetraps baited with peanut butter mixed with oatmeal.  Or, place chewed up bubblegum near their holes, which will wreak havoc with their digestive systems.  Both much easier methods than the technical suggestions I found in books.

4. The class on soils was surprisingly interesting, too.  Besides learning about the geological forces that created soils and soil composition, we learned that this area has some of the richest soil in the world.  Okay, actually I already knew that part, but I just have to brag a little about Central Illinois:)

5. From our tree expert came this advice about selecting trees:  "Plant whatever your neighbors don't have!"  His point was actually about diversity--with the loss of trees caused by Dutch Elm disease in the 50's and 60's and now the Emerald Ash borer, which is coming closer and closer to our area, it's wise to plant a variety of trees so that future threats don't wipe out an entire tree population.

I doubt that any of my neighbors have a pussywillow tree like mine:)

6.  Speaking of trees, the section on plant pathology, or plant diseases, was pretty scary.  I find I can't walk past a stand of pine trees now without wondering if that dead branch means the tree has pine wilt, which will eventually cause the tree to die.   Of particular interest to me was the discussion on cedar-apple rust and apple scab, Venturia inaequalis. Last year my flowering crabs didn't bloom as fully as in the past, the leaves wilted and dropped over the summer, and a few blooms strangely appeared in August.    I talked to the instructor about the symptoms, and she said apple scab was a possibility.  Her best advice was to plant newer disease-resistant cultivars nearby so that they could eventually replace the older, diseased ones.

Crabapple blooms made a brief appearance last week before the winds blew away their delicate blossoms.

Dark pink and light pink blooms covered the trees, which looked pretty healthy this year.

All the flowering crabs were planted 20 -30 years ago, so I don't know any of the cultivars.  This white crabapple, though, has never shown any signs of disease, and its profuse blooms last longer than those of the pink varieties.

I would hate to lose any one of these trees, so I'm hoping the instructor's diagnosis is wrong.  Just the same,  I am going to be vigilant about watching these trees all summer.

The last weekend in March the local Master Gardeners chapter sponsored a two-day program on campus, "Spring into Gardening."  Although it wasn't part of our instruction and was an optional activity, I did attend and am glad I did.  The two featured speakers on Saturday were Joe Lamp'l, better known as Joe Gardener on PBS' "Garden Smart" and Rosalind Creasy, author of Edible Landscaping: Now You Can Have Your Gorgeous Garden and Eat it, Too.  Smaller breakout sessions also featured well-known speakers and gave me many ideas for choosing new shrubs and ideas for garden design and problem-solving.  Friday's session was a very entertaining presentation on landscape design by a well-known local professor.  To get us all to think about seeing our gardens in three dimensions, he had each of us design a small garden using Play-doh.

Here's my new daylily bed!  I thought it looked pretty amateurish, but this photo of my design was featured on our local MG Facebook page.

Now that the classroom part is over, there is still more work to be done. The mission of the Master Gardener program is to help others learn about gardening, and  we are required to complete 60 hours of volunteer work within our first year.  Until then, I am actually an MG intern.  Thirty hours must be spent in the Extension Office manning the help hotline, which is where I learned so much about voles.  Ten hours must be spent in Community Service, and I'll get a start on that today.  Another classmate and I are giving a presentation to an adult daycare facility to help them celebrate Earth Day. My friend is focusing on vegetables, and I'll be concentrating on flowers, with a slide show of blooms, butterflies, and bees from my garden.  Thanks to Sherry for kindly sending me some great photos of spring birds to add to the show.  Afterwards, we're going outside to do some planting.  I hope the group enjoys the presentation.

Active MG's gave us a tour of the Idea Garden one day before class.

The remaining 20 hours of volunteer time will be spent in the Idea Garden, and I'm really excited about this after admiring this garden the past few years.  The "newbies" are in charge of the annual color garden, but we are also encouraged to help in other parts of the Garden as well.  I chose the Sensory Garden, so you'll probably be hearing a lot about this section in coming months.  I've already spent a few hours helping out with clean-up there, and I've discovered another benefit to working in the Garden--leftover or divided plants at dirt cheap prices! Yesterday I came home with some lambs' ears and valerian. 

In all this, I haven't even mentioned another benefit of the program--meeting so many wonderful people who share a love of gardening.  Not only have I made lots of new friends, I'm going to be working side by side with some very experienced gardeners.  The learning is just beginning . . .

Wishing everyone a Happy Earth Day, and a special greeting to my mother who turns 80 years young today.  Happy Birthday, Mom!


  1. Ooooooooh, wonderful pictures..... all of it, especially the blossom. Such clear colours.
    Congratulations!!!!!!! You have done well. And I love your design made of playdough. Something about the combination of colours, I think!

    Happy Birthday to Mom!

    Nuts in May

  2. Congratulations! Very exciting, I enjoyed reading about some of your new found knowledge, though we will have to debate about that soil. I think central Indiana has better soil. And I love your Play-Doh garden. I want one!

  3. Congrats Rose. MG classes does open a lot of doors. You will be a great presenter. Your knowlege and teaching ability and love of people will translate into a great program. I wish I could attend. The playdough garden is cute. Now you know how you can get your Grands involved in gardening through playdough.

  4. Congrats Rose!! I know you will have a great year fulfilling your hours. I find it interesting how different states (and localities) differ on requirements for MG interns. To give you the structure to get your hours in three places is interesting. Time will fly by!
    Being riddled with voles here I can tell you the peanut butter on mouse traps is a good way to rid the area for a short time. Their litters are large and they can repopulate an area in a small amount of time. To protect inidividual plants you can line the hole with permatill (sharp shards) or use hardware cloth and make a basket for the rootball. Unfortunately hard to help out those existing plants.
    Love your playdoh landscape plan. Great idea to see it in 3-D

  5. Congrats on finishing your program Rose. I enjoyed reading all those interesting tidbits.

    Unfortunately I have forgotten a lot that I learned while in the horticulture program at school.

    I like your play dough bed. I can see why they put it on MG facebook.

  6. Congratulations Rose!! You've learned a lot of great information and the program sounds like fun too. I love the Play Doh garden. Most of all your magnificent Crabapples trees. They are beautiful.

  7. Rose, I posted a comment, and in sending, it appeared to go to cyberspace, but I must try again and offer congratulations! I can hear your enthusiasm and am so excited about this great accomplishment.

    Your photos of the trees and the bee are stunning. Our Malus 'Prairifire' are just now blooming and on fire. ;)

    As for the moles, voles and holes we have throughout our garden... I used to get so upset when they churned a new bed I had completed; and too much money has been spent on oils, vibrators... that do little or nothing. I think a hungry cat is the answer. ;)

    P.S. I love your playdough garden!

  8. Hi Rose, your crab apple tree photos are beautiful. We got to see the cherry blossoms and the dogwoods in the south on many blogs, but they are not any lovelier than our crab apples.

    I like your daylily garden design.

    I'm really surprised your instructor told you to use peanut butter in a trap anywhere outside. Woodpeckers and other birds and squirrels would be attracted to the peanut butter and killed. That is probably why the manuals don't (and should not) mention it. Even dogs and cats are attracted to peanut butter.

  9. Congrats to you on being a MG! Someday, I will take this class! Rose your photos are lovely~What a treat it must be to travel in and out of your driveway~the flowering trees are wonderful! The play-doh garden design is so much fun and what an interesting idea...must try it. I think it might be perfect for kinesthetic learners! xxgbail

  10. ps I see my name is now spelled with a b! gail

  11. Happy Birthday to your Mom! And CONGRATS CONGRATS CONGRATS to you on becoming a MG. This is a very informative post about all you learn. It really is a very worthy class! I do hope your crabs don't succumb. They are gorgeous! You have a wonderful day...with your mom of course! 80 years young is a feat!!

  12. Congratulations, Rose, on completing what sounds like a very heavy course. It would seem you've retained the instruction very well. Your photos are beautiful!

  13. Congratulations on your accomplishments in Master Gardening! You never cease to amaze me with our thirst for knowledge.

    Happy Birthday to Mom…

  14. Congratulations! What an accomplishment! Your advice is so good. I like the tip about planting a tree that your neighbors do not have because it lends to more visual variety in the landscape :-)

  15. Congratulations on the graduation, Rose! Wow! That was a very informative post and interesting too. I see studying gardening can be fun!

  16. What a happy, happy post, dear Rose! A big hug and squeeze to your mom and the same to you for going through this program. You are the best advertisement for joining, meeting others who love gardening, learning useful info, loved the bee fact! and getting to work in public spaces. All good. :-)
    ps, the play doh is a masterpiece

  17. You've reached a real milestone, congratulations. Your newfound expertise lies in your notebook and at online extension sites, so don't worry about trying to remember so much at once. It's all written somewhere.

    Happy Birthday to your Mother. She must be very proud of you.

  18. Rose, I am sooo proud of you. Not just for completeing the course(which I knew you would do) but for getting out there,enjoying your retirement, doing things you have always wanted to do , and finding new things to become passionate about. I think you are twice as busy as you were when teaching and raising a family, but you are having such a great time at it.

    The trees are beautiful this year. Last year was such a disappointment but they are more than making up for it now. I think it was just cold rainy weather last year combined with a late frost that caused the loss of leaves.

    You know the best thing about you being a Master Gardener? I have my very own expert!

  19. Rose, congratulations! Your MG program sounds excellent (and frankly, a lot better than mine). I would love to have such a beautiful Idea garden to help with (I remember your photos of it from a while ago). I also have to say your crabapples are gorgeous. I would really love to have one of them. But I'd prefer if they were already mature like yours. :-)

  20. Congratulations! I look forward to becoming a Master Gardener too one day. I think the plant pathology information sounded very interesting and important!

  21. Congrats on passing the Master Gardener exam Rose!! That's very impressive. I enjoyed reading the excerpts of what you learned ~ planting different trees than your neighbors is great advice. We have so many Aspen in our neighborhood and they're all being affected by something?? Anyway, if they all get wiped out, it will be similar to what happened with the Elms. :-(
    Also I wish some migratory birds weren't protected by Federal law ~ like starlings!! They've been driving me nuts this year there are so many of them and they are driving away the birds I really do want in my yard.
    I sure hope your crab apples stay healthy. They are just beautiful.

  22. Stunning picture of the flowers, will definitely make my day. Keep posting.

  23. Maggie, I changed my template design, and somehow being able to make the photos larger makes them look better. I always loved playing with Play-doh:)

    Carol, Maybe you and your designer could still experiment with play-doh! I think we Illini and Hoosiers have a lot of common, even dirt, but we don't like to admit it:)

    Lisa, Thank you for those kind words! My granddaughter was impressed by my Play-doh model, but when I explained the short green in front was supposed to be irises, she insisted it was grass:)

    Janet, Thank you! I took the class for my own knowledge, but the volunteering part is turning out to be fun and a learning experience as well. Your suggestions about voles are just what we were taught! It's no doubt the best for long-term removal.

    Susie, I forgot a lot of each lesson right after I finished the test:) But I had absolutely no background in horticulture, so this was a great way for me to get a good basic education.

    Sweet Bay, Thanks. I love my crabapples, too, and I have to show them off each spring. I only wish the blooms would last longer.

  24. Congratulations!Sounds fantastic and making new friends along the way is so lovely :)

  25. Dear Rose.....first and most importantly, happy birthday Rose's Mum.

    Congratulations Rose, so very well done. You are indeed one of life's scholars. You have my utmost respect.....
    Lovely to make new gardening friends as well. It is good to learn from the experiences of others.

    Your trees are absolutely stunning very beautiful.
    A wonderful feature.

    Have a wonderful weekend....and once again, so very well done.

  26. Congratulations!! Can't wait to hear what else you've learned! Too bad you can't do your volunteer hours answering questions from bloggers; I have lots :)

  27. Diana, 'Prairiefire' is one of the disease-resistant cultivars recommended here, too. They're beautiful. Actually, I have my own vole patrol--the cats and Sophie are the best:)

    Marnie, I should have added your comments to this post--you're absolutely right about the traps. The instructor added that putting some type of mesh over the traps is a good idea for protecting the birds and other animals. I know a yard full of mousetraps with Sophie and the cats here would be a disaster. For me, they're all the vole control I need:)

    Gail, I'm not good at spatial relations (ask Beckie), so the play-doh really was a great way for me to see a design in 3-D. "Gbail" has a nice ring to it:)

    Tina, I think I would cry if these crabs died! Thanks for the birthday wishes--my Mom is pretty amazing and has more energy than I do!

    Nancy, The class was a lot of work but so enjoyable at the same time. And best of all, I know I'm going to use this information!

    Skeeter, I would be a "professional student" if I could:)

    Noelle, It is a great idea, isn't it. Our instructor recommended a little-known tree that he has, but when I googled it, I found it was sooo expensive!

    Chandramouli, Learning is fun! Especially when you don't have much background knowledge, which I didn't.

    Dirty Girl, Thanks!

    Frances, I signed up just to improve my knowledge. All the rest turned out to be unexpected benefits. The trick will be if I can transfer this learning into my own garden:)

    NellJean, Thank you, and you're so right. I've already searched through my manual and my notes several times since class ended. And when I don't know something, I know where to look!

    Beckie, I don't think I'm nearly as busy as I was when working full-time; I just wear out faster:) I always wondered what I would do when I retired--gardening has become the answer!

    Jean, Yes, I've noticed that not all MG programs are the same. I love my crabapples, too, and am so glad my MIL planted them years ago.

    Rose, I hope you find time to take the MG class one day--well worth it! I thought I would be the oldest class member, but to my surprise, most of the class was my age or older. It's hard to find the time for something like this when you have a young family and are working full-time.

    Kathleen, There are so many diseases that can affect trees, it's kind of scary. Don't worry--starlings, pigeons, and house sparrows aren't protected by law. So you can do what you want to get rid of those pesky starlings without worrying about going to jail:)

    Ann, Thank you! The photos still don't do justice to the pretty crabapples.

  28. Congratulation Rose on earning your Master Gardener certification. :)

  29. Congratulations Rose! I took the course 5 years ago but we didn't have a difficult final exam at all - it was much fun and I learned so much; the community service aspect was great. I focused on working with children and seniors. I'm no longer active, but maybe I should rethink(?).

    I'm going to try the chewing gum method with my vole "friends." The peanut butter, bird seed, poison combo that I place in their tunnels has not worked very well - so far the best method in our garden is to place the shrill solar stakes in a defensive mode - basically trying to get them to go "out" of the garden, rather than "in." Harbor Freight carries them - $15 per unit. I'm also trying increase my tolerance level; it's hard, because we are in the 5th year of "battle."

    Great post and wonderful photos - your orchard is magnificent!

  30. Rose girl I am late getting here (sorry .. my head has been deep in my garden ? LOL)
    Well done YOU : )
    Your pictures are simply gorgeous Rose .. and I also hope you don't have any of the horrible diseases on those stunning trees .. they are so beautiful : )
    I want to thank you for commenting on my post about this ridiculous competition thing on Blotanical .. if it really starts, I am leaving .. much too stressful for me and I simple am disgusted by it to tell the truth .. so I appreciate your thoughts very much girl : )
    Yes .. too much information is floating in your head and it is difficult to settle it in an organized fashion yet .. but it will and you will be a terrific Master Gardener !!

  31. Congratulations, rose! What a wonderful experience too.

    I rather like the idea of a playdoh garden scheme. I think that could be helpful.

    But I'm a bit worried about the voles and what chewed-up bubblegum will do to them. it sounds a bit cruel!

  32. Congratulations, Rose! I've asked about joining a (potential) class this coming Fall. Hope it works out! :-) I'm going to print your post, if you don't mind. You have provided a lot of helpful information!

  33. Hi dear Rose, now you're not technically a master gardener until you've completed your volunteer hours, LOL! So glad they made such a fuss over your graduation... ours was really lame in comparison. Still, 6 years later, I'm still an active master gardener, so something must have been done right, LOL! Hadn't heard of the problem with crabs... hope it doesn't hit here. We're still reeling from emerald ash borer which took out all our ashes.

  34. Wow, a wonderful post filled with plentiful exciting news, dear Rose. Congratulations on MG graduation! Your apple blossom photos are amazing ...

  35. Awesome post, Rose! I always wondered what subject are given during a mg class. How interesting! I love your crabapples, ohhh, how I wish for mine to look like yours.

  36. Rose congratulations!!
    I could never keep it all in my head. Getting too old and forgetful. I bet it was fun. I like the playdough garden. That is a good idea. Your trees are just so gorgeous with all of those blooms. Wow!
    Congrats again!

  37. Suburbia, Yes, the new friends made were an unexpected benefit.

    Cheryl, I don't know that I'm a scholar:) But I do enjoy learning new things, which is also supposed to keep your brain healthy! Yes, I love my flowering crabs.

    Diane, I've learned almost as much from other bloggers as I have from my classes!

    Racquel, Thank you.

    Amy, The final exam really was hard! Sounds like you have had much more experience than I with those pesky little voles.

    Joy, If you and Nancy hadn't posted about Blotanical, I wouldn't have even known what was going on. Yes, my brain is on overload right now:)

    Liz, The bubblegum probably does mean a cruel death...but then, if you've had voles kill your prize plants, you might feel a little cruel:)

    Shady, Do sign up!! I was worried about the time involved, but once I got started, I found I enjoyed it so much and could "make" time. Glad to have been of help!

    Monica, I do hope I can stay an "active" after this year. But so far, working in the Idea Garden has been so much fun, I don't think I'll have too much problem keeping up with the hours. Sorry to hear about your ash trees! Our time may be coming, I'm afraid.

    Joey, Thanks! I always look forward to seeing the crabapples each spring.

    Dawn, I had no idea when I signed up just what we would be studying either, but it was all very helpful.

    Lona, I doubt you're as old as I am:) That's what notes are for:)

  38. Congratulations! I went through the MG classes several years ago, as I was planning to landscape the house I just bought and didn't have a clue what I was doing. Isn't it fun to be connected with so many kindred spirits?

    Happy B-day to Mom, too! Fun celebrations for both of you! :)

  39. Rose, this is my second time to visit this particular post. The first time, I didn't have enough time to soak it all up and I didn't want to miss one word or photo.

    Congratulations on officially being a Master Gardener. You make your fellow bloggers proud.

    Your tidbits of info were so informative that I've saved them.

    Never would have guessed that you were so talented with Play-doh. Because of Phillip, I've spent endless hours squishing the stuff. It feels therapeutic to me.

    My time at the computer has been limited because of helping my parents out with some health issues. They live about an hour away which makes it more difficult. So....if I'm slow to leave comments you'll know why. I hate to miss even one of your posts.


  40. Rose, congratulations on your new status and welcome to the ranks! I know you'll be a valuable and enthusiastic contributor to your MG group.

    LOVE that picture of the bee on the cosmos.


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