BY LEANN DILBECK –
If you’ve ever enjoyed the landscape at Mena’s historic depot, or the beautiful Memorial Rose Garden at the Polk County Court House, you are admiring the talents and volunteer effort of the Polk County Master Gardeners, who are responsible for much of the beautification efforts in and around Mena.
The University of Arkansas Master Gardeners has been active in Arkansas for 29 years. Of Arkansas’ 75 counties, 67 have county Master Gardner programs. Polk County received its charter in 2000 with 25 founding members.
Master Gardeners sponsor events in a wide range of activities including educational seminars and workshops, youth gardening programs, plant therapy work with hospitals and nursing homes, community beautification projects all helping to disseminate horticulture information.
Many people have a talent for gardening but to hold the title of Master Gardener requires additional effort in training and volunteer service. As a first year Master Gardener, you are required to attend 40 hours of training, pay a membership fee, and volunteer 40 hours to Master Gardener sanctioned projects. The requirement drops to 20 hours of education the second year forward.
Josh Yates, agent for the local Extension Office, explained that while the Polk County Master Gardener group has dwindled in membership, they still make a significant impact for the local community. “The Master Gardeners, even with our small group, bring about $35,000 in economic value to the county in volunteer hours. It’s like having an extra county worker.”
Master Gardener Fran Hadaway explained that the county provides the supplies for their projects at the courthouse and, “We supply the labor,” she explained. An estimated 1,390 hours of volunteer labor to the city and county were logged in 2016.
The group also works with local students through their Junior Master Gardener Program as well as sponsoring the Horticulture division of the Polk County Fair.
The local Polk County Master Gardeners also hold annual plant sales each spring that are open to the public. One local member, LaRayne Risenhoover, explained that many of those plants actually come from the Master Gardeners’ own yards, “Then our buyers know they will grow here and they are acclimated.” Any money earned from the sale will fund scholarships for local students. The next Master Gardner Plant Sale will be May 5, 2018.
Currently, the active members of the Polk County Master Gardeners are encouraging the public, former Master Gardeners and families of those Master Gardeners who have past to attend a reception honoring Master Gardener Appreciation Week at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, October 11 at the Extension Education Center at 211 DeQueen Street in Mena. Following will be a dedication and remembrance at the Memorial Bench at the front of the courthouse that will honor six former members who were instrumental in the Polk County Master Gardeners. Those members are: Sondra Wood, Carol Williamson, Denia Singleton, Jessie Schweinle, Frances Smith, and Janet Corcoran.
Anyone interested in joining the Polk County Master Gardeners can contact Josh Yates at the Extension Service at 479-394-6018 or the club’s president, Patricia Roberts at 479-394-3999.