Planting seeds of knowledge that cultivate a love for gardening comes naturally to Cherokee County’s Master Gardeners. Whether you are looking to find the perfect flowers for your garden spot, identify weeds and get rid of them, or attract birds, bees, and butterflies, local Master Gardeners can help you get growing.
“To stimulate the love for and increase the knowledge of gardening and to voluntarily and enthusiastically share this knowledge with others” is the stated mission of the dedicated gardeners in the local chapter of the University of Georgia Extension Service program. Since 1995 UGA Extension has trained volunteers in Cherokee County in the science and art of gardening as part of a nationwide education and service program.
Barbara Schirmer, president of the group, says the rewards are many for Master Gardeners and the hundreds of local garden enthusiasts they help each season. “All of us join this program because we sincerely have a love of gardening. We enjoy what we do and enjoy the camaraderie that comes from working with others who share the same passion. I personally enjoy working with kids in the garden and watching the joy they experience in planting seeds and watching things grow. Gardening offers the chance to be active, get exercise, and learn new skills. Overall it improves your mood and relieves stress in your life. Working with plants can totally improve your mental and physical well-being.”
Right now there are around eighty-two Master Gardener volunteers with the program in Cherokee County as representatives of the UGA Master Gardener Extension Volunteer Program. Barbara explains that people turn to these local experts for knowledgeable information about organic gardening, landscape and tree maintenance, plant diseases, pest control, composting, and fruit production, as well as flower gardening.
Master Gardeners provide the public with the latest research-based information using a variety of programs and projects. Education is provided to the public through workshops, seminars, plant clinics, demonstration gardens, school programs, fair exhibits, newsletters and newspaper articles, and a helpline that answers consumer questions. Master Gardeners and Extension staff write weekly newspaper articles that address multiple topics related to best gardening practices. These gardening experts also address topics related to plant science, weed identification, and environmentally conscious ways to control plant diseases and pests.
Master Gardeners contribute 4,500 hours annually to special programs and projects. Their volunteer service to Cherokee County is a contribution worth more than $104,000 and helps improve the quality of life for county residents. These gardeners focus on plants as an avenue to human and community well-being and are committed to sharing the value of gardening with all segments of the community, including children, families, and seniors.
A demonstration garden maintained by Master Gardeners at the Cherokee County Senior Center on Univeter Road in Canton provides hands-on learning opportunities for residents. Plants grown at the garden are offered for sale, providing revenue to expand educational programs.
In addition to the demonstration garden at the senior center, Cherokee County Extension Agent Josh Fuder is excited about plans for the Backyard Agricultural Education Station, a new food, fruit, and vegetable demonstration garden set to open to classes this spring at Veterans Park on Highway 20 in the Macedonia community. He says, “I have always wanted a demonstration garden where residents can learn about fruits and vegetables, and we are finally going to have one this spring. The County Extension Office will oversee the fruit and vegetable garden with help from the Master Gardeners, a program of the Extension Service.”
A ribbon cutting is planned for March 22, and vegetable gardening will start in the spring. The orchard is already being planted, and the first class on fruit trees is set for February. The first part of the class will be indoors at the R.T. Jones Regional Library in Canton, and the hands-on portion will be on-site.
“I talked with county arborist Shannon Fitzgerald and Stephen Shrout, the arborist with the parks people, and started looking around at some of our parks,” Josh explains. “In 2019 Stephen offered us a place at Veterans Park right next to the parking lot. The site is two-tenths of an acre. We followed up with Master Gardeners, planning and zoning, and others to see what we could dream up.”
After reaching an agreement with the county, the agency had fundraisers, got some grants, and received in-kind donations from Cloud Landscaping and Cowart Mulch to get the project going.
“It took everyone to get us where we are, including a Home Depot grant,” Josh offers. “The Boy Scouts have been great. Trent Daniel, an Eagle Scout, helped raise funds and got raised beds built. Apple and pear trees have already been planted in the orchard. Eventually it will have figs, a trellis for muscadines, and probably some blackberries and blueberries, all things that will be easy for people to grow in their own landscape.” Eventually the produce grown will be donated to those in need through MUST Ministries.
Master Gardener applications are available from the UGA Extension Office in Cherokee County. With limited spots, applications in Cherokee are currently being accepted only every other year. A new class will start in 2023. Once accepted into the program, volunteers will be required to attend training as prescribed by the UGA State Master Gardener Program. During the training, participants have the opportunity to learn about every aspect of gardening. After passing the final exam, volunteers become interns in the local program, where they work with a mentor to guide them through their first year. Interns are required to complete fifty hours of service in a variety of approved programs and events. Upon completion of all the requirements, the participant becomes a certified Master Gardener.
The Cherokee Master Gardeners program influences the lives of more than 260,000 Cherokee residents by providing information about horticultural practices and techniques. As trained representatives of the University of Georgia, Master Gardeners provide the public with the latest research-based information using a variety of programs and projects. Many times Cherokee County residents make their first connection to UGA when they seek out the expertise of a Master Gardener.
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Canton writer Rebecca Johnston is a Cherokee County native and graduate of Cherokee High School and the University of Georgia. Rebecca has won several Georgia Press Association awards for her writing, including the 2007 First Place Award for Serious Columnist. She currently writes for Enjoy Cherokee Magazine.