The Monroe County Master Gardener Association has sponsored many fun activities for public education since the organization's inception. Some examples follow.
For several years, the Monroe County Fair Board has allowed a plot of land at the county fairgrounds to be used by the association for a demonstration garden. The garden has become a showcase for a wide range of home gardening interests. Recurring themes include a perennial border, butterfly and hummingbird garden, ornamental grass garden, and an extensive herb area. Other specialized interests, such as native American gardening, wildflowers, and a trellising exhibit have been part of the display, and tomato and pepper demonstration plots have been included in past years.
The major push for garden perfection is always fair week (the last week in July), but if you visit during many spring and summer days, you are likely to find a Master Gardener or Intern planting, pruning, watering, or weeding. The garden is located near the western edge of fairgrounds property. Enter through the main gate, take an immediate left, and look for a long storage building. The garden is directly behind that building.
The Monroe County Master Gardener Association has had the responsibility of reorganizing the Monroe County Fair's premium book regarding the vegetable, fruit, and herb display. Rules, registration and displaying entries are also duties for local Master Gardeners and Interns. In addition to prizes for the biggest and/or best examples of veggies, herbs and fruits, a Best Garden Exhibit is awarded for a container display. Recent years have included such categories as Cucumber-in-a-Bottle, a Vegetable Ark judged on capacity and artistic merit, and Botanica Exotica for unusual edibles.
An apple tasting has been held several years since the Association incorporated, featuring approximately fifteen varieties of Hoosier-grown apples. This popular public event takes place in conjunction with the Community Farmers Market on a Saturday morning in October. A full range is represented, from sweet to tart, soft-textured to firm, antique to modern, and from ready-to-eat to those whose flavor will mature with storage. Apples are thinly sliced with the peel intact, and arranged on plates. Crackers are supplied for cleansing the palate. Participants are encouraged to rate the selections, and are given the opportunity to ask questions regarding home orcharding and other gardening topics.
Many visitors are surprised to discover the number of choices that exist outside of the few common varieties found in local grocery stores, and the number of varieties that can be successfully grown in Indiana's climate. Rocky Meadow Orchard in New Salisbury, Indiana has provided most apples in recent years, with Purdue University occasionally contributing some experimental varieties.
An informal plant and seed swap is held during opening day of the Community Farmers Market in May. Master Gardeners are on hand to answer cultural questions and share the fruits (roots?) of their labors in a relaxed social setting. Divisions from our fairgrounds demonstration garden are shared, as well as a wide variety of plants, seeds and cuttings from our members' own gardens. The public is invited to swap, but no one is turned away until all plant material is spoken for.
Wylie House Museum, located at 307 East Second Street in Bloomington, is an interpretive museum which recreates the 1840's home of the first president of Indiana University. Wylie House's heirloom gardening project has introduced many area gardeners to the philosophies of seed saving. A seed sale of heirloom varieties is held in March, with a swap table and resources available. Local gardeners have been asked to grow historic varieties of flowers and share bouquets during the season. For more information, call (812) 855-6224.
Hilltop Gardens and Nature Center, on Tenth Street near the 45/46 bypass in Bloomington, offers workshops and seminars for adults, an extensive youth gardening program, and an environmental education program for third and fourth graders. Master Gardeners have helped with instruction, garden spruce-up, and staffing the annual daffodil and bulb shows. For more information, phone (812) 855-2799.
The interest for Master Gardener training is strong in Monroe County since the series was renewed in 1988. Some classes are taught by Master Gardeners, and others help the Extension Educator with administrative duties such as reviewing applications, writing and grading the exam, and mentoring interns to help them attain the ultimate goal of Master Gardener certification.