Pandemic Gardening

We asked our members to tell us what they’re doing in their own yards during this pandemic.  Scroll down to read their stories and see the pictures they sent.

Since many people are experiencing job loss and food insecurity during the pandemic, St. John Neumann Catholic Church hosts a food bank to provide canned and frozen foods to those in need. To add a fresh food component, the Creation Care Team, led by Master Gardener Extension Volunteer Susan Varlamoff, sponsored two workshops on vegetable and fruit gardening for fellow parishioners. Gwinnett County Extension Agent Tim Daly, who is a member of the parish, conducted the workshops.

Lettuce, kale, broccoli, cabbage, and peas were planted in raised beds to provide fresh vegetables for the pantry. Twenty-five bags of lettuce have been harvested so far.  A fig tree, blueberry bushes, and a blackberry vine were planted to supply fresh fruit next year. About a dozen people attended each workshop wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

Mary Kistner Nature Center in the Snellville area is a GCMGA and MGEV garden restoration project which received a 2020 GCMGA grant. 

In the top photo, volunteers are installing plants in this year’s grant area which is located at the entrance to the woodland garden in back of what was Mary’s home.  The emphasis of the project was on adding native plants that combine to form a plant community in an area with very poor soil, lots of rock and even more deer.  The second picture shows the orchard of American chestnut seedlings planted two years ago.  These plantings were done in collaboration with a nationwide project of the American Chestnut Foundation to develop strains of American chestnut trees that can withstand the soil fungus and disease that have nearly wiped out this species in the eastern U.S. The third picture shows a pathway leading into the woodland garden at the Kistner Center. 

This garden was begun by Mary Kistner years ago. In the center of the area is Mary’s Secret Garden where her ashes are scattered.  The following wonderful group of MGEVs provide willing hands and valuable expertise at the Kistner Center: Carol Hassell, Mary Ann Maher, Karen McGinty, Glenda Patterson, Lori Prosser, Martha Whitman, and Becky Wolary.

Volunteers are installing-plants purchased with GCMGA grant funds

Volunteers are installing-plants purchased with GCMGA grant funds
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We heard from Inday B that they created two flower gardens, one in the back of the sunroom and in the front porch walkway. We also finished the sidewalk leading to the arbor and back gate. These we accomplished with the help of our two wonderful high school grandsons during early spring and summer. We hope you enjoy.

Susan V told us that Master Gardeners, along with a passel of St. John Neumann parishioners, care for creation in the church gardens. Each Thursday, a dozen or so gardeners pull up at 8:30 am to beat the heat to begin work. They unpack hand tools, wheel-borrows and knee pads to pull out weeds, lay down newspaper and cardboard as a barrier against future weeds and pile wood chips on top. They deadhead plants, cull over-crowded plants, water, label horticultural specimens and indulge in a few ripe blueberries. We are following the Action Plan written for Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical Laudato Si in which he calls on the people of the planet to care for the earth and one another. One chapter in the Laudato Si Action Plan recommends using sustainable practices in managing the landscapes surrounding the churches. They include establishing a pollinator garden to attract bees and butterflies whose numbers are down more than thirty percent. Using plants native to the local ecology to draw indigenous wildlife, and foregoing pesticides to avoid harming animals, plants and even humans. Besides benefiting nature, gardening give us the opportunity to socialize with one another and catch up on one another’s news during the pandemic since many of us are staying close to home. Out in the fresh air, we feel invigorated as we exercise and enjoy each other’s company while following Pope Francis call to care for creation and each other.  

Susan Varlamoff, co-author Laudato Si Action Plan, author, Sustainable Gardening for the Southeast

Our plans to host the annual GCMGA April plant sale had to be cancelled due to the pandemic and stay at home guidelines.  After much deliberation, it was decided that a fall sale wasn’t viable and we’d delay to 2021 – BUT – that left loads of plants that members had been fostering for the April plant sale. On Saturday, May 30, many Gwinnett Master Gardeners picked up plants at Community Garden of Snellville parking lot. A great crew put together orders from the plants that had been potted up for the canceled April sale. It was wonderful that the City of Snellville let us use the parking lot for this event. Thanks to Susan Kosenka (who gallantly took on creating the order form and organizing the orders), Wes and Lucy Nettleton, Virginia Schofield, Susan Varlamoff and Linda Bolton, {who joined us to sell Garden Tour tickets}, and Lynda Pollock. We really appreciate everyone who shared their plants and made purchases. Leftover plants are making their way to Vines and the Community Garden of Snellville. 

Cars arrive to pick up plants and Linda's working that line

Cars arrive to pick up plants and Linda's working that line
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Marcia L told us …. We have a wooded wetland for our back yard. There was an old footbridge across the creek, which had gotten pretty rickety, so we decided to replace it ourselves this year. We are not terribly “handy” (taking the old one apart gave us guidance on how to build the new one), but it kept us busy and outdoors during the entire stay-at-home period!

Bridging the isolation gap with nature

Bridging the isolation gap with nature
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Marcia and her husband replaced the old footbridge across the creek

Lynda P responded with pictures and an account of what’s she’s doing this May saying….

Front yard pollinator meadow is coming into its own. Created a raised bed veg garden also in the front yard. We’ve cleared privet, honeysuckle, and English ivy out and can now get down to the creek and are planting a native woodland. We’re enjoying sitting by the creek and communing with Harold the great blue heron. All the clearing was done by hand including my sweet sons, who’ve been off work,  and Bob the Master Gardener’s Assistant. You’re welcome to come visit. Cheers!

Beauty in pollinator meadow

Beauty in pollinator meadow
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October 2020 Zoom Meeting

Bestselling author and horticulturist, Brie Arthur was our speaker for our October Zoom meeting.   What a delightful presentation full of great information. Her enthusiasm for new ideas and practices with out of the box gardening advice was contagious! We shared her expertise as an advocate for consumer horticulture and home gardening. Some members benefited from forager wheat seed gifts as well as her latest book which were well received.

September 2020 Meeting

Our Zoom monthly meeting showcased the gardens that our own Lynda Pollock visited with husband Bob when she attended the International Master Gardeners Conference in Philadelphia in 2019. Philadelphia is known as America’s Garden Capital and Lynda details each garden they visited and added the links.

Chanticlear: A Pleasure Garden.

The Chanticleer Foundation owns 47 acres, 35 of which are open to the public. The remaining acreage is in agriculture, woodland, service areas, and staff housing. The main path is just under a mile in length. The garden has evolved greatly since the death of the owner in 1990. As the home of the Rosengartens, Chanticleer was beautiful and green with impressive trees and lawns.

Arboretum of the Barnes Foundation at St. Joseph’s University

Just eight miles from the Philadelphia campus of the Barnes Foundation, you’ll find the Barnes Arboretum at Saint Joseph’s University, home to a horticulture school. The 12-acre arboretum is astonishingly diverse for its size, with more than 2,500 varieties of woody and herbaceous plants, many rare. The peony and lilac collections, which date from the early 1900s, are important genetic resources for conservation and study.

Bartram’s Garden

Bartram’s Garden is a 45-acre National Historic Landmark, operated by the John Bartram Association in cooperation with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation.

Scott Arboretum at Swathmore College

The idyllic 425-acre arboretum that makes up the Swarthmore College campus is often named one of the most beautiful in the country. The Arboretum is a living memorial to Arthur Hoyt Scott (Swarthmore Class of 1895). Mr. Scott’s family made a generous donation to found the Arboretum in 1929.

Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania

Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania began in 1887 as Compton, the summer home of John and Lydia Morris, brother and sister. The I.P. Morris Company, an iron-manufacturing firm founded by their father and later run by John Morris, was a source of family wealth.

The Highlands Mansion & Gardens

The Highlands’ 2-acre formal garden was first created in the 1840’s by George Sheaff. Today, The Highlands is recreating the spirit of the Sinkler garden based on letters, photographs, and the survey that Caroline Sinkler commissioned in 1917. This restoration is a multi-phase, multi-year project. The grounds are open from dawn to dusk year around.

Ambler Arboretum of Temple University

In 1911 Jane Bowne Haines first opened the doors to the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women, the school has been a student-centered learning center that remains a core principal at Ambler to this day. One of the three key focus areas for the Ambler Arboretum is the history of women in horticulture and design. The site at Ambler was founded as the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women in 1910.

PHS Meadowbrook Farm

This is the home of the Philadelphia Horticulture Society. The farm is a 25-acre property bequeathed to The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society in 2004. Today, visitors enjoy formal and informal gardens and a specialized Plant Shop.

Stoneleigh: A Natural Garden

Stoneleigh is a young, public garden with a focus on native plants. The original home of 3 generations of the Haas family, they donated the property to Natural Lands to protects it for the future. Stoneleigh is also a showcase for blending the aesthetic beauty of designed gardens with the natural richness of native habitats that are essential to the health of our planet.

Natural Lands is a non-profit organization that saves open space, cares for nature, and connects people to the outdoors in eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. Beginning in the early 1950s up to the present nearly five million people live within five miles of lands under Natural Lands permanent protection.

Arboretum at Haverford College

Founded in 1833 by Welsh Quakers.  The following year William Carvill, an English gardener, was hired to transform the tilled fields, woodlots, and pastures into a campus landscape. Trees were planted to frame and complement open spaces, border the lanes in alleés and form grouped circles on open lawns, a reflection of the English landscape tradition of Sir Humphrey Repton. Today the pastoral landscape includes several original oaks on Founders Green.

Winterthur Museum Garden and Library

 Winterthur’s 1,000 acres encompass rolling hills, streams, meadows, and forests. Founder Henry Francis du Pont (1880-1969) developed an appreciation of nature as a boy that served as the basis for his life’s work in the garden. He selected the choicest plants from around the world to enhance the natural setting, arranging them in lyrical color combinations and carefully orchestrating a succession of bloom from late January to November. Du Pont translated his love of the land into a unified work of art that embodies a romantic vision of nature’s beauty.

Next International Master Gardeners Conference is September 12-16, 2021 – we hope!

Registration will begin some time this fall.

Pennsylvania Horticultural Society – sponsor of the Philadelphia Flower Show.   They have recently announced they are moving the show outside and at a new location. It will also be later in the year. Check their website for updates. It’s worth going.


August 2020 Meeting

Our Zoom August meeting was about Building Healthy Soil presented by Cobb County MGEV, Crystal Force.  Her very informative presentation delved into the discovery of how mycorrhizal fungi makes our soil healthy and how the destructive horticultural practices of the 20th century can be reversed.   She explained that healthy soil is the place to begin if you want healthy plants.  Recent discoveries reveal that far more than heathy plants are at stake when considering how we treat our soils.  Among those things affected by the heath of our soil are the health of our children and ourselves and even climate change. 

Cris was part of a group that conducted a two year experiment on No Till Gardening.  They received First Place in Research in the ‘Search for Excellence Award’ by  the International Master Gardener Conference in 2019.   She quotes from the National Resource Conservation Service, The Hope in Healthy Soil: “We now realize, without healthy life below ground, there would be little above it.”  

Information she wanted to share with our members: