You are welcome to meander through the gardens of some of western Fillmore County’s most talented “green thumbs” from 9-4:30 on Saturday, June 16. Shelly Skindelien is the Master Gardener coordinating this year’s tour, the first for Fillmore County, and hers is one of ten gardens to view. “Every one of these gardeners is an artist,” Skindelien says with admiration, “On the tour, you will have the chance to see their visions and discover what they created out of what they had – each garden is unique.” The homeowners themselves will be available to answer questions and talk about their designs, plants, processes, and share their stories. Skindelien has also planned for a Master Gardener to be on hand at every garden to talk Fillmore County gardening joys and challenges and answer your questions. After the tour, there will be a reception at Rainy Days and Mondays Sourdough Baking Company, Spring Valley (one mile north of Ostrander), where snacks will be served.
The tour begins at Spring Valley Greenhouse, 720 N Broadway St., on Saturday morning. Here you pick up your official guide with a map, a list of gardeners, directions, the program with a preview picture and highlights about the gardens you will see. “The stories are incredible,” Skindelien shares. If you haven’t purchased tickets in advance ($15), you can buy them here ($18) the day of the tour, then move at your own pace to Spring Valley, Wykoff, Leroy, Ostrander and surrounding areas to partake of the wonders
There will be a garden designed around a natural spring fed creek with the South Branch of the Root River nearby and another that fills a whole block and cradles the house in flowers. You will find a garden set in the middle of farm fields, totally flat but for the visual treat of hanging planters and unique artistic touches (including an old car door!). In town, you will wander a marvelous garden that Skindelien says “wiggles and waggles around the perimeter fence.” There will be two gardens across the street from one another — one sunny, the other wooded — and more. If you have ever driven by a house and been awed by the owner’s colorful touches, charmed by the symmetry of greenery, thrilled by lushly riotous growth, or tickled by surprising touches of whimsey wondering how in the world it was accomplished, this tour is the event for you. AND you get to talk to Master Gardeners!
We have six Master Gardeners who reside in Fillmore County, each willing to help and hobnob, each ready to share what they know about gardening in Bluff Country. Shelly Skindelien readily makes this promise, “If you ask a question and we don’t know the answer, we’ll find out for you!” Master Gardeners are highly trained volunteers, dedicated to teaching youth and adult classes and workshops, holding plant clinics, troubleshooting local horticulture problems, promoting the use of sustainable techniques, protecting the environment, and speaking or writing about gardening. A major project in our area has been the development of school gardens, helping youth get hands-on experience growing things themselves. There is currently no public funding for the program, so Master Gardeners raise money by holding plant sales or other activities or, as in this case, by holding a tour event that spreads the joy of gardening throughout our communities.
According to Skindelien, tours have been popular in Houston County. They have many Master Gardeners willing to share their experience and insights on hosting a successful tour. “This is one exciting part of being a Master Gardener,” she says. “You connect with gardeners from all over the state. Master Gardeners not only learn from the courses they take through the University of Minnesota, but also from each other… I’ve been gardening for nearly 40 years and it was only when I started taking classes that I realized how much I didn’t know. It’s fascinating to learn!!”
In order to become a Master Gardener, interested applicants complete paperwork and must be selected for an internship; they pass a background check, register for the coursework, and pay a $320 fee for materials. The core course is 48 hours long, taught by Extension educators and faculty for the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Skindelien assures interested gardeners that “courses are held online and you can take them at your convenience…You don’t have to be a ‘brain,’ just interested in gardening and helping others garden.” Students learn about “Extension and the Master Gardener program, soils, entomology, botany, diagnostics, trees and shrubs, herbaceous plants, lawn care, plant pathology, weeds, wildlife, integrated pest management, vegetables, and fruits.” (http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/master-gardener/) It would be hard to find a gardening topic that these gardeners have not encountered or studied.
Once completing their coursework, first-year interns volunteer to share their knowledge for a minimum of 50 hours on “projects and events that deliver horticulture education and information to the public.” Following this 50 hours, the title of Master Gardener belongs to them, but their work is not done. To retain their title, Master Gardeners complete at least 25 hours of volunteer time and the required continuing education hours (about five hours for Fillmore County) each year. Skindelien says that volunteering for 25 hours and taking classes is not difficult. “Our Extension director, Mike Cruse, lets us know of opportunities. Some are close by, like the course three of us recently took in Rochester about pollinators, but we can also participate in activities all over the state.” For volunteer hour options, she continues, “We can staff the Extension phone lines or work at the State Fair where we do a four-hour shift and then spend the rest of the day enjoying the fair. There is Horticultural Day every spring to participate in… I would encourage anyone with an interest in gardening to GO FOR IT!!”
The six Fillmore County Master Gardeners are generalists in training with access to vast resources to answer just about any gardening question, but they are also specialists in certain areas that intrigue them. For example, Monica Ortner is a vegetable gardening guru. Skindelien says, “Monica not only knows everything about how to grow tomatoes, she is familiar with every kind of tomato and how each one does in our gardens.” Sandy Sullivan knows all about fruit trees and small fruits. Lori Slindee is the herb expert. Judy Lacey knows what there is to know about flowers, both indoors and outdoors. Elsa Bye is the go-to for wildflowers.
Shelly Skindelien, this year’s tour organizer, is the one to ask about invasives. “I can tell you what you need to know about buckthorn, wild parsley and garlic mustard,” she confesses. Japanese beetles are another invasive that just made its way to Fillmore County last summer. She says, “The Twin Cities has been dealing with Japanese beetles for some time but we hadn’t been bothered until last year. Being a Master Gardener, I can go online and talk to any of the Master Gardeners in our state to get answers!”
The Master Gardener program began in 1972 at Washington State University (WSU). There has been a longtime partnership between universities and crop production assistance but the ‘70s saw rapid urban growth accompanied by interest in gardening in cities, so the need emerged for partnership between the university and urban gardeners. As demand for gardening assistance grew, David Gibby and William Scheer, area Extension agents in Washington state, came up with the idea of training volunteers in the community. They put out an ad seeking “Expert Gardeners who want to become Master Gardeners.” They had 600 applicants, interviewed them all, and selected 300 for their program. The Master Gardener program was so successful it now exists in all 50 states, Canada, and the United Kingdom. We have 100,000 Master Gardener volunteers in the U.S. who help about five million people each year and provide over $100 million in value to their communities. (Excerpted from The Master Gardener Program, a WSU Extension Success Story).
When asked how she got interested in gardening, Skindelien said, “It started with my grandmother. She lived on a lake in the Twin Cities when I was growing up and her flowerbeds were awesome. I still have some heirloom pink hollyhocks of hers. I dragged the seeds from the Twin Cities to Georgia to New Ulm and 15 years ago to southeast Minnesota.” Skindelien raised her family in New Ulm and the gardeners there revved up her interest. “People in New Ulm worked hard on their yards, tending them meticulously. They would share plants with each other and pretty soon I started sharing too.” Sharing was a way to learn and a way to socialize through gardening. About six years after she moved to Spring Valley, Skindelien decided she needed to know more about the land and its unique karst geology. She “took it up a notch” by becoming a Master Gardener. She loves blueberries and had been growing them very successfully in Georgia but found that they would not grow for her here. “I learned that our limestone makes the soil highly alkaline and blueberries thrive on acidic soils, so now it makes sense.”
“Fillmore County could use more Master Gardeners,” Skindelien says encouragingly, “and gardeners of all kinds can benefit from becoming Masters. The information you get is phenomenal and the contacts you make are invaluable. You can do the coursework through the winter and it’s very flexible, not overwhelming at all! Everyone has a life to live and some years you do a lot with the program, other years not. Above all, being a Master Gardener is really rewarding.”
Are you still wondering what you might learn from a Master Gardener? Perhaps this list will get your own questions flowing:
• What is this weed taking over my yard and what is the best way to deal with it?
• My oak trees have dropped their leaves and look half dead this year, what should I do?
• The raccoons dig up everything I plant. How can I protect my landscaping from their destructive little paws?
• I tried to weed a plant with large white flowers and now I’ve broken out in a rash. If I show you a picture, could you identify the plant?
• I want to support pollinators. How can I do that?
• I have an area of my garden where nothing seems to grow. Can you suggest a perennial or two that might do ok there?
• I love to garden and talk gardening. How do I become a Master Gardener?
Answers can be found by talking with a local Master Gardener (if you don’t make it to the tour, their names, phone numbers and email addresses are listed on the Minnesota Extension website) look online (www.extension.umn.edu. Enter: “Yard and Garden Information,” or “Diagnose a Problem,” or “Plants A to Z”), or call the Fillmore County garden hotline. You can also call the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum Yard and Garden Line, (612) 301-7590, or complete an official email form with pictures if possible (See instructions on the Extension website).
The 2018 Fillmore County Garden Tour, with 10 diverse gardens, will go on rain or shine. Tickets are $15 in advance and $18 the day of the tour. They can be purchased at the Extension office in Preston, Spring Valley Greenhouse, The Treehouse Garden Center, or from Shelly Skindelien, firstname.lastname@example.org, (507) 346-7112. All proceeds go to projects here in Fillmore County.