When I first met her, Audrey was serving as the head
nurse at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton
Large Animal Hospital, located just outside of
Philadelphia. While apartment life puts a natural limit
on the amount of gardening one can do for most apartment
dwellers, the limits did not hold in Audrey’s case. A
six-by-four-foot plot of land outside her office soon
became her garden away from home. Reflecting on the
types of plants she tends today, that original garden
really wasn’t much, but at the time, it was all she
had and as such, she treated each and every plant as if
it was worth its weight in gold.
After our marriage, we moved to a small, dilapidated
tenant farm just east of Emmitsburg. While the farm wasn’t
much to look at, it held promise for a gardener that had
been held hostage for much too long. As soon as the
weather warmed, Audrey began to plant - a flower here, a
plant there, a bush or two over there. It looked
organized to me; but then again, I couldn’t grow a
weed if my life depended on it. Throughout the summer
and into our first fall, she added flowers of all shapes
and sizes around the house and its numerous tenant
But it seemed that for every plant or flower she put
into the ground, one came out of the ground. She was
forever fussing, trying desperately to get the right
mix, the right colors. Her aim was to have something
growing everywhere but more often then not, one section
would be in full bloom while another was devoid of all
color. Frustrated with her inability to achieve her
goals, she began to cast about for help.
An old friend told her to seek out the help of a
Master Gardener. Shortly thereafter, Audrey noticed an
article in the Gettysburg Times soliciting
recruits for the Adams County Master Gardener Program.
It was almost too good to be true.
Audrey returned home from the first
meeting bubbling with anticipation. While she didn’t
think she would get much out of some of the things that
were included in the curriculum, such as composting,
tree maintenance, or edible flower gardening, she was
nevertheless impressed. Unsure where she was going with
it all, I stood back and watched. Soon a pattern began
to emerge. Each class was almost always followed by a
visit to Alloway Gardens in Littlestown. She would
arrive home with the car full of the plants covered in
the class that evening.
While the diversity in Audrey’s
garden was growing, the organization was still lacking.
Not surprisingly, the solution would soon come via the
Master Gardener program. Quite frequently they hosted
talks by national, if not world experts in specific
fields. Just when Audrey needed it most, they hosted a
workshop with Dr. Nuss of Penn State, a garden design
expert. For weeks she worked on a design for six major
garden beds, including a 100-ft by 60-ft formal English
garden. Dr. Nuss was impressed, but not as impressed as
Audrey was by his suggestions to her plans. As she
carried out his recommendations and the gardens took
shape about her, she began to yearn to learn.
With the encouragement of her fellow
Master Gardeners, Audrey enrolled in some night courses
at Long Wood Garden just outside of West Chester
Pennsylvania. While the evening round trips were hard,
the knowledge she gained enlivened her. Soon she was
purchasing so many plants at Alloway that they were
forced to list her as a principal asset on their
corporate tax returns. One course led to another and
soon. Eventually she broke down and signed on to peruse
a certificate of merit in ornamental horticulture.
Each course was packed with
information and each required an excruciating amount of
dedication to pass. For days before each exam, she
crammed like a college student, even pulling
all-nighters the night before. The more she read, the
more she wanted to read. When she walked into her first
Gardener Meeting, she had less then a handful of
gardening books. Now she has so many that I’ll
probably have to forgo a simple bookcase and instead add
a new addition to the house just to hold them.
But Long Wood was her source of
knowledge. The more Audrey learned at Long Wood, the
more she was able to learn from her fellow Master
Gardeners. Soon she was consulting with the composting
guru on how to set up compost bins. She got expert input
on what type of chipper shredder to buy, and she even
got conned into beginning worm farming from the group’s
worm mistress. Every Master Gardener had a specialty she
could tap into. Soon they were not just fellow Master
Gardeners, but her friends.
Today, her gardens are breath taking.
The sequences of plant blooms are as if choreographed by
a master. When the butterflies arrive from South
America, the buttery fly garden is there to greet them.
Red flowers galore stand waiting to nourish hummingbirds
upon their arrival. Her gardens are havens for bugs,
bees, birds and countless other treasures often missed
in a hustle and bustle world. It’s no longer a
surprise to see cars stopped in front of the house as
their occupants gaze at the brilliant display of
foliage. The gardens are always the fist stop and last
stop for all visitors to our little farm.
Like other Master Gardeners, Audrey
relishes the opportunity to share what she has learned.
Be it giving lectures or workshops to aspiring new
Master Gardeners, helping plan community gardens,
telling a husband how best to trim a tree, serving meals
made of edible flowers or simply hosting a weekly TV
program called Garden Thyme, she loves it.
Audrey loves being a Master Gardener. She loves the
comradeship and intellectual stimulation that master
gardening brings. Becoming a Master Gardener has allowed
her to live her dream. I am happy for her. My life is
much, much richer with a Master Gardener than without