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Ellijay, GA
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Master Gardener projects impact local community

Gilmer County Library patrons explore the DIG, a demonstration garden planted and maintained by local Master Gardeners. (Photo by Whitney Crouch)
by Whitney Crouch

As a child, Carol Harris enjoyed growing plants on her windowsill.

“I can’t remembering not gardening ... I’m an addict,” she laughed.

Other members of Gilmer County’s Master Gardener Extension Volunteers have similar stories of nurturing a lifelong love of gardening.

Like the group’s president, Debbie Rupp, they got involved with the program out of a desire to learn more about their beloved pasttime.

“We all wanted to expand our horizons via education,” she stated, adding the group gives participants the opportunity to give back to the local community through volunteering.

About the program

The local Master Gardener program has expanded in the last few years and currently has 38 active members and supports a wide range of projects.

Participants are trained and certified by the University of Georgia Extension Program and meet once a month.

“The basis is education,” observed extension representative Eddie Ayers, explaining how Master Gardeners participate in training and then take what they’ve learned and share it with others.

“You get introduced to a lot of topics within the whole gardening concept,” Bonnie Waldron observed, noting how the program gave her information on a host of things ranging from entomology to grasses.

In addition to continuous education, a foundational part of the Master Gardener program is giving back to the community.

The first year after completing their classroom requirements, the participants donate 50 volunteer hours to the community. In successive years, they volunteer 25 hours annually in order to maintain their certification.

In this way, the participants serve as the extension office’s hands and feet in the community and oversee a variety of projects.

“We enjoy giving back to the community,” shared Cindy Tesar. “We have fun no matter what the project ... we meet and we learn from each other.”

Farmers market

For more than a dozen years, local Master Gardeners have overseen the Gilmer farmers market.

Open each Saturday through Oct. 3 from 8 a.m. to noon on Broad Street beside the county courthouse in downtown Ellijay, the event offers “a good balance of produce, handcrafted items and baked goods,” noted co-manager Paula Lineback.

“The farmers market is such a great community event. Our vendors are fabulous,” agreed fellow manager Waldron. “One thing we pride ourselves on for the Farmers Market is we are homegrown and homemade ... (and feature) vendors from the greater Gilmer area.”

In addition to eggs, local honey, freshly picked produce and crafts, the weekly event features an “ask a Master Gardener” tent where visitors can get answers to their gardening questions or learn tips about such popular topics as deterring deer.

For the month of September, Master Gardeners will also be selling plants out of their own yards at the weekly market.

DIG — Discover, Inspire, Grow

The Master Gardeners newest large-scale project is a demonstration garden. Called the DIG — short for Discover, Inspire, Grow — it is located adjacent to the Gilmer County Library on Calvin Jackson Drive in Ellijay.

“(The garden) encompasses what we love and what we’re about,” observed Waldron, citing both its aesthetic and educational qualities.

Library branch manager Heath Lee highlighted the garden in a recent newsletter publication.

“The DIG consists of eight elevated garden beds, an underground sprinkler system, a pressurized rainwater collection system and an outdoor classroom area with benches,” he wrote. “Four of the garden beds contain permanent plants including berries, native plants, herbs, and perennials. The DIG requires virtually no tap water. However, it does require maintenance. Every Tuesday morning at 9 a.m., the Master Gardeners can be found in the DIG planting, pulling weeds, picking berries or anything else the wonderful garden requires.

“The DIG’s garden beds are the main attractions, but patrons regularly use the picnic table, swing and benches. Even when the DIG is not filled with blooms or bees, patrons still gravitate to the garden to enjoy its serene setting.”

Rupp agreed that “everybody just beams” when they visit the garden.

In addition to serving as a welcoming retreat, the DIG acts as an outdoor classroom at the library.

As Master Gardener and demonstration garden organizer Julie Keller told Lee, “The DIG is designed to be a teaching garden where people can learn about best and newest gardening techniques, sound use of chemicals and water and underused plants and new plant introductions.”

Library programs

The DIG is not the only outreach project the Master Gardeners hold at the library.

This fall, the group plans to host a series of Saturday make-and-take workshops at the library. Programs include creative gardening with hypertufa Sept. 12, pumpkin succulent arrangements Oct. 24 and natural holiday wreath arrangements Nov. 14. Each program will take place from 10 a.m. to noon.

“The community needs to know how much fun these things are,” exclaimed Waldron.

People can sign up for the workshops at the library or at the extension office located at 1123 Progress Road in Ellijay.

Impacting others through gardening

The volunteers also help maintain several gardens throughout the community, including ones at Ellijay’s Veterans Memorial Bridge over the Coosawattee River and the Gilmer Senior Center.

Some of the volunteers also work with children at the Three Rivers Unit of the Boys & Girls Club to help them learn about the joys of gardening.

After admitting that working with children has taken her out of her comfort zone, Harris said of working with the club kids, “I love them and I love what I’m teaching them and I think children can connect with this.”

Tesar described the Boys & Girls Club project as “amazing.”

“They’re learning at such a young age what they can grow,” she added.

As an additional educational outreach, the Master Gardeners are beginning to work with the garden already established at Pleasant Hills Montessori School.

Several Master Gardeners also assist at the community garden for the local food pantry.

“We benefit from the exercise and fresh air, and they benefit from the fresh food,” Margaret Williamson observed, adding the garden helps to provide produce to local families who otherwise might not be able to afford it.

She went on to emphasize that volunteering in these various projects is not limited to Master Gardeners and the community at large is encouraged to get involved in the outreach efforts.

To learn more

More information about the local Master Gardeners and their activities can be found at or by emailing There is also a Facebook page for the “Gilmer County Master Gardener Volunteers.” 
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