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Master Gardeners hold regional meeting in Baton Rouge

News Release Distributed 11/06/14

BATON ROUGE, La. – Sharing our Southern Roots was the theme of the regional Master Gardener meeting Oct. 21-24 in Baton Rouge.

The conference planning committee made sure it lived up to its name by the lineup of speakers and presenters.

Donna Montgomery, publicity chair for the conference and past president of the East Baton Rouge Master Gardener Association, said the planning for the conference has been ongoing for the past 21 months.

“We wanted to bring people together to learn about different programs and what’s happening in different states,” Montgomery said. “We also wanted to bring in some speakers who are nationally known.”

Master Gardeners from 13 Southern states and as far away as Hawaii attended the biennial meeting to hear exceptional speakers, tour area gardens and experience the heritage and cuisine of Louisiana, said Mary Tharpe, president of the East Baton Rouge Master Gardener Association.

In addition to Tharpe welcoming the group to Baton Rouge, Mayor-President Kip Holden brought a welcome from the city and LSU vice president for agriculture and dean of the College of Agriculture Bill Richardson also brought a welcome from the LSU AgCenter, the organization training Louisiana Master Gardeners.

Richardson told the group how vital the work of Master Gardeners is to the LSU AgCenter.

“The Master Gardener program not only impacts the beautification of our homes and gardens,” Richardson said. “But what’s more is the education of people about the importance of gardening.”

Richardson said many of the AgCenter parish offices couldn’t exist without the Master Gardeners, who answer a lot of the calls that come in.

Holden told the crowd how important the work is that they do and how the Master Gardeners are a positive influence on the city’s focus on health.

“The Baton Rouge Healthy City initiative that started six years ago tells residents about eating more fruits and vegetables,” Holden said. “And in addition to the city, USDA is also now involved.”

The conference was packed with breakout sessions that were led by AgCenter and industry professionals and included a Southern Garden Marketplace, where attendees could buy plants and supplies, Montgomery said.

Topics at the conference ranged from “Cooking with Robust Herbs: Rosemary, Sage and Tarragon” to “The Dirt on Healthy Soils” and “Mushrooms of the Gulf South.”

Among the national speakers was Mary Palmer Dargan, owner of Dargan Landscape Architects in Atlanta. Her two topics were, “Lifelong Gardening: Healing the Earth One Garden at a Time” and “Your Mental Map Plus Pesky Landscape Design Problems Solved.”

Another nationally known figure was Joe Lamp’l, executive producer and host of the national PBS series “Growing a Greener World.”

Marcelle Bienvenu, culinary instructor at Nicholls State University and Times-Picayune writer talked about the evolution of food.

“We would not have history of cuisine that we have today had it not been for everybody borrowing from everybody else,” Bienvenu said. “It wouldn’t be the same without the Africans, the Native Americans, the Germans, the French, the Spanish and the poor little English people.”

A number of AgCenter specialists also made up the list of speakers and presenters, including AgCenter gardening specialist Kiki Fontenot, who discussed “10 Ways to Introduce Children to Gardening,” and AgCenter horticulturist Dan Gill, who discussed the importance of choosing the right plant to maximize your gardening success.

Retired LSU landscape architecture professor Neil Odenwald, who has written several books about garden design, gave a presentation on “Gardening Southern Style.”

Several participants said there were just so many activities that the three-day conference agenda was much more than any one person could consume.

In addition to the general conference activities, a number of off-site activities included tours of Burden Museum and Gardens, the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station, Cajun swamp tours and plantation tours.

Jackie Cunningham, who is originally from Aberdeen, Scotland, and currently a Master Gardener from the Houston area, said she will definitely be attending the biennial conference in the future.

“The lectures and the knowledge that you receive here are basically free,” Cunningham said. “How could you not come?”

LSU AgCenter agent and Master Gardener State Coordinator Miles Brashier said the conference was a big success, and he is also excited to say it is done.

“We were happy to have people from all over the region attend the conference to gain valuable information and to enjoy themselves for a few days in south Louisiana,” Brashier said.

He seemed to hint at volunteering Alabama as the sponsor of the next regional conference in 2016, since Mississippi hosted the 2012 meeting.

Johnny Morgan

Last Updated: 11/6/2014 11:01:17 AM

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