South Charlotte

Master Gardeners answer your questions

Mecklenburg County Extension Master Gardeners care for plants and educate the public on horticulture, and their Freedom Park demonstration garden allows them to do both.

The garden is near the park's Mahlon Adams Pavilion, at Cumberland Avenue and Lilac Road; a sign marks the spot.

Extension Master Gardeners, or EMGs, installed the garden in 2006 and are responsible for its maintenance.

Nan Bracy, chairman of the Freedom Park garden for EMGs, walked the curving garden's length recently, pointing out three main themes: "Pollinators' Paradise," "Herbs and Fragrance," and "Natives, Naturally."

Visitors can see sedums, coneflower, chrysanthemums, rosemary, oakleaf hydrangea, hostas and more.

There also is much for visitors to learn.

Carol Carraux, president of the county EMGs, says an advantage of including native plants is they tend to be drought-tolerant. Bracy cites the importance of proper gardening practices like use of good soil, compost and mulch. "While we get some weeds, it's not overwhelming," she said.

Margaret Genkins said the garden was designed so there's something to experience in every season, even winter.

Genkins, who handles community events for EMGs, said she is looking ahead to Festival in the Park on Sept. 23-25 at Freedom Park. She says EMGs will be available in daylight hours during the festival to field inquiries about the demo garden or anything else garden-related via Ask a Master Gardener question-and-answer sessions.

Festivalgoers can take informal garden tours, too. About 600 people visited the garden during last year's festival, according to Genkins.

Carraux talks to gardeners and would-be gardeners of all ages, from children to senior adults. She says she especially enjoys engaging teenagers on gardening topics, some of whom are reluctant at first to seek advice on tending a houseplant, for example, but eventually warm up.

EMGs assist North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Becoming trained as an Extension Master Gardener requires class work and a written exam, followed by time as an intern accumulating volunteer service hours.

After achieving EMG status, a gardener must meet annual requirements for volunteer hours to retain that standing. There's also a continuing education component.

In addition to overseeing the Freedom Park garden, and another demonstration garden at Independence Park, EMGs have many other duties.

They launched a new website this year for Mecklenburg County gardeners and staff a live gardening hotline from 9 a.m.-noon weekdays, March 1-Oct. 31.

The rest of the year, callers may leave a message stating their question and someone will return the call.

"Our answers, as Master Gardeners, are always research-based," said Carraux.