Over the past few years, the Master Gardener Teaching and Demo Garden has been slow-going. This last year, plans have gone into high gear, along with some muscle. Improvements around the OSU Extension Building are happening as I write. Read about the history of the Multi-County Master Gardener Association and where our future plans will be taking us.

By Linda Workman Smith

Over the past several years, members of the Multi-County Master Gardener Association have sporadically attempted to start a teaching and demonstration garden on the grounds of the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service in Shawnee. In part, due to our "aging population" we have made rather slow progress. The Master Gardener Classes of 2012 and 2013 have produced some heartier specimens to add to our mix. Not only do these "newbies" have some new ideas, they also have the muscle to get some of our plans kick-started.

In the next few weeks I'll be posting articles and pictures covering our journey. Keep in mind this is a four plus years plan.

The following is an introductory article by Master Gardener Becky Carlberg detailing our history.

The History of the Multi-County Master Gardener Association

The Master Gardener program is rooted in the Cooperative Extension Service Program.  In Oklahoma, the Cooperative Extension Agency is associated with Oklahoma State University.  The focus is on agriculture, food production, and the environment. 

Washington State led the way with the first Master Gardener (MG) program in place by 1972.  Today, all fifty states have a Master Gardener program.  MG participants receive extensive training directed through the Cooperative Extension Service.  In exchange, the Master Gardeners volunteer their knowledge and experience to the public.

In Oklahoma, extension offices in twenty-eight counties have MG programs.  The precursor to the current Multi-County Master Gardeners (MCMG) organization was started in 1999.  During the next five years, 102 people from Pottawatomie, Seminole and Hughes counties participated in the MG training.  The MCMG group officially formed in 2004 with monthly meetings held in Shawnee.    Originally composed of 11 members in 2004, the membership had grown to 34 members by 2010.  Currently (2013) there are approximately 35 members, plus several associate members.

The Master Gardeners were carried along some of the time with the traveling Cooperative Extension Service in Pottawatomie County.  Initially, in 1992, the Cooperative Extension Office was situated south of Shawnee High School at Kennedy and Ford streets in a renovated livestock barn.  In December of 1995, the Extension Office moved to the OG&E Building in downtown Shawnee on 9th and Market streets.  The Master Gardeners joined the Extension Service there in 1999, although many meetings were held in the Shawnee Library.  September of 2003 found the Extension Office moving to the Coca-Cola Building off Kickapoo Spur in Shawnee.  That lasted until June of 2006 when the Extension Office moved into the Carlson and Cottrell Accounting Firm Building at 14001 Acme Road, still in Shawnee.  It is now the permanent home of the Cooperative Extension Organization.  The MCMG meetings are regularly held here every third Wednesday of each month.

Past projects of MGs include preparing Heart of Oklahoma Expo Center stairwells as well as planting flowers and shrubs in the Celebration of Life Park, Santa Fe Depot, Red Bud Park, and the County Courthouse.  For several years the MGs worked with the Boys and Girls Club after school and summer programs.  Vegetables and sunflowers were tended and harvested.  MGs every year assist the County Extension Agent at the County Fair with the vegetable and plant entries.  Many MGs work in gardens at churches and schools, and some are associated with the Shawnee Beautification committee as well as other groups.  Several MG volunteers have digilently worked to create and maintain an attractive downtown in Shawnee. 

The Japanese Garden (southeast corner of the regional airport) is an ongoing MG project.  Shawnee and sister city Nikaho, Japan, have had a student exchange program since 1990.  The garden was laid out in 1999, consisting of the Kidney gardens and the Zen (ocean and land) garden, all linked together by three walkways that meet in a center green area.  The design was loosely based on the pattern of a peace sign.  Previous student delegates had planted trees and a series of volunteers have maintained the gardens.  In 2012 the City of Shawnee renovated the three major paths, and from 2012-2013 one dedicated boy scout working on his Eagle Project, his troop and several volunteers rebuilt the arched bridge leading into the Heart of the Japanese Garden, renovated the Heart path and repaired the gates and Peace House.  The Sister Cities are celebrating their 23rd year of the exchange program in 2013.

An invigorating new project the MGs are undertaking is the creation of a teaching and demonstration garden located around the Extension Office in Shawnee.  Initial improvements were trimming the shrubbery and establishing new flower beds.  The first raised bed garden was planted with sweet peas and 4 types of leafy greens in March of 2011. The veggies were donated and used in the OSU Extension cooking classes and charity organizations.  The next year the bed rested.  This year  an herb garden shall emerge.

In 2011, the east bed was planted in tomatoes.  Nothing produced during the heat of the summer, but by fall, dozens and dozens of tomatoes were harvested and given away.  During the cleaning up the the bed, it was discovered root knot nematodes were indeed part of the little ecosystem.  A plan was devised.  Mustard greens were planted and allowed to grow just to the bloom stage.  At this point they were tilled into the soil.  The mascerated tissue released toxic gases that fumigated the soil.  Clear plastic was then placed over the bed for a period of time in order to assure the elimination of root knot nematodes as well as any weeds.  The bed was left fallow last year.  This year it will be put into vegetables.

A new storage building has been constructed on the southeast corner of the OSU Extension property.  It joins the other small buildings located at the Center.

On May 15th, plants purchased and gathered from several plant nurseries in the area will be put into surrounding beds and around the OSU Extension sign in front of the Extension building.  It will be a combination workday and picnic (after the hard work is done) for MGs.  Under the direction of Master Gardener Tom Terry, an Oklahoma Proven Garden will be established around the sign.

Stay turned for future updates.  Linda is ready to write blog reports (after she has scrubbed her hands and fingernails) as good things progress at the OSU Cooperative Extension Center.

Becky Emerson Carlberg