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Master Gardener state conference held in Clanton

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

The annual Alabama Master Gardener Association Conference was held in Clanton for the first time this year with activities spanning May 8-10.

The two main days, May 9 and 10, were full of informational presentations on everything from designing a garden to embracing native plants and supporting local farms.

This year’s theme was “Party in the Garden.”

Jane McCarthy kicked-off the morning session on May 9 with “Creating a Party Ready Landscape.”

McCarthy has been a part of garden designs for Maxwell Air Force Base personnel and the Alabama Governor’s Mansion as a part of the Monday Morning Master Gardener Group.

Hardscapes (such as driveways and sidewalks) and softscapes (such as plants) are both elements of garden design.

“Put something at your front that is going to make people turn and go ‘Wow,’” McCarthy said.

Developing a plan for a garden can start with a copy of the architectural drawing of one’s property.

McCarthy said this document can be enlarged and marked to clearly show where utility lines and irrigation caps are located. This plan can also be given to the next owner if someone decides to sell their home to help them find the irrigation, she said.

Once that is done, a plan can begin. McCarty talked about creating zones or rooms in one’s garden and yard for desired activities, such as outdoor cooking, play and an area for pets.

“Play area is essential to every yard, because you are going to have family that come,” McCarty said. “You are going to have visitors that come.”

Selecting the right plants for a space is crucial.

She said know what size the plants will grow to be and how long it will last, especially for trees. She shared a photo of where someone had planted a dogwood too close to their house, and it was creating dangers for the roof.

“You need to read the tag and know how big it is going to be,” McCarty said.

Light, moisture, pH and soil needs are also important considerations when choosing plants.

McCarty said she has looked for drought tolerant plants in her designs.

“Know your pests,” McCarthy said.

She told the story of an insect that sucked on juices from the hackberry tree, leaving oozing honey dew to drip on anything beneath it and creating sooty mold.

Changing the “floor” surface for each area of the garden, such as grass in one and gravel in another was recommended.

“That is what gives people an interest in where they are because everything is changing,” McCarthy said.

She said using rocks slows people down as they walk through the garden.

She emphasized the importance of having an area of serenity in the garden.

“You need to have a place where if you have an emergency and you want to sit down and cry, or pray or think, that is serene,” McCarthy said. “That is what you need in your garden, for you mental health as well as your family’s mental health.”

Using shrubs as dividers but also being able to see other “rooms” in the garden was emphasized.

She also cautioned that one’s “tastes and interests will change.”

McCarty said gardens with an open area for people to gather were good for parties.

Other conference speakers included Dr. Sue Webb, Sharon Capps with Bonnie Plants, Judy Groover, Joe Lamp’l, Mallory Kelley, Dr. Neil Lamb, Jason Powell, Taylor Hatchett and Lelia Scott Kelly.