A well-kept secret, to some folks, is the Douglas County Master Gardeners Demonstration Gardens. Most EMG groups have these plots to try new designs and plants in the garden and to share their discoveries with the public. Our gardens are located at the County Extension Offices at the fairgrounds at 2110 Harper here in Lawrence. To get a feel for what it takes to maintain such a space, I am sharing an article written by Sharon Ashworth, a member of the 2013 EMG class. I’ve spent some hours working in the demo plots and this really puts you there! Enjoy the warmth and color on this cold, gray day!
Ten of us tread water in the muggy July air, awaiting instructions. Michele gives us the list for the morning which includes assembling a new arbor and bench for the butterfly garden, weeding, moving the old concrete bench to the bird garden, weeding, removing the grub infested irises, weeding, mulching a path for the new grass garden, weeding, and one more go at purging and organizing the garden shed. Recent rains mean no watering and “easy” weeding. Instructions received, we all move off each according to his or her ability. I’m a beginner and garden furniture assembly is a bit of an advanced task for me so I head off to weed. By the end of the morning we’ve checked everything off the list and Mary and I, we dug up the irises, are covered in mud and smiling. The gardens look fantastic and it has been another great morning at the demonstration gardens.
Did I mention how great the gardens look? I am still in awe of the new shade garden, a thriving, cool oasis with the most beautiful wren condominiums set just on the edge of the bird garden next door. The birds moved in the day the new house was installed and they seem quite happy with their accommodations. The shade garden is the most recent addition to twelve unique gardens at the Douglas County Extension office. The gardens bordering the building and the herb collection were the only plantings when Michele Passman, current co-chair of the demonstration gardens, moved to Lawrence from Johnson County in 2003. Already a Master Gardener, Michele joined the initial, three or four-person garden crew and not long after began a campaign for walking paths. Plans were already in the works for the garden shed, built in 2006, but the first cement paths were not built until 2009, shortly after Michele introduced herself to the new horticultural agent, Jennifer Smith. Since that time the volunteer crew has grown to include new co-chair Cathy Sorofman and10-15 regular, enthusiastic volunteers. All their hard work has turned the gardens into true demonstrations of the varied possibilities for Kansas gardening.
What does a gardener do but look for opportunities to plant something and this is just how the gardens have evolved. The new circular sidewalk provided just the spot for a butterfly garden and the extra soil mounded on the edge of the sidewalk was perfect for the shrub garden. The dry, baked area next to the parking lot became the xeriscape garden and the grassy swale that receives runoff from the parking lot was perfect for a rain garden. The 2011 construction of the sidewalk on the north side of the Extension office prompted the shade garden – all that promising space beneath trees between the sidewalk and the building’s brick walls. Every one of the gardens is filled with low maintenance plants capable of growing in this part of Kansas, without the assistance of any pesticides. To demonstrate possibilities is the purpose of the gardens – the public can walk or wheel their way around and see the incredible variety of vegetables, grasses, shrubs, and flowers that will grow in Northeast Kansas, and perhaps in their own backyard. Know someone who wants a shrub for a bare corner? Tell them to go look at the varieties planted in the shrub garden to see how big they get, what the flowers really look like, and the color of fall and winter foliage. Does your neighbor want to try some ornamental grasses, or find plants that won’t double the water bill? Suggest a visit to the demonstration gardens for ideas. Information, however, is not the gardens’ sole use; school groups and families stroll through the gardens looking for bugs and fair goers relax away from the crowds and midway.
Of course all that the gardens provide necessitates a labor force. The garden crew is currently making its way around the building revitalizing old gardens, moving the grass garden, and drumming up ideas for more public education opportunities. If you come on Tuesday’s to help, start time is 9:00 am. Put in what time you have or hang out for a taco lunch after you put down the shovel. It’s the kind of volunteer activity I like – tell me where to go and what to do when I get there. Michele and Cathy are always ready with tasks, but it’s not all work – break time is strictly enforced and there is always time to trade garden tips and share in the veggie garden harvest.