Monday, October 31, 2011

Month-Long Accolades for Polk Master Gardener Projects

Polk County Master Gardeners have received international and state acclaim during the month of October for educational and service projects sponsored in Polk County. David Shibles, Ornamental Horticulture Agent for the Polk County Extension Service, summed up the accomplishments of the group as “rewards well-deserved for the dedicated volunteer work that Polk County Master Gardeners do on a regular basis. “

Polk County Master Gardeners' Agri-Fest Program Wins International Award

Polk County Master Gardeners received the 2011 International Master Gardener Conference “Search for Excellence” (SFE) Award for its Agri-Fest horticulture project which teaches 4th graders about seeds and plants, and the consumer products that they produce in the county’s agricultural economy. The 1st place award in the youth project category was presented by Monica David, SFE Chair, of the University of Illinois during the organization’s conference held October 11-14 in Charleston, W.Va. to Polk County Master Gardener Carol Leffler and Polk County Urban Horticulturist Dr. David Shibles. Carol Leffler gave a short presentation about Agri-Fest, on behalf of the Polk County Master Gardeners, to 1,000 Master Gardeners attending the conference.

Agri-Fest “Horticulture” is a program that attracts 6,000 4th graders and 325 teachers annually in the spring. For 12 years students have been coming to the Polk County Extension Service from throughout the County for this program which is comprised of eight agricultural stations. Although the SFE Award was given for the Master Gardeners’ project relating to horticulture, students also visit other disciplines including citrus, blueberries, honeybees, livestock, forestry, phosphates, small farms, and the water cycle to learn about the local agricultural economy.

Polk County has experienced a 43% increase in population in the last decade. Most students are less likely to have direct experience with the historically agrarian lifestyle that is a basis of the Polk County economy, despite the continued importance of agriculture in their lives.

Polk County Master Gardeners redesigned the horticulture program in 2010, to focus on giving students hands-on experience and developed a teaching tool called “The Market Basket” to introduce students to the direct relationship between horticulture and their everyday lives. Students also potted a plant to take home. The result is that students find themselves learning to appreciate plants and beginning to think about land and water conservation as the basis for success in their environment.

Polk County Master Gardeners were awarded 1st Place in the Youth category for their Agri-Fest horticulture project at the International Master Gardener Conference in Charleston, West Virginia. Left to right: Monica David, Search for Excellence Chair, Dr. David Shibles, Polk County Master Gardener Coordinator, Carol Leffler, Polk County Master Gardener, and Tom Wichman, Florida Master Garden Coordinator.

The “Market Basket” activity allows students to directly see how seeds and plants produce consumer goods they use in their everyday lives.

Polk County Master Gardeners Shine at State Awards Conference

The State Master Gardener Conference was held in Orlando on October 24-26. The Polk County Master Gardeners were recognized at the conference as State Winners for projects in two categories for projects during the 2010-2011 year. The state recognizes twelve categories annually for excellent Master Gardener service to the state of Florida. Polk County was awarded sole recognition in the categories of “Community Beautification” and “Demonstration Garden.” The awards were presented by state Master Gardener Coordinator, Tom Wichman of the University of Florida.

The Community Beautification State Award was given for the “Little Gem Magnolia Project” in Fort Meade. Fort Meade resident and Master Gardener, Debra Howell worked with the Chamber of Commerce and city staff, along with Master Gardeners Pat Farris and Maria Carillo, to make this project a reality. The citywide project, “Fort Meade PRIDE,” resulted in plantings of Little Gem™ magnolias and vinca in large brick street-planters, beach sunflowers at public intersections, a butterfly garden at Peace River Park, and a program for community groups to adopt areas for additional beautification gardens.

The Demonstration Garden State Award was given for the “Florida Friendly Demonstration Garden” at the Polk Training Center in Lake Alfred. Master Gardener Molly Griner designed the project, which uses the nine principles of Florida Friendly Landscaping™ as a basis for demonstrating ways to make sustainable changes to landscapes while also conserving water. Thirteen volunteers contributed nearly 300 hours of service to this project, which has ongoing goals for education, both for the general public and students at the Polk Training Center.

Classes for those who wish to become a Polk County Master Gardener are held each fall from September to December. Requirements and more information can be viewed on the Polk County Master Gardener website at

For more information, contact: David B. Shibles, Urban Horticulturalist
UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service
(863) 519-8677 Ext. 109

Carol Leffler, Polk County Master Gardener
(863) 709-0840

Monday, October 17, 2011

Polk County Master Gardeners Win International Award

The Polk County Master Gardeners won first place in the youth category for their Agri-Fest program at the 2011 International Master Gardener Conference in Charleston, West Virginia. This much sought after prize is awarded to only one Master Gardener organization each year for extraordinary service to youth in their community.

Agri-Fest is an educational program sponsored by the Polk County Farm Bureau which has served 6,000 fourth graders annually for the past 22 years. Agri-Fest is comprised of program segments that teach students about the agricultural economy of Polk County, and is introduced to students by professionals from each discipline (horticulture, citrus, forestry, phosphate mining, livestock, honeybees, blueberries, and the water cycle). The program takes place at the UF/IFAS Polk County Extension Service facilities in Bartow.

The Polk County Master Gardeners have participated for 10 years by creating a program devoted to building the appreciation and awareness of the importance of plants to students’ daily lives. Even in a county widely known for its economic agricultural base, most students have little understanding of the connection between the land and their well-being. The prevalence of “subdivision life” has separated most students from interacting with, and understanding how, agricultural is practiced in their own county and is essential to their daily lives. Through Agri-Fest, we hope to foster the understanding and appreciation in the next generation of the environment, plants and agriculture. We view this goal as necessary to the future of agricultural in Polk County.

The horticulture program, as one of the specialized areas of instruction, teaches the basics of horticulture and methods that students can use at home. The program includes a short presentation on the basics and then hands-on activities to engage all students. Students get to touch plants, seeds, relate vegetables and fruits to the uses in products and to plant a small plant in a larger pot.

Agri-Fest is coordinated with fourth grade schoolteachers from 325 classrooms countywide. All schools are eligible, including public, private, parochial, home-schools, and special needs students. Pre-program materials are sent to each school, so that teachers can coordinate curriculum for the Agri-Fest experience. During the on site program, Master Gardeners also provide teachers and students with take-home materials—seeds, plants and written media. The program takes place over a period of two weeks in the spring, but planning starts months before.

The "Search for Excellence" program
The International Master Gardener Search for Excellence is the program that recognizes Master Gardener volunteer work throughout the United States and Canada. All Master Gardener programs benefit their communities but not all are Search for Excellence projects. Projects for this award must be outstanding group projects that have made significant and demonstrated contributions to their communities.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Landscape Show

It is fun to attend The Landscape Show, held at the Orlando Convention Center, every fall. It is a great place to see new plants and landscape products and get ideas for the landscape. Here are a few photos from the show this year!

A variety of textures.

Interesting and creative displays.

Different types of Melaleuca mulch. Melaleuca mulch is available for purchase from the Polk County Master Gardeners!

An innovative way to grow vegetables and other plants. Maybe for the patio?

Native plants make an attractive display!

Xeric plants provide visual interest in a container.

Tropical plants in all shapes and sizes.

A variety of decorative landscape rocks.

There are many beautiful annual bedding plants on display!

Perennial Peanut varieties 'Ecoturf' and 'Needlepoint'.