Doing the “Heart” Work

A woman kneels next to a bed of flowers.
Master Gardener Mary Hardy is motivated to keep her flower garden alive.

Master Gardener volunteers despite pandemic challenges

Story by Leah Barbour • Photos by Kevin Hudson

The sun was beating down, the humidity oppressive, and the flower bed dry. It was April 29, 2020, and the pandemic had closed the Mississippi State University Extension Service office in Washington County, where the snapdragons are.

But the pandemic wasn’t stopping Mississippi weather from its regular course. Mary Hardy was concerned about the flowers. A Master Gardener since 2013, she decided she needed to get out of the house and go take care of them.

She donned a hat and a facemask and started watering her flowers. Because Extension agent Jennifer Russell was in the building, still offering Extension services, including information about the pandemic and safety guidelines, she saw Hardy watering the flowers.

Video by Michaela Parker

Russell took Hardy’s picture and posted it on Facebook. Hundreds saw it and were inspired by her dedication even though the pandemic was raging, people were at home, and the office was closed to the public.

For Hardy, that’s just who she is—responsible for her commitments, attentive to detail, and considerate of the community and herself.

“I’m always doing something. I could get out, go there, get some fresh air, and not be around people. I could take care of the plot on my own. It was my responsibility.”


“I’m always doing something,” she laughs. “I could get out, go there, get some fresh air, and not be around a lot of people. I could take care of the plot on my own. It was my responsibility. I had pledged to do that and keep it up.”

Master Gardener, a statewide volunteer program overseen by Extension, trains members in horticulture and gardening so they can answer questions or sponsor community-based garden projects. After the first year of engaging in 40 hours of training at the local Extension office matched by 40 hours of service in the community, to maintain their credentials

Master Gardeners continue at least 12 hours of training annually and provide at least 20 hours of service.

A woman stands next to a flower bed holding a green watering can.
Mary Hardy continued
amid the pandemic.

Hardy, who learned about the group from her friend and fellow Master Gardener Betty Coleman, cares for the flowers at the Extension office on her own. Hardy assists with many other projects, too, including at the William Alexander Percy Memorial Library, the historic Wetherbee House, the Greenville Higher Education Center, and the butterfly garden at the Yazoo National

Wildlife Refuge, just to name a few.

Hardy praises Russell’s support of the Master Gardeners. While Russell has been an Extension agent for more than 20 years, she’s just begun her second year with the Washington County office.

“She’s a good fit for this community,” Hardy emphasizes. “Every time I go to water the plants, I think I won’t see her, but she’ll see me and pop out to say hello. She is so friendly, so supportive, and so cooperative.”

Likewise, Russell appreciates Hardy’s dedication and contributions to making the county, including the Extension office, more beautiful and welcoming.

“Ms. Mary is very active in the community,” Russell shares. “She is in Alpha Kappa Alpha, a historically black sorority, and she is always doing something. She is a volunteer who wants to help the community. She is a go-getter.”

Hardy embraces that identity, she says. As a lifetime member of the sorority’s Eta Theta Omega chapter in Greenville, she embraces the organization’s tagline, “Service to all.”

“I have that drive, you know,” Hardy explains. “When you’re responsible for something, you do not want to see it fall by the wayside. I wanted my snapdragons to survive and keep looking good. So I’ve taken care of them.”



MSU Extension Service
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