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MSU, Ole Miss team up to foster good gardening
By Patti Drapala
MSU Ag Communications
OXFORD – Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi have teamed up to make Oxford and the surrounding community an even more beautiful place through an educational partnership.
Mississippi Master Gardeners is an educational exchange program offered through the county offices of MSU’s Extension Service. Individuals who have an interest in plants and gardening sign up for the program, go through basic training, and receive certification in horticulture and its related areas.
In exchange for training, Master Gardeners volunteer time and effort to help communities with gardening and landscaping projects. The Lafayette County group has been active within the Oxford community since its inception several years ago.
Not only have the Master Gardeners worked to improve parks, playgrounds and picnic areas, they also have built a solid reputation for enthusiasm, hard work and expertise. This did not go unnoticed on campus.
Program staff at the University of Mississippi Museum approached the Master Gardeners with a proposal for an annual spring lecture series open to anyone with an interest in improving their gardening skills.
The Lafayette County Master Gardeners jumped at the chance to help, which would allow them to earn community service hours for recertification. The series, which has completed its fifth year, fills every seat in the museum’s Speakers Gallery. Museum staff members are happy with the success of the series because it has also brought in new faces and friends to enjoy the museum’s world-class collections.
“Partnering with the Lafayette County Master Gardeners helps reinforce our institution as a critical part of the fabric of our community,” said museum program coordinator Laura Parkinson. “They are a passionate, hard-working group who are as committed to education as are we.”
That passion has fostered a new venue for gardening and also helped the museum accomplish its mission to foster learning and reach new audiences that can enjoy the museum’s treasures.
“As any fan of Monet can tell you, gardening has long been connected to the world of art as its own form of expression, and it presents the opportunity to bring art of the world outside inside to the museum,” said William Andrews, the museum’s director.
The Master Gardeners have used the opportunity to assist the museum as a way to extend the educational arm of MSU through an attractive venue on the UM campus. The group’s president, Kathryn Clark, said the budding partnership brings out the best in both universities.
“The museum is centrally located on the campus, and people in the community had access to the series we were about to launch,” she said. “Everyone was determined to work together for a successful program.”
The Master Gardeners develop a theme for each series, which usually runs about six weeks, and recruit the speakers. Presenters have included MSU Extension horticulture specialists, such as Lelia Kelly and Pam Collins. Jeff McManus, director of UM Landscape Services and Airport/Golf Course Operations, and other plant professionals in the Oxford community have also served as lecturers. The Clarion-Ledger’s gardening columnist, Felder Rushing, has put in an appearance, too.
“I know I’m a Bulldog when I visit Rebel country, but this program highlights the cooperative spirit between MSU and UM in furthering education, and everyone feels comfortable in this setting,” Kelly said. “People attend because they are getting useful information, which indicates a need both universities are fulfilling.”
The UM Department of Outreach films each session for broadcast on the Internet at http://stream.outreach.olemiss.edu. While many people choose to come in person, the video streaming allows them to relive the experience. It also provides people a way to enjoy the lecture if they cannot attend.
Many of the Lafayette County Master Gardeners bring plant cuttings and gardening tips to share with the audience. Attendees often go home enthusiastic and spread the word about the series and the speakers. They often return with neighbors, relatives and friends.
“The presentations and the knowledge that you gain is a great help to people like me,” said Susan Hayman, who recently moved to Oxford. “I am impressed by the use of dogwoods and azaleas on campus and around the town. The Master Gardeners and the university here do a fabulous job in getting this information out to the public.”