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Master Gardener shares love of natural-looking space with others
A spicebush caterpillar hides itself inside a curled leaf before the transformation into a butterfly.

For Talmo woman Karin Hicks, knowledge is power.

“I just love to learn,” Hicks said.

And she wields that power with her green thumbs. Her garden is a statewide recognized and certified pollinator habitat. It is also a monarch waystation, meaning her backyard is equipped to give food, water and shelter to young butterflies to help them flourish. She also tags butterflies to keep track of individuals.

“You can go online and get your garden certified,” Hicks said.

It coincides with her garden’s main focus: Creating a safe place for pollinators and wildlife like birds and beetles.

“I also think, as gardeners, it’s our responsibility to support the pollinators,” Hicks said. “If everybody had that and stopped using so many pesticides, and gardened organically, we can help support them.”

The monarch population is dwindling and Hicks’ garden helps the species grow by providing a wet, sandy area for the butterflies. She spotted her first monarch butterfly in her garden recently.

In fact, she loves her pollinator plants. She said if she had to choose a favorite, it would be the button bush.

“It attracts a phenomenal number of pollinators,” she said, noting the plant blooms in June and requires a moist location.

Hicks also doesn’t subscribe to maintaining a manicured garden. Instead she encourages other gardeners to leave leaf litter where it is and not disturb the ecosystem.

“If you can, don’t be so tidy,” Hicks said. “I’ll clear the pathways but everywhere else, I just leave it.”

You can tell she likes the idea of a more natural look with her second-favorite plant: the joe-pye weed.

“It’s really does them a disservice to call them weeds,” Hicks said, because most weeds are actually helpful in gardens.

Hicks mentioned weeds can provide food and shelter for certain species of insects.

Hicks does not keep this knowledge to herself. As a certified Master Gardener, she teaches classes at the Gardens on Green in downtown Gainesville. She has taught several classes, including a “Gardening for Butterflies and Moths” session.

But she does not limit her teachings to in-person classes. Hicks uses her own blog, “Southern Meadows,” on the Internet as a way to reach more people.

In fact, Hicks attended the international garden blogger fling this year in Toronto. She met fellow gardeners, as well as 80 other garden bloggers, and visited public and private gardens across the city. The knowledge proved fruitful.

“It’s fabulous, because you meet all these other gardeners,” Hicks said. “Some are in South Carolina and we meet up a few times a year.”

Convening with other gardeners is a good way for gardeners to let their solitary hobby become a tool for interaction and sharing knowledge with each other.

Hicks shares this knowledge and her own personal findings with her blog followers. She updates her blog with photographs and descriptions of the insects and other wildlife she finds in her garden.

Whenever she finds a new species, she sets out to find out what it is and its importance to her garden.

However, Hicks noted gardening isn’t for everyone. It requires hard work and patience.

If you have the time, persistence and strong work ethic, gardening can be a very rewarding experience. And Hicks has those three characteristics in spades.

Since moving to Georgia eight years ago, Hicks can be found in her backyard garden on an almost daily basis. But this process did not start overnight for the Talmo woman. Her green thumb has developed over 20 years and across continents.

Hicks, her husband, Dean, and her their children have lived across the nation, as well as in The Netherlands.

Hicks said cultivating a garden takes time and effort that some people may not have to spare.

“It’s all a work in progress, all the time,” Hicks said.

Therefore, Hicks’ advice to new gardeners is to ask yourself a few questions.

Does your garden have more sunlight or shade?

Is the soil dry or moist?

Will you have the time to water it every day if that’s what it needs?

Once you know these answers, she said you can start planting your garden.

She suggested starting off with a small area in the backyard or using potted plants on a patio.

For Hicks , gardening is more about the lasting legacy she will leave rather than an aesthetically pleasing piece of her property.

“To me, education is important,” Hicks said. “I want to pass on what little knowledge I have to the next generation so that they can make it a better place. The importance of what I feel like I’m doing here, and the role that we play.”