The Hall County Master Gardeners work all year long giving back to the community.
Through educational symposiums, community service and work with the Hall County Extension office, the Master Gardeners are into more than just planting pretty flowers.
"Our mission is to educate the public on gardening and gardening techniques," said Dave Rusk, president of the Hall County Master Gardeners. "We sponsor events, which are not only to educate the public but to raise money so we can give back to the community and the various projects."
Just this year alone the Master Gardeners have worked on projects at the library, the senior center and an educational garden at the Hall County Board of Education. They have also expanded the Junior Master Gardeners program into elementary schools across Hall County.
Rusk said there are about 150 members in the Hall County Master Gardeners. "In fact, last year we had the most volunteer hours of any group in the state, over 16,000 volunteer hours," he said.
So how exactly do you become a Master Gardener?
"To become a Master Gardener there is a 50-hour course that a person must take," Rusk said. "Here in Hall County we do that January, February and March, two days a week, 2 1/2 hours each session at the (Hall) county extension office.
"It costs $125 and that includes a very detailed book on horticulture, plants and so forth. It's basically a science course in horticulture."
After finishing the courses, each new Master Gardener must commit to 50 volunteer hours.
"The first year, 25 of which will be at the extension office helping answer the phones and so forth," Rusk said. "Subsequent years, once they get to 50 hours, they are certified as a Master Gardener and subsequent years they only need to maintain membership through 25 hours of volunteer service."
Next up for the Master Gardeners is the Fall Gardening Symposium which is themed Fall Into Spring.
The event will feature four speakers who will share information on specialty areas of the gardening world.
"The four we're having have not spoken at other symposiums; we hope it's new information," Rusk said. "I'm fascinated by ferns, one of them is speaking on native ferns, he'll also be selling ferns as well."
Mike Francis, a local grower of specialty conifers and Japanese maples, will speak on "Southern Conifers for the Shade;" Jim Collins, a landscape designer, has the topic of "Landscaping with Native Plants;" Mary Donovan, an Atlanta-area landscaper, will be discussing "Remodeling Older Landscapes for the Baby Boomer of Today;" and Tom Goforth, who specializes in raising native ferns, will discuss "A Passion for Native Ferns: Their Beauty, Diversity and Amazing History."
What drives the passion for many of these Master Gardeners? We spoke to a couple to find out.
As president of the Hall County Master Gardeners, it's Rusk's job to get the community involved with horticulture - but he didn't always know that's what the organization was about.
"I have always been fascinated with gardening since I was a kid and actually majored in agriculture," he said. "When I heard about the Master Gardener program I didn't know what it was. I didn't know it was a volunteer organization. Once I got into it I realized it was a community volunteer organization; I got caught up in that and have been vice president and president."
Rusk became a Master Gardener in 2003 and has been an important part of the group ever since. And while he claims his home garden isn't the most beautiful specimen, he's proud of his mass plantings.
"Mine is not a pretty garden, but it has a lot of plants," he said. "I have a big area, almost an acre in size, and I do a lot of mass plantings with day lilies ... a lot of gladiolas, lantana; I have a specialty garden with just dahlias. I have 42 varieties of dahlias, a rose garden, a vegetable garden."
When Lovett retired from teaching in 1996, she started "playing in the dirt" and realized how little she actually knew about gardening. Other than planting a few annuals in her garden, she said most of time had been spent focusing on being a mother and a teacher.
"So I soon became obsessive about plants, and knowing how little I knew I decided to take the Master Gardening class," she said. "The second thing is, I've always been involved in service, and the main mission of the Master Gardeners is to help the county agent and all the services he provides.
"I very quickly became involved in all the different aspects of Master Gardening in the county."
Lovett became a Master Gardener in 2004, and her husband Lee took the classes and joined her in 2006. One project they have been working on recently is Gardens on Green, an educational garden on the site of the Hall County Board of Education offices at 711 Green St. in Gainesville.
In her own garden, Lovett said she looks for plants that have been designated as "survivors," winning the gold-medal distinction from the Georgia Green Industry Association. She particularly enjoys growing hydrangea and angelonia, a drought-tolerant plant that blooms from late spring until the frost hits.
"You may have heard through the years, someone made this statement to inspire someone, ‘Bloom where you're planted.' That isn't true for plants," she said. "Too many people go into a garden center and see something in bloom and say, ‘Oh this is beautiful, I've got to have it. But what is essential is to know the needs of the plant; the kind of soil, the amount of light. Knowing the needs of the plant is essential."