Master gardeners regional conference

by Caroline Brown

I attended the Northeast Regional Master Gardeners Conference last week in Newport, RI. This is a picture of the conference, the Hyatt on Goat Island. It's a beautiful location–right on the harbor. Unfortunately the weather was horrible–rainy, gray, chilly, & windy–so I didn't spend much time outside.

The conference included a tons of seminars, meetings with authors, dinners & lunches, garden tours, the usual fare. Since I attended as a volunteer, not a paying attendee, I couldn't participate fully. But, I lucked into a great assignment–"speaker keeper"–which allowed me to attend the seminars, which is what interested me most anyway.

A speaker keeper is assigned to take care of seminar leaders–make sure they find the room, have all the materials they need, have water, keep them company, introducing them to the attendees, etc. That meant that I got to meet and chat up garden experts and attend their seminars. I took care of 3 speakers on Tuesday and 3 on Wednesday, so I got to attend 6 seminars without paying the conference registration fee, which is nice. Even though I didn't get to choose which seminars/speakers I worked with, I drew pretty good assignments:

Shade Gardening. This was perfect for me because all we have in our yard is shade. Speaker Russ Bragg used to own a shade-only nursery and has lots of knowledge about shade perennials.

Healing Gardens. Sherri Reehil-Welser is a really sweet woman who started out creating gardens for personal therapy when she lost one of her children at a young age. She showed a slide set with a lot of beautiful gardens (hers) and inspirational quotes. It was a moving presentation, but in truth I wanted more "down and dirty" information, such as the healing properties of specific plants.

Propagation. A great workshop by Dave Hughes, a URI master gardener who taught our botany class. I've always been afraid of dividing bulbs and plants but Dave did a great job of explaining it, complete with hands-on demos. He demonstrated how to divide hostas, daylilies, and irises, and also how to take cuttings from woody plants.

Year Round Interest in the Garden. Irene Beauregard, another URI master gardener, gave a slideshow on workhorse plants that are beautiful in more than one season. It was great for gardeners like those in New England whose traditional gardening seasons are short.

Organic Matter, Microbes & Soil Health. Strictly for soil nerds…I loved it! John Howell, who was a vegetable specialist at UMASS Extension for nearly 30 years, gave a great talk on soil health and how it's affected by organic matter and microbes. He included lots of tips on how to amend with compost to have healthier soil.

Tooling Around. Mary Mason & Pat Davis used to own a garden tool shop in Rhode Island. They showed attendees what to look for in a tool, how to choose ergonomically-correct tools based on your body type, and how to tell if a tool is well- or poorly-made.

All in all, it was a very interesting two days, packed with learning!


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