Public gardens, and the gardeners within them

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Public gardens abound in Wood County, open for your enjoyment at no cost. The gardens are planned, built, and maintained by volunteers (mostly retirees), with the support of our cities. Each day dozens of people enjoy the beauty of these gardens before work, on their lunch break, or with their children after school. We rely mainly on volunteer labor to keep the gardens in shape - they weed, mow, mulch, plant, and trim. There’s an influx of spring help from the Wood County Master Gardeners intern class to practice what they’ve learned in class, just at the perfect time for the many spring chores. Throughout the year you’ll find local churches, scouts, and other youth groups helping in the gardens, and these teams accomplish a lot in these days of service. Volunteers are the lifeblood of our public gardens.

One of the challenges in managing a public garden is to provide some interest each month of the year - and not always flowers. This week at the arboretum I noticed caterpillars from a black swallowtail butterfly eating the leaves of a bronze fennel in the butterfly bed, while a tiger swallowtail butterfly lay her eggs on a black cherry seedling. Over the past month, the crossvine on the arbor has been mobbed by bees, and they’ll soon flock to the blue-flowering salvia in the raised bed - causing me to reflect, ‘busy as a bee’.

But the gardens aren’t just about enjoying the flowers and the pollinators that visit them; you can also learn what might grow well in your yard, even if you don’t have a green thumb. The bed between the arboretum and the civic center is our ‘Water Wise Garden’. You’ll notice that it’s far from any of our water hydrants, and that’s by design. In this bed, we’ll water plants till they’re acclimated, usually the first year, then we add no supplemental water to the bed. (We’ll also yank those that can’t survive this type of horticultural abuse.) Here you’ll find plants that love the sun and heat of Texas. Sundrops or Texas Primrose with their electric yellow blooms are spring’s beacon to this bed, and the red autumn sage commands you to stop and take a look. (Plant lists for the waterwise garden and the butterfly bed are available by request.) You can also see sundrops in a bed at the Quitman Library, next to a rose-colored yarrow under a crape myrtle and in front of tall bearded iris, showing how you might use these plants in a border at home.

The public gardens also showcase trees that grow in Wood County. Following his talk at a master gardener class, Daniel Duncum with Texas A & M Forest Service identified trees at the arboretum behind the gazebo and along the trails; these are marked temporarily until we can make better signs. Thanks to Daniel, volunteers can now recognize native hickory, black cherry, rusty blackhaw, and tree sparkleberry along the trail, and are happy to point them out. Several years ago, Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists teamed up on a similar project at the Mineola Nature Preserve.

If you enjoy time at a public garden, please consider donating to support them. The groups for which I volunteer are all non-profits and rely on grants, donations, and fundraisers to pay for plants, fertilizer, signs, and supplies to maintain these gardens. You can also support the non-profits’ fundraisers - the Quitman Garden Club just completed their largest ever annual Geranium Sale fundraiser, and the Friends of the Arboretum will hold their spring plant sale Saturday, from 8 till 1. Stop by and I’ll show you some plants that will thrive in your East Texas garden.

About the author: Lin is a Texas Master Gardener in Wood County. Email requests for plant lists to her at txgardengal@gmail.com. To learn hands-on techniques, join her and other volunteers each Wednesday morning at 9, at the Quitman Arboretum and Botanical Gardens.

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