Heather Buritsch, Easton Coordinator, Talbot County Master Gardener Program

By Sandra Zunino

With glimpses of warmer weather on the way, gardeners cannot help but start planning their gardens. At the Talbot County Cooperative Extension office, the principal outreach education unit of the University of Maryland, Talbot Master Gardener Program Coordinator Heather Buritsch and her team of Master Gardeners are available to help.

Heather is the horticultural educator at the Extension office. Under her guidance, interested individuals can receive extensive training from Maryland Cooperative Extension specialists, agents, and other horticulture professionals to become certified Maryland Master Gardeners. In turn, the master gardeners donate time and energy to help solve gardening problems and teach environmentally sound practices to citizens throughout the county. Currently there are more than 80 master gardener volunteers.

One new program Heather is trying to promote is the “Grow It – Eat It” initiative to help Marylanders grow their own food. “Several of our master gardeners are going with me to a training course at the Wye Research & Education Center on April 7,” says Heather.

From that course, they will provide information on how to start and maintain successful food gardens. “We’ll be promoting this in schools in our Jr. Master Gardener program and we’ll also have a community garden at the new extension office,” she says. “We hope that we will be able to donate any excess food to neighborhood service centers.”

In the Junior Master Garden Program, also overseen by Heather, children in area schools participate in hands-on activities designed to teach botany, entomology, ecology, composting, vegetable and herb gardening, nutrition and more. The purpose of the program is to reconnect children with the natural world through science and gardening. “The youth program is growing by the minute,” says Heather who is especially passionate about this program.

“If kids have no attachment with nature now, our environment is not going to be in good shape by the time they are adults,” she says. “These important things are getting lost as kids become more attached to television, video games and computers.”

Master Gardeners also connect individuals in assisted living with nature through their Therapeutic Gardening Program. Since January 2008, they have been periodically working with residents and Alzheimer patients at The Pines, planting container gardens, raised beds and growing salad greens and herbs. Recently Dixon House residents were added to the schedule.

In the Bay-Wise Program, master gardeners are helping homeowners plant landscapes and use procedures that will protect and respect the Chesapeake Bay. Master Gardeners visit the property and use an “MD yardstick” educational tool to point out things the homeowner can do to make a difference such as reducing fertilizer use, preventing storm water runoff by planting buffers, using compost and integrating native plants into the landscape to assist wildlife. After the homeowner initiates the changes, the team returns to certify the landscape as Bay-Wise.

Bay-Wise Master Gardeners complete advanced training in Bay-Wise Landscape Management. Currently there are 30 Bay-Wise master gardeners, with 15 more estimated to complete Bay-Wise training in April, according to Heather.

In addition to these programs, Master Gardeners will be holding clinics at the Easton and St. Michaels Farmers’ Markets, and will plant and maintain demonstration gardens including rain gardens and a three-bin compost system at the new Agriculture Service Center off Glebe Road.

For more information about the Talbot County Master Gardener program or the many other programs at the Talbot County Extension office call 410-822-1244, visit www.mastergardener.umd.edu.org or visit the office at Marys Court, Suite 1, Easton