Serve – November 2018

What to Give a Gardener

Gifts for Gardeners!

Dramm compact pruners

What to Give a Gardener

by Nancy Denison, Advanced Extension Master Gardener

Welcome to the HallowThanksMas season…time to start shopping and eating and being grateful…. but not necessarily in that order. I did a bit of research to see what’s out there for those who like to play in the dirt. Here are some fun ideas for holiday gift giving, now or anytime in the near future.

We always like a good pair of gardening gloves and I go back and forth about spending a lot of money for ones that might last a whole season or just a bag of cheap ones. The Holiday Gift Guide from Fine Gardening Magazine recommends “Foxgloves” which claim to be comfortable and durable and $21-36.00 per pair at Then there are the claw finger garden gloves from Amazon by several different companies.  These are usable for digging without tools…(” a set of tools in each hand”), are breathable and only $7.00 a pair.

When it’s really mucky or chilly out, I wear my Bogs but I have been thinking of a pair of slip on boots such as “Sloggers” recommended by Julie and Melissa at Garden Goods. These are colorful and look like they would do the trick for around $45. Unfortunately, they were out of my size. Other brands I found online were Ariat, Ugg, Asgard, Dksuko, The Muck Boot Company and WTW.

Succulents are still very popular, whether in a wreath, topiary or vase. Fine Gardening Gift Guide shows a ceramic succulent planter with multiple openings for various small plants. It’s distributed by

Melissa from Garden Goods suggested Dramm compact pruners and shears; good for deadheading and fine trimming. I like that idea of smaller tools since I sliced my finger open this summer in my deadheading frenzy. To go along with pruning is a collapsible garden bag to collect the cuttings. Other ideas from Garden Goods include wind chimes, window bird feeders, SPF hats, seed packs for stocking stuffers, and bulbs for winter color (amaryllis, paper whites).

From the HGTV web site were gifts of a seed savers exchange membership (, Fiskars garden bucket caddy, with room for tools and trimmings, the beautiful book, The Encyclopedia of Flowers by Makoto Azuma (, and ready-made raised garden beds.

These websites also have a wealth of ideas;;;; and

Happy dreaming, happy shopping!

Goatskin gloves

Gifts for Gardeners!

by Kellie Parks, Extension Master Gardener

Here are my suggestions to get you started on holiday shopping for the gardener in your life.

  1. Stihl pruners I don’t think Stihl is a common brand choice for the average gardener’s pruners, but I’ve had mine for 15 years, and they still get the job done easily. I confess that I am not great at taking care of my garden tools (Oil? What’s oil?), but these babies have taken my neglect in stride.


  1. Goatskin gloves I am definitely NOT a glove wearer. My hands get sweaty and I can’t feel the soil. But when I have a LOT of earth work to do, this is my go-to glove. I’ve had cloth, cow leather, rubber, hybrid, you name it, and these are by far my favorite. They are soft and thin enough to fit close to my hands without being clingy, allow me to feel what I’m doing, and seem to manage my bizarre hand perspiration well.


  1. Teaming with Microbes, by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis I can’t remember now where I first heard about this book, but if I had to guess I would say it was from Craig Shaaf of Golden Rule Farm in Kaleva. I haven’t yet purchased it, but it is on my list this year (Hint, hint. Husband, are you reading this…?) It is definitely anti-chemical soil additive, which isn’t for everyone.  But I think any gardener can benefit from more information about how “to garden in a way that strengthens, rather than destroys, the soil food web—the complex world of soil-dwelling organisms whose interactions create a nurturing environment for plants”.


  1. Home made bee hotel For those with better crafting skills than I, this would be a great DIY gift. We all know that our beloved pollinators can use all the support they can get these days, and this project gives them a head start on setting up housekeeping.


  1. Garden apron I can NEVER remember to bring a harvesting/weeding container with me to the garden.  But maybe I can remember to put on a cute, lightweight apron and save on wear and tear and disfigurement of my clothes (upturned t-shirt hem basket, anyone??)


  1. Baker Creek Catalog I will forever be an advocate of Baker Creek and their tireless work to preserve the historic foodstuffs of the world. Not only are their catalogs bursting with interesting, unusual, hard-to-find varieties of everything under the sun, they are beautiful to look at as well. This is the catalog that I get most excited about upon its arrival in my mailbox.


  1. Hori Hori knife I usually use my trusty trowel for transplanting, hacking at roots, and digging weeds, but I drool over these hori hori knives every time I see one. They just seem so useful, and this one in particular is so beautiful. A gardener can’t have too many tools, can she?


  1. Gorilla Tub/Tub Trug I LOVE my Tub Trugs! They’ve had a name change apparently, but are still the same multicolored, flexible, lightweight, tough multitasker. Mine gets used for so much more than just carrying weeds and harvesting: outdoor toy bin, soccer goal, impromptu dog water bowl, ice bucket for chilling beverages…


  1. Floret flower seed collection A dear friend from high school introduced me to Floret a couple of years ago. I have always been more of a vegetable/herb gardener than ornamental/flower type of gal, but the Floret website and books have lured me to bumping up my flower growing game. Truly eye candy for any gardener.

Serve – September 2018

2018 Gold Badge Profiles

by Bethany Thies, EMG

One of the highest levels of service an Extension Master Gardener (EMGs) can receive is the Gold Badge, which is bestowed on those EMGs who have reached 1000 hours of volunteer service.  This year, the MSU Extension is awarding this honor to three area EMGs: Marina Deering, Cheryl Gross and Michele Worden.

Recently, the Real Dirt asked these three hard-working EMGs to talk a little bit about their time as Master Gardeners.  Here are their comments:

The Real Dirt:  When and where did you get your Master Gardener training?

Marina Deering:  Northwest Michigan Horticulture Research Station in 2004.

Cheryl Gross:  MSU Extension in Leelanau County in 2011.

Michele Worden:  I took the class in 2002 when I was taking a temporary leave of absence from work due to my pregnancy.  I could not travel.

RD:  What prompted you to apply for Master Gardener training?  

MD:  Two reasons: To serve the community and learn how to garden in four seasons. I moved here from Southern California, which has a year-round growing season, and had no clue how to garden with four seasons.

CG:  Like many, I was interested in the comprehensiveness of the training.  I wanted to know more for personal reasons. I did not have a clue about the volunteering aspects.  I thought about taking the training when I lived in Wayne County, MI, and again when I lived in Allegheny County, PA.  FINALLY, 20 years later I managed to fit it in to my schedule in Benzie County!

MW:  I had wanted to take the course since I first learned about it as a newlywed home owner in Ferndale, MI, in 1993.  I was eagerly landscaping my house and planting a vegetable garden and read every garden magazine I could get my hands on.  When I first read about it in Nancy Szerlag’s column in the Detroit Free Press, I wanted to take the class.

RD:  What have been some of your more memorable volunteering assignments?  

MD:  Assisting the residents at Grand Traverse Pavilions with their planter boxes on their porches; helping install and maintain the rain gardens at the Boardman River Nature Center; working at the Leelanau Community Garden in Suttons Bay; and the MGANM bus trips to visit nurseries, gardens and horticultural distributors to expand our gardening knowledge.

CG:  Oh, my.  That is a hard one.  Most of my hours have been earned as the editor of the Real Dirt.  Working with Whitney Miller, aka Techie Chick, and the original volunteer group… Sonia Clem and Nancy Denison as we felt our way through a redesign and change from a mailed paper document to an on-line format is certainly memorable.  I have really enjoyed meeting and working with ALL of the contributors.

Also, working with Habitat for Humanity recently required a lot of listening, flexibility and adapting to juggle a landscape design to suit the site as well as the homeowner’s vision and the limited number of donated plants available.  I guess the most memorable projects are the ones that make me work outside of my “bubble” or comfort zone.

MW:  I was certified and became the mother of twins in the same year.  I started volunteering in the Traverse Area Children’s Garden, first as a garden mentor then leader, when the twins were toddlers.  That was a magical time. Arts and crafts in the garden.

When the kids went to a local Montessori school I helped a bit in their gardens and was eventually tasked with taking over the school garden and greenhouse as the director of the Della Terra Program.  I loved starting seedlings with the kids in the greenhouse each spring for a spring plant sale to parents and planting a pollinator garden in 2009 to pollinate the squash and tomatoes, way before it was a “thing”.  I remember digging potatoes with the toddler classes and their parents for the Harvest Dinner I organized at the school in the fall. I also started a Food of the Month program to teach students about the cycle of food – planting, tending, harvesting and cooking in the school’s kitchen classroom.  Monthly presentations with the plants and different foods made with the plants was an amazing show and tell.

RD:  What volunteer projects are you working on now?  

MD:  The Botanic Garden at Historic Barns Park in Traverse City where I am Board secretary, docent, gardener.  I also work with the Smart Gardening program, sharing information with the community.

CG:  The September Real Dirt!  And arranging speaking dates for 2019.  Garden Clubs plan their calendars well ahead of time so in August and September they are looking for programs for the entire year ahead.  Keeping track of who called and what topic we settled on can be hard, I am learning to keep better notes!

MW:  I have been the president of the MGANM since 2015.  We have done a lot of administrative work modernizing the association – incorporating, joining the Michigan Master Gardener Association.  Recently we upgraded our financials to Quickbooks Online. I do most of the programming and PR. It has been a lot of work. Fun, but does not leave a lot of room for other volunteer activities at the moment.  I look forward to passing the mantle to the next president and getting my hands dirty again.

RD:  How has becoming a Master Gardener and volunteering with the Master Gardener program every year changed your life?  

MD:  The Master Gardener program has improved my life a great deal. I continue to learn, use and share new science-based information related to responsible horticulture practices. And, I have established wonderful friendships with some of my fellow Master Gardeners.

CG:  I was already a native plant devotee before I took the class, and since taking the class I have had to broaden my knowledge of (a lot) and use of non-native plants (but only a little).  Understanding plant care, soils and pruning techniques PLUS insects has been very beneficial when I manage my own gardens and talk to others. I spend quite a bit of time studying, researching and learning more about Master Gardener topics.  Further, I appreciate the other Master Gardeners I have met through the Real Dirt and MGANM meetings. Gardeners are a lovely group of people who appreciate beauty and do not mind getting in the dirt to create it!

MW:   I have made so many lifelong friends that I cannot imagine being without it.  Before I took the class I worked as a consultant and traveled to clients every week.  That stopped when I had the twins and was certified. Being a Master Gardener made that an easy transition.  

RD:  What advice would you give new Master Gardeners just starting the volunteering process?  

MD:  Congratulations on your commitment to improving quality of life in the community!  The initial 40-hour volunteer requirement for certification may seem daunting at first.  It is worth the effort!

CG:  FIND YOUR NICHE!  The Master Gardener program is extensive.  While comprehensive in one aspect, the class offers only the tip of the iceberg.  If bugs are your thing, focus on IPM. If food gardening is your thing, go be great at that.  Native plants are my focus. I know the most about that topic. If you are unsure? Try several areas of volunteering in your first couple of years… one or more will call you in.  When that happens, follow your passion.

MW:   I think trainees should find an existing project they are passionate about and volunteer most of the hours there as a kind of apprenticeship.  It is the best way to learn through doing, and Master Gardeners are great teachers. I would also say to make the most out of their experience they should become active in the local MGANM association.  The meetings have excellent educational opportunities and it is easy to earn hours by helping.

RD:  Thank you ladies.  And congratulations on reaching 1000 hours of volunteer service!

Serve – July 2018

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

Munson Hospice House Work Bee

Habitat for Humanity: Fife Lake

Photo by Gayla Elsner

Munson Hospice House Work Bee

by Gayla Elsner

On April 29th, 21 volunteers participated in a work bee at Munson Hospice House.  Our group included rosarians from Cherry Capital Rose Society (CCRS), Hospice House Volunteers, and Master Gardener volunteers.  

We started with an excellent demonstration of how to prune and maintain Knock Out roses. The CCRS members guided each person as we pruned 100 rose bushes!  We fertilized with a special rose amendment made and donated by CCRS.

After the roses, sick ornamental trees were addressed.  Master Gardeners pointed out the symptoms of black knot fungus and showed how to prune the trees in the garden.  

Photo by Gayla Elsner

A delicious lunch was enjoyed as we shared our stories of how we got involved with the Hospice House garden.  Then we finished the day by weeding, cutting down grasses, and doing general garden clean up. The Hospice House volunteers were eager to learn about these tasks and discuss a schedule for regular maintenance of the garden.  

This garden had been tended sporadically over the last few years and needed rescuing.  This hardworking day was a great start toward the goal of getting the garden back to the peaceful place of natural beauty that the hospice patients and their families deserve.

Photo by Habitat for Humanity

Habitat for Humanity: Fife Lake

by Cheryl Gross, AEMG

Last fall I heard about an opportunity to work on installing landscaping at a Habitat for Humanity home in the Depot Neighborhood in Traverse City.  At the end of the day, the timing did not work for me. I did, however, ask to be kept on their radar for another home. The Fife Lake landscaping project finished June 20th.  

The project began on a site visit with the prospective homeowner, her mentor, and the construction manager.  Together we examined the site and the existing plants, which included a lot of Michigan yellow sand and a few invasive species. The prospective homeowner had done her homework and gave me a list of plants she liked.  She explained very clearly that she liked things symmetrical, wanted an abundance of blossoms and her favorite plants were day lilies and bushy roses. I talked about the soil, sun, and the benefits of including native plants.  

Next step was a nine-page summary report of the site and possible plants including pictures and characteristics.  The report included information on lawn seeding and container planting as well. An investigation and summary of the prospective homeowner plant lists revealed that many of them were not hardy to Zone 5 and explanation of each plant was provided.

Habitat for Humanity and the prospective homeowner then began to acquire plant material.  Pine Hill Nursery generously donated some native perennials and lavender. The Habitat for Humanity’s partner nursery offered none of the plants on our desired plant list but donated five other shrubs and lavender.

Once the plants were acquired, the prospective homeowner described how she wanted them planted.  This was a difficult stage in the process for me. The plants available did not necessarily ‘fit’ in her desired location.  For example, she wished to have a shrub between the porch and entry walk in a space no more than 18-24 inches deep. Also the drip lines of the roof needed to be considered to protect the shrubs from snow damage. Again, researching each plant donated, information describing the growing habit of the plant was presented.  

This brought us to install day.  Nine women from Century 21 Realty volunteered for a day of service.  The day dawned sunny and seasonably warm and the soil retained some moisture from the heavy weekend rain.  It was perfect. I laid plants in place and waited for the prospective homeowner to arrive and rearrange things to her vision.  The realtors got to work digging invasive honey suckle, pulling garlic mustard, removing myrtle and rescuing sedum. They were amazing; hard working and very efficient.  The prospective homeowner arrived and made her tweaks to the plant arrangement. In no time at all, plants were in the ground, a bit of compost added to the shrub holes, the sedum was used as filler between shrubs as we wait the plants to grow, and a top dressing of mulch was added.  Landscaping added an incredible visual to the house.

Wrapping up the project, it made me sad that the prospective homeowner did not have the two plants she most wanted, day lilies and bush roses.  So, I got my hands on a smaller form day lily, the gold one that is so common and purchased a Drift rose. It was all worth it.

My role in this project was educational only.  With the number of volunteers taking a day from their jobs to support Habitat for Humanity, it was important that they keep busy with hands-on work.  I am confident that each individual involved in landscaping this Habitat Home gained more than they gave. I certainly did.

Serve – May 2018

On The Radar:  May

by Cheryl Gross, Advanced Master Gardener

In May, there are many opportunities to establish your volunteering for the season.  Libraries, schools, community gardens and community beautification projects are each in need of Master Gardener leadership in May.  Community gardens that donate produce to food banks are especially in need of layout, planning and planting expertise. Share the wealth of knowledge you have with your community!  

Below are some projects that are looking for Extension Master Gardener assistance. You may also check out our events page. 

PEACE Ranch:, speak with Jackie K. They are looking for a Master Gardener to guide them through the process of taking care of an existing perennial bed and a vegetable garden. 

Leelanau Christian Neighbors (LCN) is in need of a program coordinator.  Please contact Nancy Popa at 231-944-9509 for more information. LCN is a 501c(3) organization that provides a variety of services to the residents of Leelanau County.  Staffed by volunteers, their food pantry averages over 6,000 visits per year and serves over 18,000 individuals.  Their garden, which was first planted in 2017, produces fresh vegetables to help stock the food pantry.  LCN needs Extension Master Gardeners to help teach their volunteers about all aspects of growing fresh vegetables, from diagnostics to pest management and practices that protect water quality.  This EMG project can be found in the VMS (Master Gardener Volunteer Management System under Projects:  Leelanau Christian Neighbors Food Pantry Garden. LCN is located at 7322 E. Duck Lake Road (M-204), Lake Leelanau, MI  They can be found on Facebook at

 LEO CREEK PRESERVE: Master Gardener volunteers are needed to help create educational materials for a new permaculture garden and interpretive trail.  Volunteers could help with even one topic or piece of the garden.  It could be one day or multiple days and any help is welcome.  The garden will educate the community on sustainable, organic gardening.  The new permaculture garden is located on The Leelanau Trail between 4th Street and Eckerle Road in Suttons Bay.  It will be used for food production and education programs for the community.  Please contact Kate Thornhill directly with any questions or to volunteer…231-313-1980

Munson Hospice House, 450 Brook St. TC 49684. Contact Gayla Elsner at

Keep in touch with volunteering opportunities through MSUE email updates and MGANM. 

Serve – March 2018

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

Getting in Shape for Gardening

Master Gardener Coordinator’s Corner

Hospice House Rose Garden Update


Getting in Shape for Gardening

by Jill Greenfield, Physical Therapist at Munson Home Health Care

With the growing season in Michigan right around the corner, now is a good time to stretch and strengthen the muscles that you will be using to create your masterpiece gardens.  Too often, we wait for that beautiful spring day to turn over the soil, pull weeds and remove debris without having prepared our bodies for these activities. Then when the next day is also a lovely spring day, we are either too sore from the chores of the day before to garden again that day, or we push ourselves to garden anyway and risk further long-lasting injuries. 

Whether you have a small container garden or several beds in your yard, using proper body mechanics is not always easy with gardening.  You cannot always “lift with your knees with your back straight” like the literature tells us to when moving a 3-cubic foot bag of soil or mulch.  How many times have you gardened on your hands and knees until your feet and hands are practically numb from the restriction of circulation?  I know that I am guilty of this!

So how does one begin to even think about getting in shape for gardening?  If you have been somewhat inactive over the winter, it begins simply with walking.  Find a place with no snow or ice and begin a walking program, under the guidance of your physician if you have health issues, and get your arms swinging in unison with your legs.  This gets weight-bearing through the legs for strengthening and improves your balance and coordination.

The shoulder muscles especially need some TLC with gardening.  The incidence of rotator cuff injuries increases as we age and there is a slightly higher incidence of this type of injury for women than men.  Imagine the motion of pulling a heavy trash bag out of a trash can and lifting the bag with your hands holding the bag about shoulder width apart in an up and out motion.  This is a common mechanism for a rotator cuff injury.  The solution is to tip the trash can on its side and slide the bag out.  Then you have the option of grabbing onto the bag from the bottom and lifting it.

Some easy shoulder exercises to loosen the muscles are shoulder rolls forward and back, standing in a doorway with your forearms on the door frame and leaning forward just until you feel a slight stretch in the front of your shoulder and clasping your hands together in front of your body and bringing both arms up above your head.  Please do not subscribe to the “no pain, no gain” attitude.  You may feel some muscle tightness, but it should not be painful. 

Shoulders are not typically weight bearing joints, so it takes some time to get them ready if you are a hands and knees gardener.  Practice getting on your hands and knees in the privacy of your own living room.  While in this position, try the cat and cow exercise.  For the yoga aficionados out there, you will know exactly what I mean.  While on your hands and knees, arch your back (cat), and then stick out your bum and let your belly sink toward the floor (cow).  If you are unable to be on your hands and knees on the floor, you can also do this exercise sitting in a chair.  This is a great exercise to stretch and strengthen your back muscles. 

Another good hands and knees exercise is the child’s pose.  This will stretch your back, hips and knees.  Start in the hands and knees position with your knees spread apart as wide as your hips.  Rock backward and bring your stomach to the floor while leaving your arms outstretched.  You can leave your arms outstretched in front of you or you can walk them to the side to get a rotational stretch.  A way to modify this exercise to not be on your hands and knees is to stand at the side of the bed leaning forward with your hands on the bed and lean backward feeling the stretch through your spine and shoulders.

One of the most important things to remember while gardening is to take frequent breaks.  If you start to have discomfort in your back or a joint, reposition yourself or take a walk.  Try to vary your tasks so that you do not spend too much time in one position.

Master Gardener Coordinator’s Corner: Finding Master Gardener Projects in your area this spring

by Nate Walton, MSU Extension Master Gardener Coordinator for Leelanau, Benzie and GT County

Spring is a busy time for everyone, especially gardeners.  At the MSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program, we want to make it easy for you to find volunteer opportunities.

  • The best way for a certified Extension Master Gardener to find information about local master gardener projects is through the MSU EMG Volunteer Management System (VMS).  The VMS homepage will often contain info about new projects or those that are currently seeking more volunteers.  You can even use the Event Calendar on the left side of the VMS homepage to find and sign up for upcoming MG events!  The full list of area projects can be found by clicking on the Projects link under General Information.  This will take you to a list of educational opportunities and projects.  Click on the project name for a description and contact info of the project’s leader(s).  The project information found on the VMS is maintained by your local MG coordinator or VMS ambassador, and it will contain the most up to date project information for your area.
  • A list of area Master Gardener projects can also typically be found on your local Master Gardener Association web page.  In Northwest Michigan, for example, the MGANM maintains a list of MG projects by county with links to partner websites where available.

When in doubt, contact your local MG coordinator or VMS ambassador for additional project information. 

Thanks for reading, and thanks for helping to make a difference in your community!


Munson Hospice House, photo by same

Hospice House Rose Garden Update

by Gayla Elsner

The Munson Hospice House, 450 Brook Street, Traverse City, is having a work bee for its rose garden from 9am to mid-afternoon on Sunday, April 29.  The work bee is a collaboration between MGANM and the Cherry Capital Rose Society (CCRS).  

Hospice House Volunteer Coordinator and Bereavement Counsellor Kjirsten Boeve already has a group of hospice volunteers ready to help that day who will need rose care knowledge and direction from Master Gardeners and rose experts.  There are approximately 100 Knockout roses and various other gardens around Hospice House that will need tending to in preparation for the spring and summer growing season.

Judy Guith from CCRS has been instrumental in organizing the event and the group plans to donate 50 lbs. of a special rose fertilizer it makes.  Other CCRS members, including Nancy Larson and Peggi Tucker, also plan to be at the work bee.

Hospice House garden, photo by Gayla Elsner

Work bee volunteers need not stay for the whole day but may drop in as their schedule permits.  However, MGs should plan to bring their own tools to the event, especially good pruners, and be prepared to show novices how to sharpen them right.  Weeding tools, shovels, buckets and tarps will probably be needed as well.  In addition, it is advised that you bring water and sunscreen/hat and wear your MG apron if you have one.  

After the big day on April 29th, the group will meet again at the end of August for another work bee, the purpose of which will be to guide garden clean-up and maintenance for the end of the season.  

This is a great project that all those involved with can be very proud of.  Your work will give those experiencing hospice care a beautiful place to relax and remember and, hopefully, to find peace.  That is something special.

For more information, contact Gayla Elsner at or at (231) 883-8839.


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