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

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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.

Serve – January 2018

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Get the Most Value Out of Your Time: Garden More!

Master Gardener Coordinator’s Corner

Suttons Bay Rain Garden workers, 2017. Photo by Village of Suttons Bay

Get the Most Value Out of Your Time: Garden More!

by Nate Walton, Consumer Horticulture Program Instructor, MSUE-Leelanau County

Increasing technology in the workplace has its benefits…and its costs.  One of the greatest costs, as I see it, is the devaluing of time.  Technology allows us to accomplish more in a shorter period of time, which also means that more is expected of us for the same rate of pay.  In many modern jobs, employees are paid based on the time spent at work rather than the value of their output.  In addition, there is also an implicit (or even explicit) expectation that you should be “available” outside of normal work hours as well.  The result of this combination is a perceived (or real) reduction in the value of our time.  But do not despair!  There is a solution.

Michigan’s Extension Master Gardener volunteer program is undergoing some changes in 2018 in order to meet the standards set by the Extension Master Gardener National Committee.  Since its inception in 1972, the Extension Master Gardener (EMG) program has grown from a small volunteer program in a single state, to a program with over 90,000 volunteers in 49 states and 10 Canadian provinces.  With this growth has arisen a need for the national entity to set standards that ensure the sustained growth and effectiveness of all state and county programs as they work to fulfill the EMG mission.  Our Michigan EMG program meets or exceeds the majority of those standards with one exception: our annual hours required for re-certification.

In order to bring our state program in line with the minimum national standards, the Michigan EMG committee, with input from individual EMGs, EMG groups and EMG associations, will be increasing the annual volunteer and continuing education hours needed to re-certify by five hours each, effective January 1, 2018.  This means that in order to re-certify next January (2019) all Michigan EMGs will need to complete and report in the VMS by Dec. 31, 2018, a minimum of 20 volunteer hours and 10 continuing education hours.  MSUE staff and VMS Ambassadors will do our best to help you be successful in meeting these standards in 2018.

As you can see, your time spent gardening is still perceived as extremely valuable, so valuable in fact that we are asking for more of it!  Gardening is an activity that, thankfully, has escaped many of the costs of modern technology.  So this spring you can rejoice as you turn off your electronic devices and spend some valuable hours gardening and educating your community as a Master Gardener Volunteer!

2017 newly certified Master Gardeners

Master Gardener Coordinator’s Corner

Nate Walton, Consumer Horticulture Program Instructor, MSUE-Leelanau County

Looking back on 2017, for me it was a year of firsts.  I had my first day on the job as your Master Gardener Coordinator on June 12th, my first visit to a biodynamic tea farm (Light of Day Organics) and the first MSU Extension Plant Diagnostic Clinic staffed by Master Gardeners in Benzie County!  The list could go on and on, especially if I included some of the new EMG projects started this year.  With a combined workforce of 123 certified EMGs and trainees, you all have really been working hard for positive change in our northern Lower Peninsula communities this year.

In recognition of all that you have accomplished, I also had the great pleasure of hosting my first EMG awards luncheon this year in partnership with MGANM.  Highlights of the luncheon included the wonderful decorations by the MGANM decorations committee (chaired by Evelyn Laman), the silent auction with many unique items donated by local businesses and artisans and the deeelicious lunch catered by 9 Bean Rows of Suttons Bay.  

During the awards ceremony, honors were bestowed upon Kelly Dillan, Sue Soderberg and Sue Warren, all of whom received their 500 hour pins this year!

-We also welcomed the newly certified EMGs Paula Ciccone, Sandy Coobac, Victor Dinsmore, Christine Koubek, Julia Page, Nancy Popa, Michael O’brien, Lori Piggot and Amy Tongue to our ranks.

-In addition, Joanne Johnsen, Becky Johnson and Glynis Waycaster were all recognized for achieving Advanced Master Gardener status.

– We also delivered well-deserved 250 hour pins to Sandra Clark, Michele Buday, Nancy Larson, Kathy Pilon, Lori Oberson, Judith Reich, Cynthia Sack, Steve Stephens and Marvin Walter.  

-Ann McInnis was also recognized for the remarkable achievement of topping the 2500 hours mark this year!

-Our Master Gardeners of the Year this year were Tom Patton for Leelanau County, Sue Warren for Benzie County and Rebecca Mang for Grand Traverse County.

Let these happily hard-working EMGs be an inspiration to all of us as we move into the New Year!

Speaking of the New Year, 2018 is shaping up to be another great year for our local EMG program. We will be hosting an EMG training program at the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center (March 8th – June 14th) on Thursday evenings (5:30 – 9:30 pm).  Enrollment is open and can be accessed by following this link.  Please tell your friends, family and neighbors about this exciting opportunity to join the Master Gardener Volunteer program!  Also, let me know if you would be interested in helping out with the course in any way and/or if you would be interested in serving as a Mentor to a new trainee.  Stay tuned for more ways to volunteer this winter/spring and in the meantime, have a great 2018!

Serve – November 2017

Suttons Bay Rain Garden workers, 2017. Photo by Village of Suttons Bay

Suttons Bay Rain Gardens Prepared for Winter

Ruth Steele-Walker, Advanced Master Gardener

Area Master Gardeners helped educate a group of about 40 community volunteers from the Montessori School “The Children’s House” at an October 20 clean-up of the rain gardens located throughout the Village of Suttons Bay.

The event gave those in attendance an opportunity to learn from MSU Extension Master Gardeners, who moved among the gardens offering weed identification, garden maintenance guidance and education on the many environmental benefits of rain gardens.  In addition, participants learned about the importance of flowering plants and native grasses for providing soil retention, support for pollinator populations, as well as food and habitat for songbirds.

The rain gardens were established in Suttons Bay in 2013 to help eliminate direct runoff from the village’s storm water system into Grand Traverse Bay.  Each year the village has 15-20 volunteers who are trained to and regularly care for the rain gardens.

Before this year’s fall clean-up and mulching began, volunteers from The Children’s House and the volunteer garden caretakers were treated to an educational presentation by Suttons Bay Village Manager Wally Delamater.  The presentation highlighted the history of the rain garden project and use of Michigan native plants.

While the ability to do a water quality testing follow-up has been hampered by budget constraints, since the gardens were installed Suttons Bay officials have seen noticeable changes in the water at the storm drains that empty into the bay.  Prior to the gardens’ installation plumes of debris and pollutant-filled run-off used to be seen entering the bay off the village’s marina park beach.

Black plumes of sediment running into Suttons Bay after a rain event. Photo by Village of Suttons Bay

In the photo taken in 2011 prior to installing the gardens, you can see a black plume spreading into the swimming area from the first flush of storm water.  Since the installation of the rain gardens and storm drain improvements there has not been a reoccurrence of those plumes, reports Delamater.   “In fact,” he says, “during routine storm events no storm water entering the system reaches the bay.”

So, not only are the gardens a beautiful additions to Suttons Bay’s downtown, they’re having a significant effect on the quality of the bay.  Thank you to all the volunteers who have helped to make this project such a success!

Working in the rain gardens, 2017. Photo by Village of Suttons Bay

Sidebar: Computer modeling done by The Watershed Center estimates that the rain gardens annually prevent one ton of sediment, six pounds of phosphorus and 42 pounds of nitrogen from entering Grand Traverse Bay.

To learn more about the Suttons Bay storm water project and rain gardens you can visit

Serve – Sep 2017

May Farm of Benzie County, MI. Photo by same

The May Farm Pollinator Project

Cheryl Gross, Advanced Master Gardener, Vice President MGANM, President Plant It Wild

The May Farm in Benzie County raises cattle, sheep and chickens on a rather small plot of rented land near the corners of Lobb and Graves roads in Frankfort, MI.  Farmer Paul May rents the pasture and installed electric fencing eight years ago.  The land was fallow and degraded.  Beginning slowly, animals were put on the land and moved section by section following a rotational grazing pattern.  Cattle and sheep graze the pasture and are moved daily to ‘fresh’ ground.  Broiler chickens follow helping to process the ruminant leavings and add their own.

Visiting Paul on the pasture requires a bit of time, especially if you catch him and he begins talking about the ‘result’ of rotational grazing. He is passionate about the web of life created between the soil, the plants, and the animals.  He is observing dramatic changes in the plants in the pasture.  The soil is improving, the plants are improving, the animals are growing better with the better nutrition, and the pasture is becoming more resilient.  As a result, the pasture can support more animals in smaller spaces.  The more compact the daily space, the greater impact on the plants and soil and the longer plant recovery time.

“Today’s “cute puppy” photo. Just after the daily afternoon move, everyone joyfully noshing on the “ice cream”. The forage is at it’s best in the afternoon, unless it’s nasty hot, and I try to size the paddocks so that they’re ready to eat, but not lacking. It’s not weight-loss camp, after all. And, with the beautiful timely rains we’ve had, there is plenty of feed. So, seriously, if you’re within reach, catch me for the afternoon move. It really is cool!”

-Paul May of May Farm via Facebook. Photo by same

I recently visited the pasture at the end of the day when it was time to move the animals.  The 20 cattle and 28 sheep begin to get in line when Paul shows up. They watch him carefully as he moves fencing, refills water barrels, and opens the ‘door’ to fresh clean pasture into which the animals rush.  Behind, they leave cow pies that are already being broken down by dung beetles and grazed plants ready to be nourished and regrow. 

The May Farm receives some funding from the USDA / NRCS for Paul’s farming practices.  A recent grant includes a requirement for establishing a pollinator garden outside of the pasture.  For the size of his pasture, the garden must be .3 of an acre or 13,068 square feet.  Because Paul’s head is into ruminate feed and soil building and animal raising, he asked Plant It Wild to help with the May Farm Pasture Pollinator Project.

A committee of three, two Master Gardeners and a third Plant It Wild member volunteered.  To date, we have researched and accumulated the information summarized below:

  • site evaluation for invasive plant species
  • site measurements for garden location between the pasture fence and road easement to capture 13,000 square feet
  • list of canopy, understory, shrub, forb, and grass plants best suited to dry, upland conditions
  • information on plant value to pollinators, larval hosts, birds, and the like
  • plant/seed sourcing possibilities and estimated costs
  • planting and seeding design
  • seeding method
  • pollinator shelter suggestions

We are aided in our work through the following sources:

  • Attracting Native Pollinators, The Xerces Society Guide, c 2011
  • Pollinators of Native Plants, Heather Holm, c 2014
  • Landscaping with Native Plants of Michigan, Lynn M. Steiner, c 2006
  • NRCS Lists of plants suitable for pollinator habitat (link)
  • Bringing Nature Home, Douglas Tallamy, c 2007

Paul May will have received a completed report from us by the end of August which will outline selected plants, a planting plan, optional plant sourcing, and more.  On October 14, the May Farm will host a Pasture Walk from 10am – 2pm.  All are welcome.  Paul will be educating the public on his farming practices and engaging his customers in his rotational grazing and environmentally beneficial farming practices.  Locally sourced food and May Farm meats will be served.   Plant It Wild and Master Gardeners will have an opportunity to present information on the pollinator project planned for the pasture edge to meet USDA and NRCS requirements.   

While our role is informational and advisory, gardeners cannot help but want to get dirty.  I suspect that Phyllis Robinson, MG, Joy Kennedy, and I will be on hand for at least part of the garden installation in September of 2018. 

Reversing the trend in pollinator and migratory bird decline is something everyone can do.  There are tremendous, timely resources available through bookstores, MSU, USDA and other on-line sources.  The most recent data shows that using straight native plant species is the MOST beneficial to the insects and birds we are trying to feed.  Plants from other continents and cultivars are not recommended for pollinator gardens.  Click here to see the May Farm Pollinator Report including the dry-upland plant list.

Serve – July 2017

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

Gardening for the Future

Volunteer at the Boardman River Nature Center!

Master Gardener Scholarship Recipients

Photo of Suttons Bay Rain Gardens, 2015. Photo by The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay

Gardening for the Future

MGANM Member Spotlight – Lillian Mahaney

by Michele Worden and Ruth Steele-Walker, Advanced Extension Master Gardeners

Lillian Mahaney is a rock star Master Gardener.  She has been part of the program for over a decade and is one of our revered ‘Gold Badge’ Master Gardeners –over 1,500 hours of volunteer service in Leelanau County and Northern Michigan. 

What she’s doing now:  Recently Lillian has been helping Annette in the Leelanau MSUE office compile a list of educational and volunteer opportunities that are e-mailed to Master Gardeners bi-weekly.   Lillian also writes for The Real Dirt – the newsletter of the Master Gardener Association of Northwest Michigan. 

Experience and Expertise: Lillian has a diverse interest and expertise in horticulture.  She belongs to the Michigan Herb Association, Michigan Master Gardener Association, MGANM, the Wildflower Association of Michigan, Cherry Capital Rose Society, and Botanical Gardens at Historic Barns Park.  

Lillian is an avid rose gardener – both in her native Florida and in Northern Michigan.   

Lillian has also focused on native plants as part of her work as a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.  Her moniker is “Raccoon Mama,” although she also has rehabbed many other species including fox, squirrels and birds.   She has also taught classes at Kettunen Center on native plants.

She is passionate about the Junior Master Gardener program and has been a driver of it in Northern Michigan.   When she first became a Master Gardener, Lillian began Junior Master Gardener programs at the public schools in Suttons Bay and Leland and at St. Mary Catholic School in Lake Leelanau.  She also developed and taught a training class on how to implement a Junior Master Gardener program to develop more Master Gardeners into local program leaders.  “It’s my passion,” says Lil.  “I want to see people getting involved with Junior Master Gardeners.  The teachers I talk to all want the program but we just don’t have enough volunteers to teach it.”  Lil created student workbook and curriculum, activity sheets and reference information to assist those MGs and others who haven’t taught a JRMG program before.

More recently, Lillian has been working with Sarah U’Ren, Watershed Director, to help recruit people to care for the 18 small rain gardens sprinkled throughout the town of Suttons Bay.  “We work with the public and teach them about the native plants in the rain gardens.”  This project has a big impact on keeping the waters of the Grand Traverse Bay clean.

Future Plans:  Lillian recently completed the Smart Gardening online training program.   “I really hope to be more involved with Smart Gardening,” Lil says, adding that “Smart Gardening really coordinates with my work in wildlife rehabilitation.  Her goal is to create and promote landscapes that help people live harmoniously with wildlife.

Through educating children and planting gardens that are environmentally friendly – Lillian Mahaney is gardening to build a better future.

Volunteer at the Boardman River Nature Center!

by Becky Mang, Community Gardener

Upon completion of the GTCD Nature Center building nearly ten years ago, a large group of Master Gardeners gathered to adorn the surrounding grounds with hundreds of plants, shrubs and trees. The landscape plan, designed by local landscape architects Anita Silverman and Eric Takayama, called for plantings native to the area with the stock that was available at the time. The beautiful stone and rock beds, rain gardens and sun/shade orientation were all considered in the design.

How these gardens have been maintained and sustained over the years is a story that involves very little financial investment but much perseverance. Until just recently, when a monetary budget was introduced, Martha Dively and I have worked with volunteers and Master Gardeners to weed, add compost and mulch the gardens. Conservation District employees have also assisted us with some pruning and irrigation installation. Plants were not moved or thinned, no new plantings were introduced and some beds were left to fend for themselves.

Two years ago, it occurred to Martha and I that we would never realize the Master Gardener mission of community education by simply mulching and weeding.  In discussions with the Conservation District Board members and District employees, we determined we could start raising funds for garden maintenance.  We now rescue plants from our own gardens, as well as from building sites in the area, and sell them at the District’s yearly native plant sale.  We have also applied and received grants to renovate and revitalize some of the garden beds.

Working with the Invasive Species Network, we have begun placing extensive signage throughout the gardens.  These signs identify the flowers, shrubs and trees as well as provide other information about their growing requirements.  We have begun offering garden tours every Monday evening, preceding our work bees, and are reaching out to high school students in the area to work in the gardens for credit. 

At our native plant sale May 20, we were able, for the first time in all these years of garden maintenance, to use the gardens to demonstrate how the plants being sold look and act in their natural environment.  We saw gardeners exploring the beds, reading the signage, and then asking lots of questions. We nearly sold out of hundreds of plants.  Needless to say, this is a dream come true for both Martha and me.

With all of this positive growth there is one caveat.  Our Monday evening and Wednesday morning work bees have not been well supported. This spring has been especially light on help. We know there is a lot of competition for volunteers. (Martha and I must enjoy what we do because we always show up.)  A heartfelt thank you to Jeanne Hunter and Joanne Johnson. They have been tireless volunteers and really worked hard to get the gardens in shape. Also, the newly established Wild Ones chapter have adopted the butterfly garden so look for creative new energy there.  We are so grateful for the work of the Conservation District employees; especially Tricia Forgrave and Tom Vitale, who sometimes volunteer on their own time.

I invite you to take some time to meander the path around the building before or after your next meeting at the Boardman River Nature Center.  You just might notice a flower or shrub that could fit nicely into your garden design while, at the same time, encouraging pollinators.

Scholarship recipients and Master Gardener Trainees Christine Koubek and Lori Piggott (2017)

Master Gardener Scholarship Recipients

by Cheryl Gross, Adv EMG

We were thrilled to award our two 2017 Master Gardener College Scholarships to women who recently completed the Master Gardener training class at the Horticultural Center, Christine Koubek and Lori Piggott.  Christine and Lori are pictured below at Master Gardener College:

We asked them each for a brief introduction:


I was born and raised in Illinois. My indoctrination into gardening came early in life. My Dad was an avid vegetable gardener who used to carry me, as an infant, out to the garden in the morning to water. My mom was the flower gardener. She taught me to prune roses at 7. They both had me planting things as a tot, and by 11 I had graduated to rototilling and using the riding mower. My Dad would go to the local farm for cow and chicken manure. I now fondly grow my own heirloom tomatoes because of that memory and have always loved nature in all forms.

My appreciation for nature and gardening has been an avocation all my life. I can’t think of a time when I didn’t have an indoor plant or animal under my care.  I was a member of the friends of the Oak Park Conservatory and a graduate and volunteer of The Openlands Treekeepers program in Cook County, Illinois. My husband and I were members of the Midwest Fruit Growers Association. For years we maintained memberships at the Chicago Botanic Gardens and the Morton Arboretum.

After vacationing here in NW Michigan for years, we bought a few acres near Beulah in 2011 and in 2016 moved to Michigan. We now live here full time and love it despite jokes from our friends about how “you guys are the only people we know to retire and move North.”  I feel so grateful to be a part of the community here in NW Michigan and now MGANM.

I look forward to learning more and sharing any knowledge I gain from Master Gardener College. My husband and I took a beekeeping course at Tillers near Kalamazoo last year. I’m interested in other pollinators too. So, I’m particularly interested in the class on Building a Bee Hotel.


I recently stopped working, so I could focus on my family and projects for which I feel truly passionate. One of those projects is starting my own business building furniture and home decor called Second Story Art and Design. The other project is playing in the dirt. My mother had her Master Gardener Certification when I was a child, and her father was a proud rose gardener, so it definitely runs in my blood. I started completely renovating all of our flower beds this year. I meant to only work on one or two this season and finish the others next spring.  But once I started, I forgot about that and just kept going. I’d like to learn more about perennials, bulbs, soil quality, and landscaping. Finishing the MSU Master Gardener Volunteer Training program has been a highlight of my year, and I’m looking forward to learning as much as I can and sharing that knowledge with anyone who wants to listen. Thank you for the opportunity to attend the master gardener college!

We look forward to getting to know Christine and Lori better!

Serve – May 2017

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

On The Radar

Master Gardener College Scholarships

On The Radar: May

Cheryl Gross, Advanced Master Gardener, Vice President MGANM, President Plant It Wild

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! 

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

Keynote Speaker Paul Zammit at MG College 2016. Photo by Michele Worden

Master Gardener College Scholarships

Cheryl Gross, Advanced Master Gardener, Vice President MGANM, President Plant It Wild

The purpose of the Master Gardener Volunteer Training Program is to advance the horticultural knowledge of the citizenry.  When MSU Extension educates ‘regular folks’ in current, scientifically-based practices, the intent is that the ‘trainees’ will, in-turn, volunteer in their communities and raise the knowledge base of all.  Well, that is the plan.  Many of us initially take the class for selfish reasons.  We want to know more and be better gardeners for our OWN purposes.  The Master Gardener Volunteer Training program I took was FANTASTIC.  I enjoyed each and every chapter and class.  I loved the learning…. and S L O W L Y came to understand the ‘volunteering’ part.  That is where the ‘association’ came in.  Thank heavens! for the Master Gardener Association of Northwest Michigan (MGANM).  Without them, learning about volunteering opportunities and having easy access to timely education would not be possible.

MGANM, in addition to being a clearinghouse for volunteering and education, raises funds annually to offer one or two scholarships to the Master Gardener Volunteer Training class (offered at the Hort Center in Leelanau County) AND to send current Master Gardeners to Master Gardener College offered at MSU in East Lansing each June.  The purpose of the scholarships is to encourage those, who otherwise might not be able, to attend.  The scholarships have strings attached.  Those who accept the scholarship money are expected to join MGANM and raise the knowledge of the community as a whole through sharing the knowledge and experiences earned! The ripple effect.

It is not complicated.  Get smart; share knowledge.

Currently, MGANM has TWO Master Gardener College Scholarships available for attendance June 23 and 24, 2017 in East Lansing.  One is funded through MGANM fundraising efforts; the second is funded by Brian Zimmerman, owner of Four Season Nursery, a landscape designer, and plant care servicer.  His desire in offering the scholarship is the same as the original purpose of MG Training.  Create a ripple effect that raises the horticultural IQ of our region.  A third 2017 Master Gardener Scholarship is offered through the Botanic Gardens at Historic Barns Park.  They are a partner with MGANM and benefit from the volunteering of many Master Gardeners.

Therefore, we encourage ALL Master Gardeners in our region interesting in sharing knowledge to apply for one of these three scholarships!  Contact the Botanic Gardens for their application procedures, if you volunteer there.  To apply for one of the two scholarships available through MGANM, answer the following questions and send them to Cheryl Gross, MGANM VP @ or mail to 4628 Westbrook Dr., Traverse City, MI, 49685. Deadline to apply is June 9, 2017.


Contact Information:

MG Training Class Year:

MG Volunteering Experience:

Why you wish to attend Master Gardener College:

How you Intend to Share your new Knowledge with your Community:

If awarded the scholarship, you will be expected to join MGANM and attend Board Meetings and Membership meetings during 2018 and submit an article to the Real Dirt on the Master Gardener College experience.

We hope to have many applicants from which to choose!  Contact Michele Worden or Whitney Miller about the Master Gardener College experience.

Serve – March 2017

Contents (Click on a title or scroll)

Smart Gardening Program: Educational and Volunteer Opportunity for MSUE Master Gardeners

MGANM Names 2017 Scholarship Recipients

Dr. Duke Elsner finding insects

Dr. Duke Elsner finding insects

Smart Gardening Program: Educational and Volunteer Opportunity for MSUE Master Gardeners

by Dr. Duke Elsner, MSU Extension

The Smart Gardening Program is a relatively new initiative from Michigan State University Extension.  Smart Gardening is a campaign to help home and experienced gardeners adopt and implement proven techniques in their yard and garden that will help them save time, money and the environment!  IPM or Integrated Pest Management has long been a hallmark of MSU Extension programs.  However, the amount of information available -from educational institutions, magazines and commercial product producers – is a challenge to unravel and implement.  “Smart” helps people adopt proven, university-researched tactics in their own back yards.  The program was developed by members of the Consumer Horticulture Team of Michigan State University Extension, based upon the initial three themes of Smart Plants, Smart Lawns, and Smart Soils.  Smart Vegetable Gardening is the newest theme to be developed.

There are three key components to the Smart Gardening campaign.  One is the production of educational materials.  Most of these are in the form of brief “tip sheets” that address a single topic in a basic and very understandable format.  Videos have also been developed for several of the topics.

The second component is hosting educational sessions at public events, such as garden shows, fairs, farmer’s markets, and similar events.  Knowledgeable specialists from Michigan State University and other authorities are recruited to speak on their area of expertise.

The third component is a public relations workforce comprised of Master Gardeners, like you.  We recognize that there is nothing quite like a person-to-person connection to help the public with their gardening needs.  The best method to make connections with large numbers of people is to recruit Master Gardener Volunteers to be part of the Smart Gardening delivery team.

MSU Extension has established a special training program to prepare Master Gardeners to be effective representatives for the Smart Gardening Program.  New Smart Gardening trainees are apprenticed under experienced Smart Gardening Volunteers to further prepare them for their outreach activities with the public.

If you are interested in becoming a Smart Gardening Volunteer, please contact me at  If you would just like to see the various tip sheets, videos and other educational materials, check out the Gardening in Michigan web site:


EMG Stone for Yard Display


MGANM Names 2017 Scholarship Recipients

by Cheryl Gross, Advanced Master Gardener, MGANM Vice President

The Master Gardener Association of Northwest Michigan, MGANM, raises Scholarship funds throughout the year; and primarily at our November Volunteer Recognition event through a silent auction.  All funds raised are given to MSUE on behalf of an award recipient (s) allowing them to enroll in the MSUE Master Gardener Volunteer Training class when the cost might be otherwise prohibitive.

As a condition of the 2017 Scholarship, the recipient is asked to give 10 of the first year 40 volunteer hours to the Association by attending a MGANM Board Meeting, an Association meeting, and otherwise supporting a MGANM project.  MGANM believes that Master Gardener Certification and Association membership has value and contributes to Certified Master Gardeners being engaged in a community of gardeners devoted to keeping current in horticultural trends and research.

We are excited to have been able to award TWO Scholarships this year with the funds raised.  Our Scholarship recipients are:

Michael O’Brien has a passion for growing vegetables, so much so that he has his own hydroponic system that he built by hand.  He recently moved here from a MUCH warmer growing zone, a 10, and sounds like he wants to learn more about growing here in our zone.  He’s very interested in plant propagation, and completing his volunteer hours in a community garden-type setting, or at least that’s what interests him now. 

Marla Tyler wants to become a Master Gardener to learn the best practices to contribute to the health of the environment and be involved in protecting it.  She is committed to learning and volunteering in the community she loves and in which she lives.  She has had some educational sessions with the Leelanau Conservancy to be a hike leader.  She likes native plants and wildlife and said that she enjoys walking Grand Traverse and Leelanau Conservancy lands.  She emphasized her commitment to a project, prioritizing responsibilities, laughing, and having fun. Marla is thankful for the MGANM scholarship to be able to become a Master Gardener.

Of special note, Michael O’Brien’s funds were donated in memory of Rick George, a wonderful Master Gardener who was dedicated to vegetable gardening.  Dedicated Scholarship funds may be donated at any time throughout the year.  Write “MG Scholarship” in the memo portion of your check and it will be used for a Scholarship in an upcoming class.

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