May 9, 2018

Rutgers Master Gardeners of Mercer County Have Long History of Service to the Community

GARDENING GUIDELINES: “I’ve enjoyed meeting all the people in the Master Gardeners Program, and I have made many friends. They are wonderful people, and It has been a pleasure to help people who have questions about their gardens.” Barbara J. Bromley, Mercer County horticulturist and Rutgers Master Gardener advisor, is shown admiring an oak leaf hydrangea bush.

By Jean Stratton

How does your garden grow?

Now that we have finally stopped shoveling the snow, many of us are looking ahead to getting the garden ready and dipping into spring planting.

For best results, proper soil preparation is crucial, and for those making their gardening debut, a bit of horticultural research will be very beneficial.

An excellent place to start is with the Rutgers Master Gardeners of Mercer County. Always on hand to help out, responding to questions and sharing gardening tips, this organization has a long history of community service. A volunteer educational outreach program of Rutgers Cooperative Extension, it was established in Mercer County in 1993 in response to the increasing number of questions
from home gardeners.

The original Master Gardeners program in the U.S. was begun in Washington state in 1972.

Pleasures and Surprises

The Rutgers Master Gardeners of Mercer County consists of a group of dedicated volunteers, who provide horticultural information and programs to the community. The Master Gardeners, who have undergone a 21-week training program with 60 hours of instruction from the Rutgers Cooperative Extension, are knowledgeable about a wide range of gardening subjects, and work to inspire and encourage the residents of Mercer County to participate in the pleasures — and often, surprises — of gardening.

“Gardeners are learning all the time,” points out Mercer County horticulturist Barbara J. Bromley, who is also a Rutgers Master Gardener advisor. She has been part of the program for 25 years, since its beginning, and with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension for 40 years.

“There are so many considerations when you are planning a garden. You have to take into account the type of soil; fertilizing is important, and mixing compost into the soil adds organic matter. You also have to think about the timing. You don’t want to put things in too early when there is still a risk of frost. Also, when will the plants bloom, and what is the ultimate size of the plant and how wide will it be? Should it be in sun or shade? Can it withstand drought?

“When watering, you want to know how deep the roots are, and what is the absorption rate of the water. You want to give the plants sufficient water, but you do not want to overwater.”

Everyone makes mistakes learning to garden, adds Bromley, and this is to be expected. “You have to realize that if certain things don’t grow this year, they may grow next year. Also, you need patience. Gardening does not bring instant gratification.”

But it certainly can be worth the wait, when one sees the splendid rewards: the harmonious combination of color, texture, and beauty that all the hard work and dedication has created.

Vegetable Gardening

In her role as Mercer County horticulturist, Bromley spends a great deal of time speaking to groups, also providing hands-on instruction and sharing gardening information. Her knowledge of horticulture has continued to increase over the years, but her interest began when she was a young girl, and she was both an observant spectator and an active participant.

“I’ve been vegetable gardening for nearly 70 years,” she reports. “I always loved gardening. My father and grandfather were gardeners, and grew vegetables, which we had for our family meals. I also remember when I was a girl, watching termites go up the foundation of my neighbor’s house. I was interested in everything!”

This interest has continued not only in her ability and willingness to help other gardeners, but in planning and spending time in her own garden.

“I love working in my garden, and I really like diversity in the garden. Different plants will bloom at different times during the spring, summer, and fall, and if you plant properly, you can have blooms and color all the time.”

After a long stint as Mercer County horticulturist and Mercer County Master Gardeners advisor, Bromley has decided to step down this year. Until that time comes, however, she continues to be a very active participant. Most recently, she played a major role in the Mercer County Master Gardeners’ annual Spring Plant Expo and Garden Market held on May 5.

This event is keenly anticipated by many gardeners in the area who not only gain important gardening advice and information, but also can select plants from an extensive selection. This year 800 people were in attendance where they found more than 2,000 home-grown plants, including 150 varieties.

Numerous Varieties

In addition, in the garden market area, numerous varieties of native plants, woody ornamental plants, perennials, trees, and shrubs were available. Also displayed were herbs, vegetables, and 30 varieties of tomatoes.

Attendees spent a large part of the day speaking with Master Gardeners and selecting new items for their gardens.

And more is to come! Upcoming events from the Master Gardeners of Mercer County include the “Hands in the Garden” program on Saturday, June 2, from 1 to 3 p.m. Bruce Crawford of Rutgers Gardens will open the afternoon with a gardening talk about “Designing for Beauty, Sustainability, and Pest Resistance.” Master Gardeners will give a compost demonstration and share gardening tips.

On Wednesday, July 11, an evening program is scheduled with a visit to the demonstration gardens in the Mercer Educational Gardens, offering an opportunity to learn about host and pollinator plants for butterflies and moths.

On September 8, the Master Gardeners will hold its annual and very popular Insect Festival. This year’s theme, “Bug Me,” will feature a return of the Big Bug Band in addition to educational opportunities for visitors of all ages. Bees, butterflies, bugs galore, bugs in water, puppet show, birds, games in the gardens, an insect hunt in the meadow, and Q&A with Barbara Bromley are all included, and highlight the many fun and educational activities on the agenda. Local environmental agencies will also be present with their displays and expert commentary.

In its more than 25 years, Rutgers Master Gardeners of Mercer County has made an important contribution to the experiences of many gardeners. The organization has helped so many in the community discover the wonder and extraordinary day-to-day miracles of gardening.

“Everyone should become a Master Gardener,” declares Barbara Bromley. As she points out, they will find a lifelong journey and an
ongoing learning experience, bringing to mind Thomas Jefferson’s comments in a letter to a friend: “I may be an old man, but I am a young gardener.”

Rutgers Master Gardeners of Mercer County’s office is located at 930 Spruce Street in Lawrence, next to the Trenton Farmers Market. It is open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. In addition, there is a help-line for information at (609) 989-6853. Website: