Master gardeners keep city green and blooming
By Sandy Vold
Retired Courier Press associate editor.
Although snow still blankets the ground, Crawford County Master Gardener Volunteers (MGVs) are already envisioning green gardens with bevies of blooms in many of the city’s public spaces. Over the years, master gardeners have gradually extended the scope of their gardening activities in Prairie du Chien to include not only the Memorial Gardens, with which they have been active from the beginning, but many more. Currently, master gardeners are responsible for gardens at Prairie Maison, St. John’s Catholic Church, Aquatic Park, Bluff View Middle School, Veterans Memorial, the fire department, Family Resource Center, the southwest corner of the court house, several gardens on St. Feriole Island which are not part of the Memorial Gardens and most of the green areas downtown.
St. Feriole Island Memorial Gardens is the largest endeavor with which master gardeners are involved,and they have been involved since the gardens’ inception. In approximately 2005, Roy George Sr., (since deceased) contacted Tom and Cathie Nelson about establishing a garden on St. Feriole Island. They enlisted the help of Donna Teynor, who, like Cathie, was a master gardener. Over the years, it has become a major project. Cathie and Donna have been most involved, but Kathy Leard cares for the shade garden, and at one time or another every master gardener has contributed to the gardens—donating plants, weeding or planting. Their hard work, and the assistance of other volunteers and organizations, has turned the gardens into a major showpiece for the city.
Although the largest and most spectacular, the Memorial Gardens are not the only areas in the city tended by master gardeners. Millie Senesac is largely responsible for the gardens at St. John’s Catholic Church rectory. Millie, who had tended church gardens when she lived in Illinois, wanted to do the same thing in Prairie du Chien, but was turned down by several pastors until then-pastor Fr. Garrett agreed to let her start a garden in 1998—but only if she bore the entire expense. Millie not only bought all the materials she needed—she prepared and planted all the beds by herself. “I don’t know how I turned over all that sod,” she said. As the years passed, the parish picked up the tab for the plants, and she acquired helpers, including fellow master gardeners Mary Nash, since deceased, and Julie Hazen, as well as parishioner Mary Pridle. Even with all the help, Millie estimates she spends a “couple of hours or more” at the gardens each day during growing season. “I’ll keep doing it until I cannot do it,” she said. She also waters the plants at the Veterans Memorial, carrying jugs of water in the trunk of her car, since there is no running water available at the site. Planting and other maintenance at that site is headed up by Donna Teynor.
Art teacher Lisa Lewke-Rogers found the entrance to Bluff View Middle School “a depressing way to begin and end your day,” since the area was mostly dirt, covered with a few weeds and trash. When she became a master gardener, she enlisted the help of several friends and students to create a school garden as a community project. With their help, she amended the sandy soil with truckloads of leaves and chicken manure. Friends donated plant divisions and students brought packages of annuals. A group of students and Lisa planted all the plants. The students helped carry buckets of water out of the school and, as the little plants began to grow, the students began to take ownership of the space. Over the years, Lisa’s husband, Doug, and other MGVs have assisted. The plan, said Lisa, was “to create a beautiful space that everyone can enjoy for years to come.” Now, 14 years later, that plan has been fulfilled.
The Prairie Maison Nursing Home garden is tended by Julie Hazen, Donnna Starkey and Arlene Wilms, and, when Prairie Maison relocated several years ago, they and other MGVs moved the gardens to the new site as well.The gardens, lined with benches and sidewalks in spacious courtyards, afford residents a place to enjoy the outdoors. Julie is also responsible for heading up a project to turn a neglected piece of ground at Aquatic Park into a blooming garden and for maintaining gardens at the airport welcome sign and the Bridgeport Fire Department. Sharon Atkins cares for a flower bed at the Prairie du Chien Fire Department.
MGV Cindy Noel tends three gardens: one on the corner across from Villa Louis, one at the southwest corner of the Court House lawn and a garden at Fort Crawford Museum.
The Family Resource Center garden has very few flowers, unless one counts squash, pea or tomato blossoms, but it has a very important mission. MGV Nola Nagel uses this garden to show young mothers in the group “Moms Like Me” how to grow, prepare and preserve vegetables. MGVs also maintain the plants along Blackhawk Avenue, watering and weeding, pruning and planting as needed.
Since 2009, when Crawford County Master Gardeners was organized, members have put in a total of 8,180 volunteer hours gardening, conducting gardening classes and seminars or serving in some other capacity in Crawford County. Some members, however, who transferred to the Crawford County group from Grant County, brought with them additional hours previous to 2009, making it a grand total of 14,392. President Donna Teynor alone is responsible for 7,930 of those hours, and two other members have earned over 1,000 hours—Cindy Noel with 1,425, and Cathie Nelson with 1,378 hours. Donna has one of the highest accumulations of volunteer hours in the state.
Master gardeners are required to devote only 24 hours a year to volunteer work, but most put in far more time and effort. Said Donna, “I continue to be amazed at this group of gardeners and their skills, and the time that each gives so generously to the different projects that they work on. What a privilege it is to be associated with such a hard working group of volunteers. I cherish the friendships I have gained through this group.”
In addition to those people who have assumed responsibility for specific gardens, the active MGVs in 2013 include Marta Engel, Ilene Olson, Michael Thomas and Sandy Vold.