Published on 05/28/24

Master Gardener Open Garden Days offer practical inspiration for the home gardener

By Sheri Dorn
Colorful raised beds and stone pathways comprise a Georgia Master Gardener demonstration garden
Demonstration gardens provide examples of plots people can create in their own gardens. (Submitted photos)

Looking for great garden inspiration that you can implement at home? Consider visiting a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener demonstration garden during Open Garden Days throughout the month of June.

The Georgia Master Gardener Extension Volunteer program has created a comprehensive garden guide, including a 2024 garden passport, to help visitors plan garden stops around the state.

Garden inspiration

Organized around horticultural themes, demonstration gardens are like outdoor classrooms meant to inspire home gardeners with plants and techniques they can recreate in their own gardens. Based on practices backed by research, popular garden themes include gardening for pollinators, how to be water-smart, and choosing native plants, offering a great way for people to learn about a variety of gardening topics and related plants.

“Demonstration gardens are incredibly valuable for showing Extension research in action. It is so handy to deliver programs to the community and to then be able to immediately have the participants put their hands in the soil to try what they learned before they leave the office,” said Christen Thomas, Master Gardener program coordinator for UGA Extension in Paulding County.

Fayette County Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent Kim Toal said this can be especially important for people who are new to gardening and may gain confidence by observing gardening practices they have learned about in the classroom.

“Indoor gardening classes discuss concepts and techniques, but activities in our demonstration garden reinforce learning. Not only do individuals receive important Extension education in the classroom, they also see a visual of education components in practice,” Toal added.

Self-guided learning

For those who want more instruction, Master Gardeners often host tours to offer information about the plants and practices used in the gardens. Master Gardeners also conduct presentations and workshops on how to replicate these practices at home, offering a chance for the public to ask questions and study the garden in depth.

“Since our plants are labeled, visitors can identify plants that will do well and are able to purchase them in local retail outlets,” said Toal.

A colorful marker indicating squash and zucchini sticks out of a raised bed garden plot
Demonstration gardens, like this one in Houston County, provide a special place for relaxation and restoration.

Demonstration gardens are popular with visitors of all ages and interests. The Fayette Education Garden in Fayetteville, Georgia, attracts a broad clientele.

“The garden is used in youth education by focusing on practices that increase environmental quality and reduce negative environmental impacts. The education garden is used for hands-on learning with youth horticulture programs, and we partner with the 4-H program for related judging teams, special interest clubs and summer day camps,” Toal said.

In Paulding County, demonstration gardens host ongoing programs with community partners including the senior center, a local nonprofit serving disabled adults, homeschool groups, scout troops, educators and other social groups.

At the Madge Merritt 4-H Teaching Garden in Glynn County, monthly educational sessions on Saturday mornings are convenient for people who are unable to participate in hands-on programs during the week. “These sessions help reach people who work during the week and helps Extension provide more outreach on weekends,” said MC Halbrook, Agriculture and Natural Resources agent for Glynn and McIntosh counties.

Building community

In addition to Open Garden Days in June, Master Gardener demonstration gardens provide a place for community members to gather. Artists in Coweta County are frequently found painting at the Inspiration Garden located in the James E. McGuffey Nature Center.

“Master Gardeners hold many educational events in the garden including Art in the Garden, garden walk and talks, pollinator counts with local school children, and plant and flower education during their summer camp program,” said Carroll County Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent Paula Burke.

“The Buffalo Creek Garden offers the Carroll County community a space where people and plants can come together,” Burke added. “By visiting the garden, the community can step into nature and enjoy the beauty of the garden to enhance their health with stress relief and being active outside.”

Demonstration gardens are one of the most popular projects for Georgia Master Gardeners. In 2023, Master Gardeners in Athens-Clarke County contributed nearly 1,700 hours at the education garden at the county Extension office, while Henry County Master Gardeners spent nearly 300 hours working on the gardens that surround the historic Nolan House in McDonough, Georgia.

“Our demo gardens give Master Gardeners an opportunity to show off their incredible depth of garden knowledge and experience and share their love of gardening with the community,” Thomas said.

“It is gratifying for me, as a program coordinator, to look out the office window and see the community enjoying the gardens on a beautiful afternoon. I love to see people appreciating the hard work our Master Gardeners put into our gardens.”

Road trip for Open Garden Days

Visitors who travel to demonstration gardens around the state during Open Garden Days will find the garden passport included in the comprehensive garden guide.

Collect as many stamps as possible between June 1 and June 30 for chances to win prizes like t-shirts, tickets to Winter Wonder Lights at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, and other gifts. For more information, visit the Georgia Master Gardener website.

Sheri Dorn is an Extension ornamental specialist and state Master Gardener coordinator in the Department of Horticulture at the UGA-Griffin campus.