Eleven years ago, when the Porter County Master Gardeners Association (PCMGA) started their annual seed exchange, it was a small event.
“The only reason why we invited vendors was to help pay the rent as the event was free,” said Mary Simon, a member of the association who lives in Valparaiso.
When Simon agreed to take over the event for a few months, she decided to take it up a notch or two.
“We went from a seed to a garden show,” she said about the event which was held last Saturday. “It’s been delightful. The show has gone from around 300 people to a couple thousand or more. And the number of vendors has increased from a few to 130 this year.”
This year, despite the weather, the 11th Annual Garden Show sponsored by both the master gardeners association and Purdue University Extension, held at the Porter County Expo Center attracted a wide range of visitors and vendors who came for the show’s myriad of offerings—a garden photo contest, the used Gardening Tool booth, live music with fiddle, guitar and mountain dulcimer as well as vocals by The High Country String Band, raffle, door prizes, children’s educational corner and, harkening back to their roots, a Seed & Bulb Exchange that may be the largest on-site event of its type in the country.
“We have attended this show for several years now,” said Maddie Grimm, director of education at Taltree Arboretum and Gardens, one of the shows participants. “It’s been a great avenue for volunteer recruitment. We receive lots of volunteers from the Master Gardeners and appreciate the work they do.”
Education is also an important component of the show with national, regional and local gardening experts presenting a wide range of programs during the day.
“The keynote speaker was Stacey Hirvela of Proven Winners ColorChoice Flowering Shrubs in Grand Rapids who talked about how they’re working on creating smaller shrubs with larger blooms, and more colors for urban gardens,” said Lyndsay Ploehn, agricultural and natural resources educator for Purdue Extension, Porter County.
Hirvela, a graduate of the New York Botanical Garden School of Professional Horticulture, worked for six years as a garden editor at Martha Stewart Living and three years as the horticulturist at Tavern on the Green in Central Park.
Other speakers included “Welcome Spring with Hosta, Heuchera and Hellebore" presented by Greg Stack, University of Illinois Extension Educator, and Amanda Thomsen who talked about "150 Ways to Create a Fantastic Yard Totally Tailored to You," "Instant Gratification Spring Container" by Jennifer Brennan, ABC-TV Channel 7 Horticulture Correspondent, and "Wetlands - the Ordinary and the Extraordinary" presented by Victoria Jostes, Lake County Master Gardener.
Abe Paluch, Outreach Educator, Recycling & Waste Reduction District of Porter County demonstrated how to compost with worms; Dolly Foster, Lake County Master Gardener demonstrated Butterfly Conservation at Home and Mike Barrett, Alternate Plan Landscape Service presented a demonstration of how to care for your gardening tools.
Joe and Paula Dickman, owners of the Southwestern Michigan Buttery have displayed their products—fruit butters slow simmered in large pots using fruit gathered from the local orchards of Southwest Michigan—for the last three years.
“We love it,” said Paula Dickman. “The people are so nice, so supportive.”
At first though, because of the bad weather, Dickman said they considered not making the drive from rural Galien, Mich.
“Joe said let’s get as far as Three Oaks and then decide,” she recalled. “We kept saying we don’t know how smart this is, but we’re so glad we came, everything was wonderful.”
Among the long list of vendors were Madison County Winery, Capricorn Foods, Chicagoland Gardening Magazine, Maple City Roasters, Oak Meadow Alpaca Farm, Nature’s Bounty Gourd Art, Fernwood Botanical Garden, Gathering Grains Artisan Granola, Copper Art by Kathy, Puddingstone Farms and Decorative Steel Garden Gates.
“The Taltree staff enjoys attending the show for the great networking opportunity it provides with area businesses that have a love for gardening and our members and volunteers,” said Grimm noting that they displayed a rabbit’s foot fern at their booth with a sign saying, 'Can you name this plant?'
“It’s like a family reunion,” said Nicole Arndt, Americorps Volunteer Coordinator for Taltree. “A lot of Taltree’s members and volunteers stop by to say ‘hi’. It gets us excited about the upcoming gardening season.”
Porter County Master Gardeners Association is a not-for-profit corporation promoting the education and pleasure of gardening in the community, in cooperation with the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service of Porter County, Ind. Since 2005, the association has given approximately $30,000 in gifts and grants to Porter County organizations. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (219) 465-3555. You can visit their Website at pcgarden.info.