Special to the Tribune-Star
TERRE HAUTE —
On Saturday, about 40 Wabash Valley master gardeners set off on a garden tour through Vigo and Clay counties. It is an annual event that has been taking place since 2003.
The first stop on the tour took place in western Vigo County at Ivy Tech professor John Rosene’s home.
The crowd oohed and aahed over the undertaking that went into making his property look the way it does. The driveway is lined by a wooden fence accompanied by a multitude of colorful flowers. Inside the fenced-in area are a handful of well-kept raised beds, filled with vegetables in bloom. Chickens roam free in a hoop house chicken coop.
The vegetable garden and chicken coop area was only a tease of what visitors could expect. Around the corner sat a coy pond with a rushing waterfall. Only a few feet away was another round garden, not edged with the traditional bricks or stones but with a working miniature railroad track. For a special touch, the train running on the track carried garden gloves and clippers on one of the cabooses.
“Some people said to me, ‘I really love the railroad track; the track was really interesting.’ I wouldn't have guessed that somebody would find that the highlight of what they saw,” Rosene said.
A trail led the crowd to a creek bed below, as Rosene talked about the invasive plants he has pulled out and the native plants he has worked back into the landscape. It has taken Rosene and his family 22 years to get his property in the condition it is in today.
“We literally finished this morning,” Rosene said. “I have got to tell you, for anybody that is on the garden tour, or wants to be on the garden tour, it is a lot of work. I think everybody looks at their garden and says, ‘You know, this is good enough for me today,’ but when you expect to have 40 people, your expectations for how your garden should look get elevated to a completely different level.”
The second stop on the tour took visitors behind secured walls at the federal penitentiary. It was there visitors got to see first hand how inmates were learning to provide food for themselves by gardening.
“The scale was much more than I expected,” bronze level master gardener Kathleen Hutton said. “I expected a few little raised beds and a beginning garden appearance. It looked like a professional farming operation.”
“I live across from both prisons in Oak Grove, and I see the guys when they are out along the road doing stuff, but I had no idea that it is like a huge working farm,” prospective master gardener Jackie Powell said. “I didn’t know it was back there. You can’t see it from the road.”
The garden at the federal penitentiary goes far beyond what the eye can see. There are rows and rows of fruits and vegetables, each weeded and watered by hand. The food grown is used to feed the inmates. There are even plans in the works to preserve food that cannot be eaten immediately so it can be consumed during the winter months.
“I think it is wonderful,” Powell said. “It keeps them occupied. I am sure it is rehabilitative. Think about how good it is for our soul to be out working in the dirt. To some of us it is kind of spiritual with the whole cycle-of-life thing. It is a win-win food-wise and for their own personal growth.”
On the other side of the road separating the fruit and garden field sits a metal building. Inside is a tilapia farm where inmates are learning how to grow fish for their own consumption. There are storage tanks for each stage of the tilapia’s life. Some fish are as small as a pencil eraser to as long as half an arm.
The third stop on the tour was Ruth Johnson’s home in southern Vigo County. Johnson describes her property as a hodgepodge of flower beds that concentrate on birds, butterflies and bees. Practically everything on Ruth’s property is old-fashioned or native perennial. Master gardeners had the chance to learn about each plant they didn’t recognize and were able to ask questions on the spot.
“They have all been saying how beautiful it is, and the neighbors have been saying how much they like it, so that is encouragement,” Johnson said.
The tour concluded in Clay County at Bill Hiatt’s property. Hiatt became a master gardener in 2006, but by the looks of his property he has had a green thumb longer than his membership.
“I change it around every year or two. It is always a work in progress. You are never done with it,” Hiatt said.
His property inhabits around seven acres of lush landscape. A gentle slope follows behind his house with a babbling brook on one side and an assortment of roses, plants and trees on the other. Dead center, looking out from his pool, is an iron gazebo.
“I always feel like I am in a park,” Hiatt said. “To me, if this is where you are going to spend most of your time, I wanted something nice and the wife did, too.”
Every year the Wabash Valley Master Gardeners Garde Tour offers something new and different. Every garden has its little surprises at every turn. Kathleen Hutton said it’s amazing how master gardeners can work so hard together in the community, in the community gardens and find time to work on their own gardens with such intensity.
“The upkeep and variety is amazing,” Hutton said.
To find out more on how to become a Master Gardener contact Jim Luzar at the Vigo County Purdue Extension office at 812-462-3371.