Master Gardener Priscilla Touhey: Sharing the love of gardening

  • Bee-pollinating Rudbeckia. SUBMITTED PHOTO/PRISCILLA TOUHEY

  • Monarch on Allium. SUBMITTED PHOTO/PRISCILLA TOUHEY

  • WMMGA Harvest — Survival Center donation. SUBMITTED PHOTO/WMMGA

For the Gazette
Published: 3/12/2020 12:30:39 PM

Editor’s note: In light of public health guidelines regarding COVID-19, the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association is actively assessing the status of its upcoming events. Please check their website wmmga.org for updates.

Ron Kujawski loves growing tomatoes. And shallots, and sweet potatoes, and just about every kind of vegetable worth its keep. In fact, this founding father of the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association and author of the “Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook,” written with his daughter Jennifer, has been known to mix 18 varieties of tomatoes in his western Massachusetts home garden. He favors San Marzano for canning, Sun Gold for cherry tomatoes, heirloom Mortgage Lifter for large size, and Italy’s Principe Borghese for sundried. “One of my favorite things to talk about is vegetable gardens,” Kujawski said in a recent phone conversation.

Gardeners have lots of questions, and WMMGA was created to help provide answers. Educating the public about sustainable gardening is an integral part of WMMGA’s mission. The organization itself began in 1989 thanks to Kujawski’s determined initiative when the University of Massachusetts Amherst eliminated its master gardener program that year due to budget cuts. Working at the UMass Extension service at that time, Kujawski experienced firsthand the steadily increasing home gardener demand for information and knew something had to be done to continue that support.

Proactively reaching out to other extension services on his own time, Kujawski discovered the possibility of creating a nonprofit master gardener association. The local master gardeners supported the idea and established the now 300-plus member, all-volunteer nonprofit Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association we have today. Kujawski encourages people to think about their spare time and their love of gardening and consider becoming a master gardener, saying, “It is extremely rewarding and something they will never regret.”

Master Gardener volunteers work on over 40 projects throughout Hampshire, Hampden, Franklin and Berkshire counties. These projects include everything from helping maintain demonstration gardens to educating the public at garden venues and farmers markets, working at plant sales, answering gardening questions and much more. The outdoor public works start beckoning visitors now as our Valley and surrounding areas warm into springtime days.

In Hampden County, weekend afternoons are a terrific time to stroll through places like Grandmother’s Garden in Westfield where pathways gently invite visitors to meander and watch as bright tulip buds open and new leaves unfurl in formal gardens WMMGA volunteers help maintain. Vegetable-loving MGs will plant a cornucopia of produce at the Full Circle Food Pantry Garden in South Hadley. Juicy bright red tomatoes and more get harvested and delivered to the local food pantry at the end of the season.

Pollinator plant inspiration abounds at the Northampton Community Garden in Hampshire County, where Master Gardeners lead summertime classes through WMMGA maintained garden plots and raised beds whose towering blooms of Joe Pye weed and dill offer nectar dinners for hungry winged visitors. More pollinator examples thrive at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton, where Master Gardeners help maintain native perennials in the location’s Butterfly Garden. Come fall, many Master Gardeners eagerly volunteer at Franklin County’s Bridge of Flowers to answer visitor questions at that renowned seasonal footbridge.

Driving to Berkshire County during the growing season, turn the wheel toward Berkshire Botanical Garden where scents of sun-kissed herbs waft gently as visitors admire the tidy display of BBG’s beloved, historic herb garden, shaped in part by dedicated Master Gardener volunteers’ careful pruning of each plant according to its disposition. Springside Demonstration Gardens at Pittsfield’s Springside Park also benefits from the touch of these dedicated volunteers in the summertime and early fall.

To help visitors know which gardens WMMGA helps maintain, the organization will be installing new signs reading: “This garden is managed by volunteers from Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association.” Keep an eye out for them.

Joining WMMGA, you have the opportunity to participate in as many projects as you like. The organization hosts a new class of Master Gardeners every two years. Recruitment for the Class of 2021 will begin later this spring. Look to their website, wmmga.org, for more information in the coming months.

Asked about WMMGA’s impact throughout western Massachusetts, the organization’s board President Larri Cochran said, “WMMGA is an important part of the Venn diagram of sustainable landscape design care, and maintenance in western Massachusetts. We overlap with many other worthy organizations such as Western Mass Pollinator Networks, Greening Greenfield and Grow Food Northampton” to bring education about our local ecosystem into the public mindset.


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