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story.lead_photo.caption The Union County Master Gardeners work to beautify the flower beds in front of the El Dorado City Hall building. File Photo

For Charlotte Abbott, joining the Master Gardeners was like finding a second family.

Abbott joined with her husband 11 years ago. They went to cleanups and events together until he passed away about a year ago. Since then, she’s continued to go.

“Through the holidays, it’s hard but they really take care of me,” she said. “It’s really good friends. We did a little garden at the (South Arkansas Arboretum) when my father died. We put up a little table in a little garden area and then we put a stone in there for my husband. They help me keep that little garden going. They come see me. They include me. It’s a wonderful support system.”

Abbott grew up in El Dorado, but moved to Stephens for part of her adult life. She was part of a gardening organization there and when she returned to El Dorado, she said, she just needed something in her life like that again.

“So my husband and I settled on Master Gardeners,” Abbott said. “We joined in ‘07 and just went to seminars, went to plant sales, went off on trips. We went to Charleston with a Master Gardener group and just several different (trips). They have trips every year … If you want to go, you go. If you don’t, you don’t.”

Abbott said when she first joined the Master Gardeners, the Bleeding Heart Museum in Monroe would host a monthly program and some of the group would drive there together.

“I learned more going on those trips,” she said. “Just a carload of Master Gardeners and you’re a newbie. Just hearing them all talk, just the camaraderie and the knowledge.”

While Abbott is now involved in the gardens at El Dorado City Hall and the arboretum, said she learned most of what she knows about gardening from older women who would offer her a plant and tell her how to care for it. Now, she gets to be like that with some of the younger members of the organization and others around the community.

Through the Master Gardeners, she works on projects around the community, but the group also does education-based programs with students at Northwest and Yocum elementary schools. Abbott said the program is to help students start associating what they eat with gardening.

“At our plant sale, we have a children’s booth,” she said. “Every child can come. We have the little pots. They pot themselves up a plant that they can take home, there’s no charge for that, just to get them to get their hands in the soil.”

The Master Gardeners organization contributes $150 for most projects they do to buy mulch and other things they need while members also donate plants. Abbott said the garden at the Medical Center of South Arkansas and outside City Hall are self-sufficient, but others like Hope Landing are managed by the group.

“They need that area for parents who bring children to have a quiet space. And the children too,” Abbott said. “Places like that, we do the plants and the labor.”

Union County Master Gardeners Charlotte Abbott, center, and Marilyn Joyner bag bulbs as the group prepares for its annual bulb sale. File photo
Union County Master Gardeners Charlotte Abbott, center, and Marilyn Joyner bag bulbs as the group prepares for its annual bulb sale. File photo

Abbott said the program is especially good for people who are retired or a little older, because it’s something to do with other people in the community and it gives them the opportunity to give back and pass along the knowledge they’ve collected to a younger generation of gardeners.

“It’s helping us because there’s some of us, like I’m getting a little old, I’m getting a little agey,” she said. “I can’t do all that I used to do, but I’ve got years of knowledge of plants so I can help that way. I get out there and dig with all of them. You’re getting exercise … So it helps your body, it certainly helps your spirits.”

Abbott said the community service part of Master Gardeners is particularly important to her.

“I get a sense of pride and personal satisfaction from a job well done,” Abbott said. “I get tremendous pleasure from the people that I’m working with. I learn something. Every time we do something, I learn from other people and what we’re doing. We’ll be working and we’ll be like ‘We’ve done this forever, but it would be better if we did it this way.’ So it’s a learning experience.”

Abbott said she would encourage anybody to join the Master Gardeners, particularly older couples or people who are new to the area.

“One thing that I would advise people, especially older couples: do it together,” Abbott said. “There’s so many social things and trips and just fun activities that we enjoyed together. Plus, we always need a little muscle. It’s a wonderful way to meet really nice people who are interested in the community. We have retired school teachers, we have so many people with other interests. I have friends in there that I’m in a book club with or I go to church with. It’s not just Master Gardeners, it gets you into a network of socialization and friendship.”

The Master Gardeners is a volunteer-based organization that takes annual volunteers and conducts training for them. The next training will be in the beginning of February. A new volunteer is expected to do 40 hours during their first year, but that drops to 20 hours for subsequent years. The training and manual cost $80.

However, to Abbott the whole thing is worth it.

“It’s like a fun family because it’s people who like the same thing you do and enjoy the same thing you do. It’s like we feed off each other because we all like to do the same things.”

Michael Shine may be reached at 870-862-6611 or mshine@eldoradonews.com. Follow him on Twitter and like him on Facebook @MichaelAZShine for updates on Union County school news.

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