Barbara Garrett of Morristown has always yielded a green thumb.
“Being a master gardener is a big deal in the Southeast, especially in Alabama,” Garrett said. “I had always wanted to do it.”
Garrett said the classes are offered in Alabama once a year on Fridays by extension agents. She is a certified master gardener in Alabama and in Tennessee.
“I knew there was a waiting list,” she said. “I put my name down and wrote down why I wanted to take the class. I told them I grew up with a world-class grandmother. She had a garden in Camp Hill, her hometown. My granddaddy was a dentist and he didn’t deny her anything. She had a gorgeous garden and she taught me a lot. She liked to teach. She taught me so much to begin my life with. ”
Garrett said that she remembered the first flower she ever knew,
“I was walking with her, I looked down and there was a sweet blue flower, a Forget me Not,” she said. “I’ve never forgotten it.”
Garrett’s parents were also great gardeners.
“Daddy (was great) with vegetables, Mother (was great) with flowers,” Garrett said.
When it came time in Birmingham, she was accepted to the Master Gardener course.
“I drove that hour back and forth to where they were teaching the classes, at Auburn University,” she said. “We had to take a brown bag lunch and it was a great experience. I met some people there that I’ll never forget. People who were taking the course because they wanted to be sure what they were writing about.”
Among those she met were author Jennifer Greer, who is associate provost in journalism at the University of Alabama.
In the mid-1990s, an old friend, Bob Garrett, known by most of the Lakeway Area as a member of the Morristown City Council, came to Camp Hill to see Barbara.
“We had been good friends since we were little children,” she said. “He came down and asked me to go to the Auburn-Alabama football game. I did and we started seeing each other, we were just friends (at the time). He said ‘I had no idea what made me drive all that way to take a girl to a football game.’”
Around Christmas, things started getting really serious for the couple.
“He asked me if I would consider moving to Tennessee,” she said. “I love East Tennessee. My childhood friend lived in Kingsport, so I went up and stayed with Nellie. I said ‘you know what? Bob just asked me to marry him.’”
Nellie asked Barbara what she was doing there and the Garrett’s were married.
Barbara finished the course the following March.
“The people in the class knew I was getting ready to move to Tennessee Memorial Day,” she said. “The class pushed me to get in all of my service hours. To be a certified Master Gardener, you have to put in so many hours (which changes from year of year). I got my service hours in.”
When Barbara came to Morristown, she wanted to take a Master Gardener course. However, it was not offered in Hamblen County.
“One of the first things I did was to make a call to the extension agent,” she said. “He said that he was not interested in offering it. He told his secretary later that ‘those folks’ were trying to take our job.”
Barbara went to Greene County to take the Master Gardener course there in the meantime so she would know what was happening in Zone 6. Barbara was in Zone 8 at that time. The region is now in Zone 7, as the warming of the Earth is happening.
“I came back and, by the powers that be, we had a new extension agent in Hamblen County, Mannie Bedwell,” she said. “He told me that he had always been interested in ornamentals. Most of the time, these folks do cattle (and crops) and things like that. When he told me that, I sat down with him and asked ‘would you like to try to start a Master Gardener program here?’ He said yes.”
It wasn’t long before there a couple of people from North Carolina and other areas in the first class.
“That class had about 20 people in it,” Barbara said. “Not all of them wanted to get certified, and this is fine. Some people want to take the class for the knowledge.”
Of that inaugural class, one has been lost to old age, two to three have moved away, and another member passed away. Barbara said that there are still a good core of Master Gardeners, who are active in the community and getting service hours in.
Barbara got so many service hours in both Alabama and Tennessee, she received a gold medal.
One of the first things the three-year Master Gardener class did was help with the butterfly garden at Martin Luther King Park in Morristown around 2010.
“Sami Barille was the mayor at the time and she knew that I really loved to garden,” Barbara said. “She called me one morning and told me that she had two people here from Lowe’s who want to give us a $1,500 grant for something in a park. Can you help?’ I went up to her office and I said ‘As luck would have it, there is a new park that just had its sidewalk laid. To the right of that sidewalk, is a perfect 5,000-square-foot spot.’”
Barille and Barbara went to see the spot and hatched a plan with small-tailed butterflies, Tennessee’s state butterfly.
“We got plants for those, master gardeners brought plants in,” Barbara said. “I ordered a butterfly/hummingbird mix from Wildseed Farms in Fredericksburg, Texas. We’ve used them ever since. It’s a wonderful spot. We kept that going.”
Barbara said that care for that spot changed several times, from the Parks and Recreation Department, but they didn’t really have time to tend to the area like it needed to be, so she went to Tony Cox and he enlisted the help of Mike Culp, Morristown city arborist.
“(Culp) said that he’d take it over, he’d love to,” she said. “He keeps it in great shape now.”
The first time the spot in MLK Park was open, there was a Japanese woman and a little boy standing near the garden.
“She was standing off from the garden watching,” Barbara said. “I took a picture of the boy smelling one of the flowers. A small-tailed butterfly came flying in and he went chasing after it. I love that. He may be a landscaper or architect one day.”
The garden accomplished its purpose.
“That’s what it’s all about,” she said. “To take children to a place where they can really see nature.”
To become a Master Gardener, contact your extension agent in your county of residence and complete an application. From there, one would attend a Master Gardener training, volunteer and report your hours of service. The first year of training requires 80 hours to devote to the program, 40 hours for training and 40 hours serving the community. Once becoming a Master Gardener, the certification lasts for a year before recertification.