For Master Gardeners Cynthia Lyssy and Ann Odvody, working the Guadalupe County Community Garden isn’t just therapeutic, it’s a way to give back—and give back big. Last year members of the Guadalupe County Master Gardeners (GCMG) spent 1,721 hours in the garden and donated nearly 4,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to local food banks. Over the last six years, their food donations have added up to over 11.5 tons, helping to feed about 1,300 families.
Those are some impressive pickin’s. But surprisingly, these two green thumbers, like many in this Texas-wide organization, never intended to become certified Master Gardeners in the first place. It just happened.
“I always loved my backdoor neighbor’s yard,” says Lyssy, GCMG’s current president. “Then back in 2012, my husband told me he was going to re-landscape our yard for Christmas. I asked him, ‘What am I going to do? I don’t know anything about plants.’ Then, I saw an ad in the Wilson County News for Master Gardener classes…and I’ve never regretted signing up.”
Odvody, a 22-year Master Gardener, has a similar story.
“I had no intention of becoming a Master Gardener,” she explains. “I took the classes with my husband, so we could learn about gardening in this area. We were both working at Randolph Air Force Base at the time and saw that a night class was being offered.”
One of the purposes of The Texas Master Gardeners program is to increase the public’s knowledge of gardening. However, this organization, which is a part of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and the Texas A&M System, is so much more than that for volunteers. Lyssy and Odvody say it’s also a way to make a lot of great friendships while giving back. For example, GCMG members work with the Bexar County Master Gardeners at the San Antonio Stockshow and Rodeo, have a demonstration garden at the Texas Agricultural Education & Heritage Center (The Red Barn) in Seguin, and oversee several booths at Seguin’s Earth Day celebration. They also visit schools, give educational demonstrations and tours.
The idea for the community garden, which sits behind the Guadalupe County Administration building on Elbel Road in Schertz, was initiated by past GCMG President Bob Grafe. As
a Master Gardener, he worked with the County Commissioners, who agreed to furnish the land and water. The only requirement was that the organization donate all that was grown. That was about seven years ago.
At first, the going was rough because the gardeners had to create the two-thirds-acre garden from scratch. They built a fence, dug trenches to lay irrigation pipes, smothered out the Bermuda grass with mulch and cardboard, and then, finally, built a variety of beds and a composting area. With assistance from a recent POWER UP grant from GVEC, they made further improvements, including a new storage shed, a pavestone floor for the pavilion donated and built by Pulte Homes, and a handicap-accessible sidewalk.
Today, the garden features elevated gardens, raised beds, keyhole gardens, berry and pumpkin patches, and a mini orchard—all used to educate the public in backyard gardening practices. At the front of the garden, members of the Native Plant Society built a butterfly garden, certified as a waystation for Monarch butterflies. And as Lyssy says, the garden is continuing to grow as they add two or three new beds or exhibits each year.
If you’ve ever dreamed of cultivating your green thumb and learning more about horticulture, the next Master Gardener class for the Guadalupe County organization will take place every Tuesday from August 8–December 5, from 12:45–4:45 p.m. in Seguin. (If you live in the Gonzales area, check out the Gonzales County Master Gardener website at www.gonzalesmastergardeners.org.)
The GCMG also offers free classes, demonstrations, monthly Lunch and Learns, and their monthly meetings, where they always have a speaker, are open to visitors. The Community Garden is open from 9–11 a.m. on Tuesday and Friday, weather permitting, and welcomes visitors and volunteers. Special group tours are available upon request. For more information, visit www.guadalupecountymastergardeners.org.
Ann Odvody’s Top Garden Tips:
- Start small—no larger than a 4’ × 8’ bed.
- Plant only what you’ll eat.
- Walk your garden every day to pick 4 or 5 weeds.
- Invest in drip irrigation.
- Be patient, experiment and don’t give up.