“Why are my tomatoes splitting on the vine?”
“What plants are deer hardy?”
“How do I start composting?”
These are some of the most frequently asked questions at the Master Gardeners booth at the Hayden Kootenai County Farmers Market, according to Jean Smart, a Master Gardener.
Smart and husband, Harold, moved to Coeur d’Alene in 1993. The Smarts had passed through the region many times on trips west and liked what they saw. They bought their retirement home in Hayden, and for the first time in their lives they were in charge of their own landscape.
Jean Smart was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta. She married Harold in 1952. Harold taught at the Cranbrook School and Academy of Art, a prestigious private school outside of Detroit, and Jean was hired as the school nurse.
For more than 20 years during the summer months, the Smarts operated a youth camp in the Bitterroot Mountains. They raised their three sons on the Cranbrook campus, with its beautiful, professionally landscaped grounds.
Moving to North Idaho was a change. “We knew nothing about gardening, and the rock and clay soil found here is a bit of a challenge,” Jean Smart said.
On the recommendation of a friend, Jean Smart took a soil sample to the University of Idaho Extension office to get some advice. She met Dorothy Kienke, University of Idaho Master Gardener program coordinator, and decided to sign up for the Master Gardener training.
Jean Smart became a certified Master Gardener in 2000, and according to Kienke, has been a vital part of the program since.
“I cannot say enough nice things about Jean and Harold,” said Kienke. “Jean provides a pair of willing hands wherever she is needed.”
According to Kienke, applicants to the Master Gardener program attend 60 hours of training and give 35 hours of volunteer time to the program obtain certification. Twenty-four of those hours are in the Plant Clinic answering horticulture questions from the public.
The purpose of the Master Gardener program and Plant Clinic is to help homeowners identify and resolve gardening and landscape problems. Master Gardeners receive extensive training in landscape management, including classes in botany, lawn care, horticulture, soil science, entomology, pesticide management, plant identification and plant pathology.
“Master Gardeners must recertify every year, but the training and volunteer time requirements become less,” Kienke said.
Master Gardeners are available to answer questions every Saturday at the Kootenai County Farmers Market and at the North Idaho Fair in August. They also work with other agencies in the county to help educate the public in regard to water quality issues and correct use of chemicals in the landscape.
The Kootenai County Farmers Market opened for its 24th season on Saturday. Located on the corner of Prairie Avenue and Highway 95, it has become the go-to place for answers about plants, insects, gardening, composting and a variety of landscape challenges.
“It’s fun to meet people, give back to the community and learn, all at the same time,” says three-year Master Gardener Peggy Capes, who also volunteers at the market.
Avid community supporters, the Smarts work the Master Gardener booth at the North Idaho Fair, cook for Habitat for Humanity workers and are involved with the symphony and their church.
Jean Smart says the Master Gardeners don’t always have all the answers.
“If we don’t have the answer, with a little research we can usually get to the root of the problem,” she says.
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