The 2013 Putnam County Master Gardener graduates are: (first row) Shari Maas, Irene Bullard; (second row) Kathy Schnipke, Linda Jones, Rita Keith, Lynn Farwig, Karl Farwig; (third row) Mary Love, Chris Brubaker, Brenda Schumaker, Joe Hovest, Dianne Dukes, Kathy Kimmel, Patrick Kelly. John Gilliland, Gina Gilliland, Randy Greeno and Marilyn Burkhart completed the class but were not able to attend the graduation on Thursday night. (Putnam Sentinel/Anne Coburn-Griffis)
The 2013 Putnam County Master Gardener graduates are: (first row) Shari Maas, Irene Bullard; (second row) Kathy Schnipke, Linda Jones, Rita Keith, Lynn Farwig, Karl Farwig; (third row) Mary Love, Chris Brubaker, Brenda Schumaker, Joe Hovest, Dianne Dukes, Kathy Kimmel, Patrick Kelly. John Gilliland, Gina Gilliland, Randy Greeno and Marilyn Burkhart completed the class but were not able to attend the graduation on Thursday night. (Putnam Sentinel/Anne Coburn-Griffis)

KALIDA - A new crop of eighteen Putnam County Master Gardeners is counting the winter days until they can dig their green thumbs into Northwest Ohio soil. Fourteen individuals from Putnam, Paulding, Hancock and Wyandot counties were on hand to receive their certification at the Putnam County Master Gardener Christmas Meeting and Graduation which was held on Thursday evening at Dick's Steak House, Kalida.

Despite their home addresses, all of the graduates completed their training in Putnam County. Classes began the first week in October and continued every Tuesday and Thursday evening from 6 to 9 p.m. through the week before Thanksgiving.

The Master Gardener program originated in Seattle, Washington in 1972. Ohio's program took off through Ohio State University Extension in the late 1970s in the state's more urban counties and has grown into active programs in 62 Ohio counties which offer intensive training in horticulture to interested Ohio residents. Master Gardener classes are offered in this county every other fall.

Those who choose to undertake the training attend lectures on different topics, such as botany, soils, plant propagation, garden entomology, urban forestry, woody ornamentals and what pesticides to use and what not to use. Presenters include well-known local experts as well as those from nearby counties.

"Tawa Tree Service's Brad Brooks talked with the group about how to trim large trees, Jerry Suter of Suter Farms talked about how to trim small trees, including fruit trees," said Ann Meyer, Putnam County's Master Gardener volunteer coordinator. "Bruce Clevenger of Defiance County talked about bramble fruit production."

As training opportunities are scarce in the region, the 2013 class announcement attracted individuals who were willing to make a substantial drive to the Putnam County OSU Extension office in Ottawa two times a week for two months. In many cases, class members had wished for the certification for years.

"I've been trying to take a Master Gardener class since about 1996," said Linda Jones, Carey, adding that her work hours would not allow her to take part. "Then Bill Jones called and said that classes would be offered in Putnam County this year. I told him to sign me up."

Jones carpooled to the classes with Rita Keith, Findlay. Through a mutual acquaintance, Linda had visited Keith's home and saw the abundance of flowers planted there.

"She said, you should be a Master Gardener," recalled Keith. "Right now I do in-home health care. I love landscaping. I bought a home in Findlay, but wherever I live, I fix peoples yards."

Keith came home from a two week vacation in California to come to the graduation banquet. "We know about 200 people who would like to take the class, but Hancock County won't do another one for two years. There just aren't enough offerings."

Patrick Kelly of Oakwood was prevented from taking the classes for years due to work schedule conflicts. Since the Putnam County classes were offered at night, 2013 was his year to participate.

Irene Bullard, Ottoville, just moved back home from St. Louis, MO. Her sister Millie Ruen is a Master Gardener and has been for many years.

"I built a new house," said Bullard. "I've got a big empty lot and I want to figure out what to do with it. At my house in St. Louis I had a nice perennial garden. I want to figure out what grows well here and have a nice perennial garden and a bunch of trees."

Gardening runs in the family for Dianne Dukes. She wants to help start a Master Gardener program in Continental, her hometown. When asked why she took the class, Dukes proclaimed her love for growing perennials and vegetables. Her husband Bruce responded, "To make me work."

But he and other friends and family were on hand to honor the graduates, all of whom are now required to do 50 hours of volunteer service during the first year of their Master Gardener certification, then 10 hours every year thereafter to remain in good standing with the program.

The class of 2013 also includes John Gilliland, Gina Gilliland, Randy Greeno, Marilyn Burkhart, Shari Maas, Kathy Schnipke, Lynn Farwig, Karl Farwig, Mary Love, Chris Brubaker, Brenda Schumaker, Joe Hovest and Kathy Kimmel.

The new interns can turn to seasoned Master Gardeners for help in completing their volunteer time. Donna Laubenthal, Ottawa, asks for volunteers at Ottawa Park. The biannual "Spring into Gardening Fair" set for April 5 in Kalida this year as well as the farmers market at Ottawa's First Fridays offer other chances to compile the required volunteer time.

Other graduates are making their own plans. According to Meyer, Joe Hovest, Kalida, cares for all the flower beds at The Meadows of Kalida and invites others to help him out on scheduled days. Keith and Jones have already completed seven of their 50 hours. They cut pine for the wreath class at Findlay Hancock County Public Library. Jones is ready to share her knowledge with Wyandot County.

"I've talked to the library in Carey and they are interested in having a speaker on perennials and bulbs. We talked to ReStore in Findlay. They would like to have a presentation or class on landscaping. I took the classes because I want to make sure that what I tell them is right. I'm looking forward to jumping right in."