Penn State Extension Master Gardener projects earn international recognition

Amy Duke
August 23, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Three Penn State Extension Master Gardener programs were lauded for excellence during the 2019 International Master Gardener Conference, held this summer at Pennsylvania's Valley Forge Casino Resort and attended by program volunteers from most of the 50 states, Canada, South Korea and England.

The David Gibby Search for Excellence Awards, named in honor of the founder of the first Master Gardener program, recognize exemplary group projects that show significant learning by the Master Gardeners or the public.

“Every day, Master Gardener volunteers from across Pennsylvania are sharing their love of horticulture by leading innovative programs in their communities that inspire and uplift residents,” said Nancy Knauss, state Master Gardener coordinator.

“To have three of our programs earn recognition at the international level is incredible and speaks to the passion and commitment of our volunteers.”

Penn State Master Gardeners placed in three categories: Community Service, Demonstration Gardens, and Research (applied scientific methodology).

Master Gardeners in Lackawanna County took home second place honors in Community Service for their North Pocono Garden Project at the North Pocono Library in Lackawanna.

The gardeners’ objectives for the project were twofold: First, they wanted to transfer a large piece of barren land behind the library into a “giving” garden, which would provide organically grown vegetables to meet a need for fresh produce at the local food pantry.

Second, they wanted it to be a “learning” garden where children, along with their parents and grandparents, could learn how to grow food organically.

Since the original planning meeting in 2014, the garden has become a multidimensional giving and learning center, consisting of 19 raised beds, including a handicapped-accessible bed and a composting system; a children’s summer program that complements the library’s story hour; an apprentice garden, which is an area for educating families on organic vegetables; and a certified pollinator garden. Community workshops and an annual fall festival also are held at the site.

In the Demonstration Gardens category, the York County Master Gardeners placed second for their project, The Gardens at John Rudy County Park, which is a partnership among the Master Gardeners, York County Juvenile Probation, and the York County Department of Parks and Recreation.

MG Demonstration Garden award

Master Gardeners in York County earned second place in the Demonstration Gardens category in the David Gibby Search for Excellence Awards, held during the 2019 International Master Gardener Conference. Diane Nolan, Search for Excellence chair, and David Gibby, Master Gardener program founder, presented the award to York County Master Gardeners George Fetrow and Frank Reed.

IMAGE: Penn State Master Gardeners

The project, which began with a couple of flower beds, has grown into a one-acre demonstration garden consisting of 50 beds that contain a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, perennials, annuals, native grasses, trees and shrubs. All plants are labeled, and informative brochures are available for all the beds.

Master Gardeners provide gardening expertise and work side-by-side with youth who are required to perform community service. Each year, their efforts yield more than 3,000 pounds of produce for local food banks.

The gardening public can enjoy self-guided tours, schedule a volunteer-led tour or visit the gardens during workdays. In addition, an open house is held annually in August, during which Master Gardeners are on hand to answer questions as visitors stroll through the gardens.

The York County Master Gardeners received another second-place nod, this time in Research (applied scientific methodology), for their initiative to help restore bee populations. The Pollinator Preference Program guides homeowners and gardeners on the best flower varieties to plant to attract pollinators and provide them with the pollen and nectar they need.

MG Research Award

Master Gardeners in York County took home second place honors for Research (applied scientific methodology) in the David Gibby Search for Excellence Awards, held during the 2019 International Master Gardener Conference. Master Gardener Priscilla Waldman, at right, received the award from program founder, David Gibby, and Diane Nolan, Search for Excellence chair.

IMAGE: Penn State Master Gardeners

A team of Master Gardeners from York County oversees the project, with Master Gardeners from 22 counties across the state monitoring plants each week for specific pollinators and reporting their results.

They started with varieties of anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), Helen's flower (Helenium autumnale) and obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana) in 2013 and continued with Monarda and Coreopsis varieties, which many people know as bee balm and threadleaf tickseed, respectively, from 2016 to 2018.

In 2020, Master Gardeners throughout the state will continue the program by monitoring various species of goldenrod for their attractiveness to migrating monarchs.

Currently, there are 3,165 Master Gardener volunteers in Pennsylvania who support Penn State Extension's educational programs in consumer horticulture. They help extension better serve the home-gardening public by answering questions, speaking to groups, maintaining demonstration gardens, assisting in Penn State pollinator research and participating in many other projects.

More information about the Penn State Master Gardener program is available online at

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated August 23, 2019