Botanical enthusiasts, exhibitors and experts from all over the world annually trek to the the Philadelphia Flower Show. So this year, for the first time, organizers thought it would be a good idea to dub the event the Philadelphia International Flower Show.
That should make the experience even more memorable for area horticultural buffs seeking to find the latest trends, growing methods and, of course, flowers.
But to only seek out the exotic international and well-known national exhibits would be a big mistake. Often some of the smaller, more local kiosks are the ones with hidden treasures, and thrilling backstories.
The Mid-Atlantic Horticultural Therapy Network, or MAHTN, will be one such exhibit, and it will feature work the Master Gardeners of Somerset and Hunterdon Counties and the Rutgers Cooperative Extension did throughout 2009 at the Anderson House halfway home for women in Whitehouse Station.
“Our first project last year as master gardeners was to inspire these women to take an interest in gardening on some level,” said Laura DePrado, a master gardener from Branchburg who spearheaded the project. “The goal was to work side by side with them to inspire, create, design, install and maintain a meditation garden. Now what it transpiring is the teamwork and the newfound relationship between the master gardeners and residents has taken wings in an unpredictable way to the flower show.”
The work done at Anderson House will be broadcast continuously on a 42-inch screen at the MAHTN exhibit. MAHTN has more than 100 members from New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, and DePrado is one of them.
“The idea is to support local and regional interest in the development of horticulture and rehabilitation,” said DePrado, who tonight will lead a group of master gardeners back to Anderson House to kick off work on this year’s phase of the project – the installation of a fenced-in vegetable and herb garden. “This exhibit will help to demonstrate how plants are used to reduce stress, teach new abilities, help increase sense of pride and contribution and promote self-esteem.”
The residents of Anderson House spend a lot of time trying to get their lives back together, develop a sense of self-worth and integrate skills needed to take part in today’s busy world. But according to executive director Toni Hansen, the work done with the master gardeners has helped accomplish all that and much more.
“The collaborative work Anderson House has had with the master hardeners has been a total win-win all the way around,” she said. “From the education and learning to and from the residents, to the fun and fellowship, engagement and enrichment, the program has helped to grow all of us in more ways than we knew existed. And being featured at the Philadelphia Flower show is amazing because it just emphasizes the viability and depth of this ongoing program.”
DePrado’s master gardeners could not have started the program, however, without the assistance of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension.
When DePrado approached Win Cowgill – a Hunterdon County agricultural agent and professor at the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station in Pittstown – with the project, he jumped at the opportunity to help because he knew it would reap dividends.
“The Rutgers master gardener program at the Anderson House brought a world of horticulture to the residents,” Cowgill said. “The educational efforts and hands-on work with plant materials made a significant impact on the residents, so much so that five of the resident students secured employment in the horticulture industry.”
That’s the kind of impact DePrado hopes the display at the flower show will produce, too. But even if it doesn’t, the master gardener program will plow forward anyway. On Wednesday, March 3, her team will commence with the first of 14 weeks of classes with the residents to design, create and install the new garden.
“No single group or individual is taking this on and saying it is a stand-alone project,” said DePrado, who has been working on the flower show exhibit since mid-January. “The hope is that residents see that they are taking part in a project that will pave the way for future residents to participate in. It’s something we want to perpetuate.”
By Jeff Weber: ; jweber@MyCentralJersey.com.