Updated: Sep 6, 2022
Have you ever worked on a Habitat for Humanity home? Perhaps you watched one being rehabbed or built from the ground up. Maybe you saw several people in maroon shirts on a June or September Saturday installing front yard gardens for Habitat for Humanity homes. This activity is one of many that Ramsey County Master Gardener volunteers participate in each year, and it is a memorable experience for both the Master Gardeners and the homeowners.
Since 1985, Habitat for Humanity has built or remodeled over 1,000 homes in Minnesota, most in Ramsey and Hennepin counties. Homeowners are eligible based on income, and must complete homeowner education and put in at least 300 hours of sweat equity to qualify for one of these homes. Pre-COVID-19, Ramsey County had 10-20 of these homes built or be rehabbed each year. In 2021, because of COVID-19 restrictions, there were seven project homes, and teams of Ramsey County Master Gardeners worked to install new gardens to beautify the homes and increase their curb appeal.
Master Gardener Volunteers at work
On each team of Master Gardeners, there is a team lead, an education lead, and four to five other team members. A month before planting day, team members meet with the homeowner family to develop the garden design and plant list. A typical garden design includes about two dozen plants, generously donated by Bailey Nurseries in Newport. Each team has a fixed budget to create their homeowner’s garden. While some new homeowners have gardening experience, many are new to gardening. Master Gardeners design a garden that someone new to gardening can maintain. Homeowners’ preferences are also considered as part of the design as well as the site conditions. These front yard gardens give pleasure to passersby and the homeowners who will be tending the gardens.
All new gardens are planted on the same day. Before COVID-19, planting days were scheduled twice yearly in June and September. This single-day planting schedule allows for an economy of scale approach where compost and mulch can be ordered in bulk and delivered to each site. The homeowners themselves almost always participate on planting day, so Master Gardener volunteers get to know family members and can teach basic horticultural skills. Each team’s education lead focuses on teaching the family about the plants selected and how to maintain the garden going forward.
Sharing knowledge & transforming garden space
While these Saturday planting days can be long and tiring, it’s rewarding. Transforming a space in a single day with beautiful plants for the benefit of new homeowners is the highlight of the year for many Master Gardeners. Helping families plant and nurture a garden allows Master Gardeners the opportunity to share their love and knowledge of plants and create more habitat for pollinators. The next time you see a busy group of gardeners in those U of MN maroon t-shirts planting and mulching on a Saturday, you’ll likely be watching the birth of another home garden with the assistance of Ramsey County Master Gardener volunteers.
Author: Laurel Watt