A solstice garden party is planned Saturday to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Washington State University’s Extension program.
There’ll be free cake, bottled water and popcorn for those who drop by the Master Gardeners’ demonstration garden by the Mid-Columbia library branch at 1620 S. Union St. in Kennewick between 4 and 9 p.m.
A variety of demonstrations and activities are planned, from water-wise gardening to face painting, growing and using herbs, and blowing soap bubbles. Home Depot employees will have an area set up for children to build birdhouses to take home at no charge.
“Pack a picnic, take the whole family and enjoy the garden,” said Lavera Wade, Solstice chairwoman. “We planted and maintain it for you, the community.”
Extension is a free outreach program run by Washington State University in Pullman. Researchers and educators answer questions and give advice at the click of a mouse or the ring of a phone.
It’s the go-to resource when bugs are eating your petunias, your freezer jam won’t set up or when you need the latest information on cattle diseases.
Take any gardening questions with you to the solstice party. Marianne Ophardt, Extension horticulturist and garden columnist for the Herald, will be there, along with many of the almost 150 Master Gardeners serving the Mid-Columbia region.
The Master Gardeners will discuss their long-term plans for updating the demonstration garden. Once a rocky, weedy field, it now includes 25 separate lush, verdant gardens. They’ve removed the fish pond and rock garden.
“The bones of the garden are still good, but it needs some TLC,” said Gloria Johnson of Pasco. “The rock garden was full of Bermuda grass gone wild and the pond was relatively labor-intensive. It was a deteriorating situation with those two areas.”
A group of Master Gardeners consulted with landscape architecture students at WSU in Pullman as part of the project. An outdoor classroom is planned, with plants and a water feature but also space for demonstrations and workshops.
“The students’ thinking is all about how to get people into the garden and engaged,” Johnson said.
The fabrication and welding class at Columbia Basin College is also involved.
“They’ve agreed to design and build new arbors in the garden to replace the aging wooden ones already there,” Wade said. “We want to have different styles, sizes, materials and colors to show visitors to the garden different options for their landscape.”
To raise money, the master gardeners are asking the metal suppliers for donations and are selling bronze recognition plaques to be attached to bricks at the entrance to the demonstration garden. They will be available for sale at the solstice party.
“They’re a great way to mark a special event like a wedding or birth of a grandchild,” Johnson said. “Companies, too, can have their names and logo on a plaque. These aren’t just to commemorate someone who’s passed on.”
The cost is $50 for a plaque and three lines of engraving or $75 for a logo and three lines.
“They’re one way we have of paying for the upkeep of the demonstration garden and for keeping the Master Gardener program afloat,” said Bill Dixon of Kennewick, president of the Master Gardener Foundation for Benton and Franklin counties.
“We raise about $15,000 a year — about a third of that is through plant sales, the rest comes from donations and grants,” Dixon said.
Master Gardeners also spend thousands of hours in the community. One of their projects is promoting community vegetable gardens.
“We’ve completed eight new gardens this year, including one at My Friends Place, a sanctuary for homeless teens. The produce harvested from that garden is used in the kitchen there,” Dixon said.
They also put one in Pasco’s Kurtzman Park. Almost 30 families living in nearby low-income housing have plots there.
They’ve also helped design and plant veggie gardens at six Habitat for Humanity homes.
“The work wasn’t done just by Master Gardeners. We also had work crews from the Juvenile Justice Center. The response from the kids when exposed to gardening — to creating something — is amazing. Hopefully they’ll take those skills home, maybe choose a career in landscaping,” Dixon said.