Article written by our own Sue Martin, first published in Inside Ivy.


The 2017 Piedmont Master Gardener and Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards Spring Sale

It’s May 11, two days before the Piedmont Master Gardener and Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards annual sale and the forecast calls for rain. There’s rain but not the hard rain that had been forecasted. That comes the next day, the second day of loading, sorting and tagging 4,600+ plants that are being stored at the Ix Park facility in downtown Charlottesville. Some plants arrive like rain-soaked orphans lacking identification. Volunteers huddle around them, trying to determine the exact species. It’s a daunting sight, long corridors filled with thousands of plants. One worker mutters in passing to his Ix office, “It’s like a jungle in here!”

Rain is also forecasted for the day of the sale but the morning is cool and dry. There is one last arduous task of moving plants from garden ground or seeding tray to sale table. At 6:30 A.M., volunteers form a human chain down the corridor of the storage area, passing plants hand-to-hand, down the hall and down the outside steps into waiting cars and trucks. As the tables in the front of the storage corridor are emptied of plants, newly-arrived volunteers fill in the front of the chain. The waiting vehicles drive down the street to the sale area where the plants are unloaded to their marked tables: sun, shade, native, deer-resistant, groundcovers, shrubs and trees, houseplants, vegetables and herbs. At about 8:30 A.M., a cheer goes up at the storage facility, followed one truck ride later by a cheer at the other end. After months of digging, potting and watering, or seeding and tending, the last plant is in place and ready for its new home.

Most of the plants are donated by Master Gardeners from their own gardens. Some are dug up in the fall preceding the spring sale and are faithfully tended by volunteers for several months. There were eleven organized potting parties this year where Master Gardeners dug up and potted dozens, sometimes hundreds, of plants from a single garden. Including plants from different gardens ensures diversity and this year’s sale offered over 200 different varieties. Some plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and annuals, are grown from seed. The Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards are also at the sale, offering expert advice on their always interesting mix of trees, many of which are also nurtured over the winter.

Native plants were a focus of this year’s sale with over 50 varieties available, some donated by the Urban Agricultural Collective of Charlottesville (UACC). The sale offers the added benefit of advice on selection and care from enthusiastic Master Gardeners. Volunteers are eager to share their experience and will help select combinations that offer dazzling color in a sunny spot or a serene mixture of white and pastels in a woodland setting. Or, they will offer advice on choosing plants that attract pollinators or choosing plants that don’t attract deer. It’s fun to share information with people who share your passion and both customers and volunteers enjoy the morning.

The sale requires many months of planning and work by at least 90 Master Gardener volunteers. But the proceeds are then available for projects that benefit the community. That’s the really important part of the fun—being able to fund an array of Master Gardener projects such as: school garden clubs; horticultural courses as part of a reentry program at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail; demonstration gardens at the Senior Center and Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital; The Garden Shed online community newsletter; the Garden Basics program, which offers classes for beginner gardeners; Spring Lecture Series, which offers evening horticultural presentations to the public; Healthy Virginia Lawns, which promotes Best Management Practices in lawn care; a $5,000 grant to the McIntire Botanical Garden project; and a Horticulture Help Desk, open to telephone or email inquiries five mornings a week from mid-March to mid-October and at least two mornings a week the rest of the year.

So, when you get the itch next spring to dig in the dirt and watch things grow, remember that there have been industrious Master Gardeners already hard at work, ready to offer plants, advice and contagious enthusiasm at their Spring Sale!

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