Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

May 31, 2009


Master gardeners respond with expert help for gardening


          Well, shut my mouth! It turns out I have several friends and even family members who are master gardeners. And some of my friends are worthy of the title even though they have never embraced it. I am a blessed man.

          One of the great rewards of writing a newspaper column is that people often respond. Some are quick to disagree with you; some delight in affirming you. Still others take pleasure in furthering your education. And I enjoy them all.  To write something that no one responds to is the pits for a writer.

          My Uncle Wylie, now 90 but keenly alert, informs me that my first cousin, Marguerite, and her husband Craig, are master gardeners. Their gardens are in Weslaco, Texas, near the Mexican border, where they have lived for the past 50 years. I wonder if they grow blueberry bushes out there.

          Julianne, another first cousin, lives just down the road from me and she too is a master gardener. Her friends tell me the proof is in her marvelous flower gardens.

          Good friend Martha reminds me that she is not only a master gardener but a master “life flower show” judge. I should have remembered that since Martha and her husband Leo have been dear friends since seminary days at Emory.

          Martha tells me that the difference in Muscadines and scuppernongs is easy to remember. Muscadines are purple and scuppernongs are green. She also explains that for blueberries to produce, you must plant both male and female bushes. All I need to know now is how to tell a “boy” blueberry bush from a “female.”

          Longtime friend John, a veterinarian and meat inspector for the state of Florida, called to tell me about his own muscadine and scuppernong vines. Bo may know a lot of things but John knows grapes. Still working at age 90, John confirmed what friend Jim shared with me a day earlier – that “Scuppernong is the original variety of bronze muscadine found growing in the wild.”

          First called “white grapes” by early settlers, scuppernongs were touted as being more luscious than any of the grapes grown in France, Spain, or Italy. I learned this and more from Jim. Many southerners ignore the distinction between muscadines and scuppernongs. They pick scuppernongs and use them to make muscadine jelly. Whatever you call it, the jelly will make a hot, buttery biscuit come alive.

          A message from my friend Anne affirms that I now have a direct link to the Auburn Extension Office in Opelika. Not only that, Anne is a master gardener and ready to provide answers to my questions from the master garden manual in her office. If Anne cannot find answers in the manual or in her head, she will call in the gardening chief, Chuck Brown.

          Anne extends an invitation to join the Jasmine Garden Club in the Opelika-Auburn area. This really appeals to me since they rarely meet and have only five members. At my age I love groups that seldom meet. An annual low country boil with lots of corn on the cob and scrimp would be quite sufficient. We could talk gardening on the Internet.

          Winnie’s John, another dear friend, has forgotten more than I will ever know about gardening. Though in his late eighties John still gardens well. He blames his mother for his yen for digging in dirt. “She fed six of us during the depression years with her hoe and ingenuity,” John recalls.

John’s backyard continues, after 35 years of growing vegetables, to provide a good supply of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, butter beans, string beans, peas and okra. John says, “The rain has been wonderful and now I am depending on almighty God for the increase and I will glorify him in that for he has been very good to me in the past.”

John affirms what all gardeners know well – we may plant, and water, but God provides the growth. Gardening then is a constant reminder that when we cooperate with our Maker, good things happen. To this I am sure all my gardening friends will say Amen! + + +