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Horticultural Learning Center will bring hands-on learning to Central Virginia

Shovels planted in raised gardening bed as people mill around
The Hanover-based organization broke ground on the new space in September. Members plan to start fresh with outdoor classes in 2023. (Photo: Angie Miles/VPM News)

The Hanover County Master Gardener Association wants to make starting and maintaining a garden more manageable with its plans to open a learning center starting this spring.

Outdoor classes at the Horticultural Learning Center will provide space for master gardeners to demonstrate research-based practices about important horticultural topics like vertical gardening and pest control. Once temperatures start to rise, master gardener Bob Durbin said the group plans to host classes at the center east of Ashland next to the Taylor Complex on Route 54.

“We will encounter similar problems that people at home have,” Durbin said. “So, when it's hot, how do we deal with the heat in terms of a garden or with pests or insects? Well, we can show people, and we will not be 100% successful, but we’ll tell people, ‘Here’s what we did and here's how it worked, here's how it didn't work.’”

Since 1982, the Hanover Master Gardener Association has educated the public through classes at libraries, a help desk and plant clinics at farmers markets. As part of the Virginia Cooperative Extension between Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, the association also offers an intensive master gardener program that involves 60 hours of lecture and 50 hours of volunteer work to earn the title, according to volunteer coordinator Angelette Pryor. Hanover’s association includes 120 master gardeners.

Pryor has been working with the Hanover master gardeners for six years. During that time, she has seen the visible limits of teaching a hands-on activity like gardening through slideshows.

“It will be exciting to see something living and growing,” Pryor said. “But it meets our need to have a classroom where we can actually demonstrate to people the many things we've been talking about.”

The plan to build a public-facing space for master gardeners had been in the works since 2015, said Durbin, who also helped plan the learning center. Other master gardener groups in Virginia had space for demonstrations, and Durbin said Hanover’s local association wanted to keep up.

But it was not until July that the gardeners received county approval to use 1.10 acres of land. By September, the association was already breaking ground.

“It was a real celebration of many, many years of hard work,” Pryor said.

Seeing it finally fall into place has been worth it, said Durbin, who has been a master gardener for 13 years.

“We kind of put it on the back burner, and all of a sudden, the county says it's a go,” Durbin said. “So, now we're kind of ramping up trying to get it started.”

For now, the plan is to have up to 10 raised beds, composting bins and rainwater harvesting tanks by the time growing season begins in the spring. But that is just phase one, Durbin said.

Ultimately, Pryor hopes that the 120 master gardeners are able to find their niche in the association, whether they’re teaching at the learning center or organizing behind-the-scenes. Although the exact curriculum and schedule for spring classes has not been determined, the master gardeners hope their demonstrations can raise a new crop of gardening enthusiasts.