She's mastered the art of gardening

May 18, 2009|By MARIE GILBERT

KEEDYSVILLE -- Linda Burns comes from a long line of farmers, so it's not surprising she has a need to grow things wherever she is planted.

For the past 20 years, home for the Hagerstown resident has been a 2 1/2-acre property behind the Red Byrd Restaurant in Keedysville.

In that time, Burns, 58, has transformed the shady hills of the home she shares with her husband, Randy, into a woodland garden. She has also found a sunny spot for a vegetable garden and some fruit trees.

It was hard getting started because the yard was so shady that Burns couldn't get anything to grow. A friend, who was a master gardener, provided the inspiration Burns needed to get started.


One of the best lessons for Burns was to use native plants. Those native plants, like ferns and ground covers, worked well in the wet, clay soil with which she had to contend.

Since then, Burns, who took early retirement from State Farm Insurance, has become a master gardener. She finds her vision for the garden keeps changing with time. After strong winds knocked down some trees recently, she found herself moving plants around because the lighting had changed.

Before planting anything, a thorough assessment of the area to be planted -- including how much sun it gets, how wet it is, if the soil is rich and loose or heavy with clay -- is a must, Burns said.

Burns completed the master gardener course work in 2007, which she said required 75 hours of instruction. Once people pass the open-book test, they become interns and volunteer 40 hours in the community. They also take an additional 20 hours of classes that first year.

The next step is certification, which requires 20 hours of volunteering and 10 hours of classroom instruction each year to maintain certification.

Burns said classes are offered at the Washington County Agricultural Education Center on Sharpsburg Pike through the county Extension Service. There's also a one-day class offered each year for master gardeners at University of Maryland, College Park.

"You have to be pretty interested in gardening. You're going to learn a lot. It's nothing to be scared of," Burns said. "Of course you're going to meet great people, because gardeners are wonderful people."

Burns said she loves the volunteering aspect, which she got into accidentally. During a tour of San Mar Children's Home in Boonsboro, she learned that volunteers were needed to work with a therapeutic gardening program. Her husband volunteered her, which initially she didn't appreciate.

"It's a good thing. I really enjoy it," she said in hindsight.

A 1969 graduate of South Hagerstown High School, Burns said it's ironic that she ended up back in Keedysville because that's where her father grew up. Her maiden name is Sampsell.

Burns' garden has several benches placed throughout, but she said there's little time to sit in them. Instead, her joy comes from tending the garden, including the wisteria that came from her mother's home.

This year, Burns is adding two rain barrels to her landscaping, turning them into rain gardens.

She said she prefers perennials, although they require dividing every few years. A spring plant sale offers the perfect opportunity for that, with fellow master gardeners potting plants that have been divided from their own gardens to sell to the public. The annual fundraiser provides money to help pay for tools, mulch and other supplies for service projects, such as therapeutic gardens at San Mar and Western Maryland Hospital Center, and the school-based C-Safe program.

Washington County Master Gardeners also created a demonstration garden at the ag center to show people how to grow their own vegetables.

Burns mainly volunteers with the San Mar program, working with adolescent girls awaiting a court hearing or permanent placement, and who attend school at San Mar.

The curriculum includes an outdoor element -- that's where the gardening fits in -- said Burns, who has two grown daughters and will become a grandmother for the first time in July.

In the past, she has helped the girls at San Mar grow green beans and tomatoes. This year they are going to plant an herb garden, and Burns hopes they will be able to create a garden sculpture out of odds and ends.

She also helps with the four-square historic garden at the Rural Heritage Museum and is enjoying learning about heirloom vegetables from the 1800s, which are being planted.

In the summer, Burns helps with 4-H camp on the days focused on horticulture.

"I'm just an outdoor girl. If I have my druthers, I'd rather be outside," said Burns, who is also an active volunteer at Maranatha Brethren Church on Jefferson Boulevard in Hagerstown.

For more information about the master gardener program, contact Annette Ipsan, Extension educator for horticulture, at 301-797-1604 or via e-mail at The Web site is

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