IOWA CITY — Bending, lifting and spending time in the sunshine has been good for Sharon Jeter’s body, while nurturing plants in the company of other committed gardeners has been good for her soul.
“It would be hard to find a gardener who does not say ‘this is my mental health therapy’,” said Jeter, 69, of Iowa City, who has been part of the Johnson County Master Gardeners for 11 years.
The group, one of the most active Master Gardeners chapters in the state with about 150 members who put in thousands of volunteer hours last year, is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its demonstration garden at the Johnson County Fairgrounds.
Marking the occasion, the garden has a new location at the fairgrounds, complete with an antique wire corncrib the Master Gardeners will use as an education center. There will be a ribbon cutting for the new garden site at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, the first day of the Johnson County Fair.
The 20-foot-tall, 16-foot-diameter corncrib, donated by Pat Johnson’s family in rural Oxford, has a prominent place near the Iowa State University Extension building at the fairgrounds.
But getting the corncrib in place wasn’t easy.
“On Facebook, someone posted a picture of a wire corncrib,” said Jeter, co-leader of the group’s steering committee. “I said, ‘that’s what we need!’.”
Johnson’s family, originally planning to sell the corncrib that had been on their farm since 1977, agreed to donate it to the Johnson County Master Gardeners. Iowa City Ready Mix donated the concrete and Foundations Unlimited, of Kalona, poured the circular slab for free.
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Mark Bruellman, a bin mover from northwest Iowa, hauled the corncrib from the farm to the fairgrounds, where it was anchored in place. The Master Gardeners plan to cut a 12-foot door in the wire mesh so the crib can be wheelchair-accessible, Jeter said.
The Master Gardeners working at the site decided to surround the corncrib this summer with a whimsical fantasy garden with plants including little finger eggplant, dragon carrots, baby bear pumpkins and Black Beauty zucchini, Jeter said.
Nearby is the butterfly house, which Master Gardeners staff throughout the fair.
The demonstration garden is just one of the Master Gardeners projects in Johnson County. The group also plants and tends gardens in downtown Iowa City, Willow Creek Park in Iowa City and the Iowa Firefighters Memorial in Coralville, among other projects.
The group staffs a horticulture hotline for the Iowa State University Extension. People with gardening questions may call (319) 337-2145 between 9 to 11 a.m. Monday and Friday or 1 to 3 p.m. Wednesday in the planting season or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
People who want to join the Johnson County Master Gardeners must take a 15-session class and then complete 40 hours of service in the first year. Ongoing members do at least 20 hours of service and 10 hours of continuing education each year, Jeter said.
“The most rewarding thing to me is the women and men I’ve met and the things I’ve learned from them,” she said. “I’ve made lifelong friends.”
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