After holding its annual Home & Garden Show at the Pine Bluff Convention Center for more than 25 years, the Jefferson County Master Gardeners moved their biggest fundraising event to Hestand Stadium for the first time this year. And that change doesn’t include the two-year hiatus the show endured because of covid.
“We’re just trying to build up our presence again,” said Linda Power, chair of the event. “At least we’re not business people who lost their business to covid-19. We’re just fortunate that we are able to do something.” The change in venue was considerable for the organizers. But the cost of using the Hestand Stadium facility instead of the Convention Center was sizable, and considering that the event is a fundraiser, the expense savings helps the bottom line, Power said.
“One person came up to me and said there was no amount of lipstick that could turn He-stand Stadium into the Convention Center,” Power said with a laugh. “But I said, ‘Look, we’re gardeners. We dig in the dirt.’” Power said she appreciated the warm welcome the Master Gardener group had received from Hestand Stadium, noting that officials had a work crew in on Monday, steam cleaning the place to make it ready for the show.
At midday on Friday, visitors were streaming in to visit with vendors and buy plants and other home and garden items. The Jefferson County assessor and collector offices had booths. Next to them was a nursery selling more plants. And across the way was an insurance agent ready to talk shop.
At the Three Rivers Audubon Society table, volunteers had whipped up a peanut buttery glop that was designed to be slathered onto pine cones, rolled in bird seed and hung on a tree limb for one’s feathered friends.
Asked if the concoction was sandwich-worthy, member Richard Berry said “only if you’re desperate.” Power said she was pleased with the vendor turnout, even though the 25 to 30 that showed up this year was well off the 58 that rented booth space in 2019, the last year the event was held.
“We thought, well, maybe we can get to half of what we did two years ago, and we did,” she said. “We really just didn’t know what to expect. In not having a show for two years, we’ve relied on some smaller plant sales, but our bank account has been dwindling.” Proceeds from the show help fund the Cooperative Extension Service’s demonstration garden, which raises fresh produce for Neighbor to Neighbor, the CASA women’s shelter and the Salvation Army.
At the demonstration garden this year, there’s a covered “hoop house,” which allows gardeners to get an early start on planting. Some of the items started in the house are for sale at the show, as well as items grown by Roger Area, who oversees a community garden and greenhouse at First United Methodist Church.
Area, a master gardener, had come to the show with 80 tomato plants that stood a foot and a half tall, already had blossoms and were for sale for $4 each.
“These were started in January from seeds,” he said. “They’re setting on. They may not be ripe by Easter but it’ll be close.” Nearby was Linda Stolzer from Little Rock who was buying plants.
As names were exchanged, Stolzer was asked if the person next to her was her husband, and she was quick to answer.
“Not yet,” she said with a smile.
Stolzer’s friend, Paul Pilkington, also of Little Rock, is a master gardener, and he had read about the event in The Pine Bluff Commercial as well as in the newsletters that master gardeners receive and had suggested the two of them drive down to check out the event.
Standing in line to buy some of Area’s tomato plants was Nicholas Romano, an associate professor of aquaculture at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
Romano has been working on several research projects concerning the use of the manure — or frass — from black soldier fly larvae. He said the results have been promising with sweet potato slips, and he said he was buying tomato, lemon basil and peppermint plants at the home and garden show to see how the frass works on them.
Today’s events, which run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., include a session at 10 a.m. by UAPB professor Yong Park, who will talk about honey bees; a 1 p.m. talk about making rain barrels by Lee Anderson; and a 2:30 p.m. talk on the benefits of butterflies by Karen Smith.