By Suzanne Hurley
On a sunny Saturday in March, when the heat hadn’t yet driven everyone inside, hundreds of gardeners and wannabes strolled under the oaks in Govalle Park for the third annual Passion for Plants event.
Sponsored by the Travis County Master Gardeners Association (TCMGA), the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, the Holistic Education and Health Network, Sustainable Food Center and Green Corn Project (GCP), the East Austin garden fair offered resources and free information on many gardening- and environment-related topics from double-digging, growing native plants and composting, to gardening for butterflies and more.
Wandering among the fairgoers, and collecting information for herself (because, as all gardeners know, there’s always something new to learn), was longtime Green Corn Project gardener Paula Gilbert. The curly-haired University of Texas employee was just another attendee until noon, when Gilbert was announced as an honored gardener.
Each year the TCMGA recognizes accomplished gardeners from the East Austin community and presents them with gift bags that would make any gardener green with envy (pun intended). Master gardener Cheryl McGrath has the honor of selecting the winners and assembling the gift bags.
“Over the last three years, TCMGA has honored seven gardeners from this community. It has been a privilege to meet them and learn their stories,” reports McGrath. “Each gardener has a unique story to tell, but the common thread is the importance of gardening as a fresh, healthy food source, and of sharing what is grown with family, friends and neighbors.”
Paula Gilbert has been a gardener her entire life. “I learned from my grandmother in Texas and my mother in New Mexico,” she told the gathered crowd, noting that her mother loved sunflowers, but it was her grandmother who grew vegetables.
Six years ago, Gilbert—then a new Habitat for Humanity homeowner—heard about Green Corn Project, a local nonprofit that installs organic vegetable gardens for low-income families and individuals around Central Texas. After learning that GCP offers its gardens to all Habitat homeowners, Gilbert applied for one and was accepted. Volunteers soon arrived with tools, compost, plants and seeds to install a bed in the front yard. They also introduced her to gardening organically.
Gilbert tended to, and harvested from, that 4’ x 12’ plot for about two years, until trees began to offer too much shade. She now gardens in her backyard, in four raised beds. GCP continues to provide the compost and plants, but now Gilbert’s the one sharing her knowledge of gardening.
“You have to be ready for change as a gardener, as in life,” she says. “I’ve grown flowers all my life, but I now cultivate primarily veggies and herbs. I let God take care of the flowers.”