I’ve been a Master Gardener for a year now. In fact, yesterday (3/11/11) was the last class for this year’s group of trainees. (They covered Plant Pathology.) It was also the day that I worked at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show–my MOST FUN day ever as a Master Gardener. Everything I’ve done as a Master Gardener has been fun, of course–helping out with the Kids n’ Nature classes at the Children’s Garden in Pilcher Park, maintaining the Homer Glen Healing Garden, and even the dreaded answering questions at the Extension office. (This latter job is not as scary as it sounded during training since someone else actually takes the calls and writes down what the people want to know.) And going to my county’s monthly Master Gardener potluck meetings is always a blast. (My husband leads our kids in making jokes about how Mom and her friends are always doing conga lines at these meetings, and he’s really not far from the truth. They’re that much fun!) But working at the Flower and Garden Show tops them all.
Oh, what could be more fun than perks? And the perks that came with this job are the best.
- Free entry to the Flower & Garden Show. Not only do we get in for free on the days we work there, but we also get a free ticket for each shift we work. So I’ve already made arrangements to go back again tomorrow with some friends. The free ticket I got is saving me $15 right there. ( I managed to sign up for just one shift, but during that shift another Master Gardener gave me an extra free ticket that she was not using. So I scored a free ticket for one of my friends, too!) Wow, the price has gone up over the years; I think I got in for about $7 the first year I went.
- Discounted parking. Parking rates at Navy Pier are ridiculous, and that is one of the huge drawbacks to having the Flower & Garden Show there. Normally it costs $24 to park there, and this year it is discounted to $14 for the Flower & Garden Show. (This is the same parking rate we pay when we go to Navy Pier for plays at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Following the Bard is another passion of mine, and my husband blogs about our adventures in this sport.) However, the Master Gardeners who work a shift there get it discounted to $9. Not free, but not bad.
- A break room stocked with snacks and water. It was nice to know I didn’t have to pack and carry all my food and snacks for the day.
This year Master Gardeners worked at two areas of the Flower & Garden Show, the information booths and the Kid’s Activity Garden. Within the kids’ area there were five stations: Bug Petting Zoo, Worm Composting, Potting Parties-Rot Pots, Paper Flowers, and Suet Bird Feeder. I volunteered for any of the three latter activities (No bug or worm handling for me, thank you!) and wound up at the Rot Pots table. My job consisted of helping people to make little rot pots out of sheets of newspaper and plant lettuce seeds in them. They’re called “rot pots” because they can be planted pot and all into the ground, and the newspaper will disintegrate–literally rot away–over time.
I loved this job! The task itself is something that I have done at home, and I got to perfect my newspaper pot making technique (i.e. learn to do it without using any tape) over the course of the afternoon. We had lots of people approach our table during the first few hours–kids of all ages! Seriously, I think more adults than kids went home with rot pots, and they were all very appreciative of what we were teaching them. Each person was a joy to talk to and work with. A few asked if they could ask us a question, and I was relieved that we were able to handle the questions we encountered. After all, answering people’s questions about their gardening problems is what Master Gardeners are known for.
The Master Gardeners all around me also made it a fun experience. I had not met any of them before as I’m from a different extension office, and it was fun to chat with each other when we weren’t busy demonstrating. One of them–Gwen, who worked with me at the rot pots table–was kind enough to bring in a box of lovely and delicious homemade cupcakes to share. Meanwhile, I learned a little more about worm composting and checked out the creatures at the bug petting table. Gwen was willing to hold the big ones, a tarantula and an African millipede, but I just took pictures of them and stroked the top of the giant millipede once.
We worked from noon to five. I arrived around 10 A.M., when the show started, and had time to check out many of the venders and sit in on most of one seminar before my shift began. I stayed and took in more of the Flower and Garden show after my shift, too. The evening hours are the best time to look through the display gardens. There are fewer people milling about, so it’s easier to take pictures. Plus, 5 P.M. on a weekday is a bad time to try driving home from downtown Chicago. Instead of going to the evening seminar, I went to the cooking demonstration at the Garden Gourmet area.
The chef was from Harry Carey’s, and I got to sample some bison and take home a few recipes.
All in all, it was a fabulous and fun day, well worth the drive to Navy Pier and the $9 parking. Sign me up for next year!
NOTE: Here are all my pictures from this flower and garden show–2011 Chicago Flower & Garden Show.