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Norfolk Master Gardeners’ College Must-Sees

Our 2019 College location in Norfolk means many new attractions are available to Extension Master Gardeners, including options for sightseeing, dining, and learning about Norfolk!

“Exploring the local area has always been an important part of Master Gardener College,” says Dave Close, Master Gardener Coordinator. “In Blacksburg, people have visited the farmers market, local nurseries, and downtown restaurants. In Norfolk there are many new attractions that attendees can see during their visit.”

Local Norfolk Master Gardeners Kate Melhuish and Connie Kellam have some suggestions of must-see attractions for 2019 College attendees.


The Norfolk location presents a particularly exciting opportunity for Water Steward Training with the opportunity to visit some current Water Steward projects nearby.

“There can be no better place on the planet for the Water Steward program,” says Melhuish.

Norfolk is a city of water,” agrees Kellam. “A short drive will take you along, over, or under a river or bay and every road way will eventually dead end at the water.  The good news is the beauty it affords. The bad news is what’s happening due to climate change.”

“Norfolk is recognized as one of the 100 Resilient Cities around the globe, with an extensive Green Infrastructure plan in place and taking shape,” says Melhuish.  “You’ll see amazing feats of green engineering – some are city led/federally funded, some are citizen-driven, most are undertaken through the network of public and private partnerships here locally.”

“The flooding that threatens our Navy Base, downtown, and thoroughfares is bringing in scientists from all over the world,” adds Kellam. “The erosion on our beaches and waterfronts is being addressed with native plants and grasses.  Our bay and rivers are being monitored by groups dedicated to clean waterways to ensure our plants, fish, and wildlife have a healthy place to live now and in the future. Citizens are actively saving small areas and with city officials are tackling big ones.  Our children and grandchildren deserve our attention to our environment.”

“Norfolk is a city of beauty as well as of study,” she says.  “Master Gardeners will find it exciting to tour our city of water and to examine our flooding and erosion issues.”

Local Attractions

In between College’s packed schedule of keynote speakers and concurrent sessions, Master Gardeners can also plan to get out and explore downtown Norfolk from our convenient location at The Main.

Melhuish recommends College attendees check out Prince Books, located right across the street from The Main.

“Town Point Park is also a one block walk to the waterfront; lovely marina to stroll around and admire other people’s expensive toys.  The park itself is a nice green space to walk along the waterfront as part of the Elizabeth River Trail,” she says. “The very impressive Slover Library is practically next door – Chris Epes and a team of our EMGs are working with Slover staff on a Seed Library program to begin  later this spring.”

“If you’re looking to get on the water, take a quick walk to Waterside – a venue a block from The Main in the direction of the water,” says Kellam. “There is a small passenger boat that goes back and forth across the Elizabeth River to the City of Portsmouth.  There are larger boats that take you up and down the river to see the shipyards, cruise ship terminal, and the Navy Base. There is a gigantic seasonal ferris wheel with small air-conditioned cabins that will gently glide you to sky high views of the city.”

Visitors to Master Gardener College can also explore Norfolk’s many green spaces.

“We have beautiful parks and garden,” says Kellam.  “The Norfolk Botanical Garden features a rose garden, a Colonial garden, a perennial garden, butterfly house, children’s learning garden, and gazebos and walkways throughout hundreds of acres.  The Hermitage, on the Lafayette River, houses an early 1900s home with original artwork and furnishings and the gardens feature evening socials and traveling exhibits such as the popular Burning Man.  Our zoo is landscaped seasonally with native and exotic plants that enhance and mimic the animals’ natural habitat.”


“Norfolk specializes in fresh seafood from the waters of Virginia and every restaurant features its own signature dish,” says Kellam. “And all those crab cakes that Maryland brags about? They are actually made with crabs that travel up the Chesapeake Bay from Virginia!  So always ask for the local fresh catch of the day and enjoy what we in Norfolk take for granted.”

If you are looking for an upscale restaurant, Kellam recommends Todd Jurich’s Bistro, which is within walking distance of The Main.  According to Kellam, Todd is a legend for his menus of local cuisine coupled with fine wines.

“Places to eat range from the sublime (any of the three restaurants inside The Main, or nearby Byrd & Baldwin Steakhouse) to Yorgo’s Bageldashery or Schlotzsky’s Deli,” says Melhuish. “There are so many options in every direction!”

Kate Melhuish’s notable restaurants:  

  • Café Stella around the corner offers bistro fare.  
  • Grace O’Malley’s Irish Pub is a block farther, with live music every night.  
  • Hummingbird Macarons is a fabulous bakery within walking distance of the hotel, AND the owner has just opened a restaurant inside the historic Pagoda at the Oriental Garden, closer to the hotel.  (Pagoda? Oriental Garden? Ask a Norfolk Master Gardener to fill you in about that).
  • Saffron is a little farther away, still walkable, and has the best Indian food ever, anywhere.  So many choices, whatever your taste or pocketbook.

According to Kellam, there are many restaurants in downtown Norfolk for all tastes and pocketbooks.  She recommends that you get a list from the concierge and start walking!

The Venue

Master Gardener College 2019 will be held at The Main, a Hilton property in downtown Norfolk.

“The Main, Norfolk’s newest hotel, is an architectural marvel of glass and steel. This high-rise, enhanced with modern artwork and an accommodating staff, was built for guests to enjoy views of Norfolk’s downtown and the busy Elizabeth River,” says Kellam, adding that the Main’s rooftop bar is a great place to kick back with a drink while viewing the water traffic and enjoying the sunset.

Master Gardener College Open to the Public!

Big changes are coming to Master Gardener College this year. In addition to the change of location, we will also be allowing the public to attend College on Saturday, September 21.

“We’ve always had people ask about bringing spouses or friends to Master Gardener College,” says John Freeborn, Assistant State Master Gardener Coordinator. “By allowing the public to attend for Saturday, September 21, we’re able to offer not only Extension Master Gardeners (EMG) the opportunity to introduce companions to the event, but we’re also able to invite the general public to learn more about our program and gain some valuable education.”

the main auditorium

Image courtesy of Hilton Norfolk The Main

While College registration will open to Master Gardeners in early May 2019, registration will not open for the general public until early July, giving Master Gardeners plenty of time to fill classes before the public.

“We’re very excited about this opportunity to welcome members of the public to Master Gardener College,” says Freeborn. “It’s going to be a great event this year, and having the public there will give us a chance to introduce some new faces to the Extension Master Gardener program and maybe recruit some new EMGs!”

Members of the public will attend keynote speaker talks and concurrent sessions along with Master Gardeners. Public registration for concurrent sessions will be limited to classes designated as appropriate for members of the public and those not already filled by Master Gardeners.

“Opening one day of College to members of the public will also allow us another revenue stream to support Master Gardener College, which costs a lot more to hold off the Virginia Tech Campus and which we run as a break-even event,” adds Freeborn.

One day registration for members of the public will cost $150 (one-day registration for Master Gardeners will cost $125). Public registration is anticipated to run from early July to August 2019.

girl holding potted plant

Sow What: Millennials and Gardening

By Gabrielle Sanderson

Gardening has been a favorite activity for millenniums, dating all the way back to the Neolithic period in 9,000 B.C., where the science of agriculture was developed to produce plants instead of foraging for a complete diet (Driscoll, 2018). Trends in the past, especially surrounding economic downturns, show that people often turn to community gardens, fruit and vegetable production, and container gardening in order to save space, while also producing a substantial amount of food (Driscoll, 2018). Since the recession of 2007 to 2009, Millennials (born between 1981-2003) have started a trend among younger households by participating in gardening activities (Cohen and Baldwin, 2018). Currently, they occupy 29 percent of all gardening households and that number is expected to continue increasing at the same rate (Cohen and Baldwin, 2018).

According to the 2018 National Gardening Survey, Millennial households reached an all-time high in 2017 with their participation in gardening activities. Specifically, an interest in horticulture can be seen sweeping the Millennial Generation with their curiosity focused on fruit and vegetables, flower production, and indoor gardening; this data has been backed up by an EMG State Office survey, conducted by Gabrielle Sanderson, which analyzed Virginia Tech (VT) Millennial’s attitudes towards horticulture. The survey, which assessed the students’ awareness of and interest in different types of horticulture (e.g. indoor gardening, vegetable gardening, and sustainable horticulture), was conducted through a VT survey system and presented at the 2019 Food Dining Fair for Virginia Tech. There were 101 individuals that provided usable data for the analysis and out of the total, 79 responded that they might or would be interested in learning more about gardening.

The 2018 National Gardening survey states that “households spending the most on fruit trees in 2017 included those of age 18-34,” which accounts for 43% of the sales recorded in that year. Expanding off that data, the Virginia Tech students that participated in our survey were given the option to pick from a variety of horticulture categories and select those that most appealed to them. We expected that the students would show significant interest in indoor gardening and sustainable horticulture, yet the most popular categories chosen were Fruits/Vegetables (72), Flowers (62), and Indoor Gardening (51). The interest in fruits and vegetables, represented in the data collected, shows that Millennials are intrigued by the idea of growing their own food. Michelle Sakesena and AnneMarie Kuhns, from Produce Business, state that “the ERS (Economic Research Service) report suggest Millennials are devoting a larger percentage of their grocery bill to fruits and vegetables than Generation X and Baby Bomber shoppers” (Saksena and Kuhns, 2019). This might be because Millennials responded to the recession by “allocating more of their food budget to fruit and vegetable grocery store purchases as a means of cost saving” rather than buying food from second party providers (Saksena and Kuhns, 2019).

man in garden

Millennials occupy 29% of gardening households.

In addition to an increased interest in growing food from home, Millennials in our srvey also demonstrated an interest in Indoor Gardening. The interest in Indoor Gardening, which was represented by 50 percent of those surveyed, includes topics in indoor plants and succulents. Taylor Bryant, a commenter on the 2016 National Gardening Report stated that Millennials are even “out-greening their parents in some departments, with 37 percent of millennials growing plants and herbs indoors compared to 28 percent of Boomers” (Bryant, 2017). This may be because fewer Millennials are buying homes, but rather they are renting or living in apartments; thus, the need for indoor gardens has become increasingly more substantial and that popularity is predicted to grow in strength. Judith de Graff, co-author of Urban Jungle: Living and Styling with Plants, does not believe that the popularity of gardening will fade from Millennials, yet does state that “it will probably change over time, along with the kinds of plants that are trendy…I think in 10 years, it will be different, but there will still be lots of plants in people’s homes” (Bryant, 2017).

The reason that Millennials’ interest in gardening is so significant is that “millennials are now the largest living generation in the United States, surpassing even the Baby Boomers, according to the U.S Census Bureau” (Saksena and Kuhns, 2019). They help to influence buying power, consumer product production, and can even help to influence the Extension Master Gardener Program. Based on this research and our own survey data, the EMG State office hopes to be able to provide more directed guidance on landscapes to Millennials, develop improved teaching and demonstration gardens, and be able to appeal to more diverse age groups for educational seminars in the community. The Extension Master Gardener Program will better be able to provide resources for younger generations to get the information they want on various gardening topics and be able to reach a different demographic based on how Millennials prefer to receive information.

According to our survey, over half of the participants stated that they learn the most information through a physical style, which involves performing physical activities to learn, rather than listening or watching a lecture. This shows that hands-on activities and workshops on vegetable gardening or growing indoor plants would a good way to educate younger demographic generations because of their demonstrated interest in the topics and their favored learning style. Additionally, the VT students who responded to our survey stated that they preferred to receive notifications or information through social media, which includes Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. This is helpful, because it allows the EMG State Office to see how we can specially design our outreach and marketing efforts for younger demographics and appeal to Millennials specifically.  Just as the Millennials have emerged as an influential buying power in the gardening community, the Extension Master Gardeners can provide horticultural education to this the growing demographic and help to better inform, educate, and inspire future generations with best gardening practices. Not only will our survey help improve the direction of our state program over the coming years, but we hope it will also inspire Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners throughout the commonwealth to branch out and to reach a different age demographic.


Bryant, T. (2017). So, You’re A Millennial Obsessed With Houseplants? Join The Club. [online] NYLON. Available at: [Accessed 26 Feb. 2019].

Cohen, P. and Baldwin, I. (2018). 2018 National Gardening Survey., (]), pp.36-0315-36-0315.

Driscoll, S. (2018). Gardening. Research Starters.

Saksena, M. and Kuhns, A. (2019). Millennials Paving The Way For Produce Consumption Uptick – Produce Business. [online] Produce Business. Available at: [Accessed 26 Feb. 2019].

Master Gardener College 2019: Banquet Featuring Keynote Speaker Becky Heath

Join us at Master Gardener College for a special Thursday night banquet featuring keynote speaker Becky Heath, who will address the exciting and important role she envisions for Extension Master Gardeners in the future.

Becky Heath is co-owner and President of Heath Enterprises, Ltd., the home of ‘Brent and Becky’s Bulbs’, a wholesale/retail mail order flower bulb business located in Gloucester, Virginia, as well as the current president of GardenComm (or Garden Communicators International).

“Master Gardeners can make a huge impact on the health and sustainability of the Green Industry,” says Heath whose keynote address will focus on where horticulture is now and where it is headed in the future. “Master Gardeners have more of an impact on communities than almost any other group.”

becky heath

Heath notes that younger generations, like millennials, have a deep connection to the planet but fewer of them are gardeners. It’s important for the Green Industry to cater to this demographic and get them involved in things like growing their own food.

“This is where Master Gardeners can have the most impact,” says Heath. “Everybody starts somewhere. Sometimes there’s a tendency, when an individual grows and becomes an expert, they forget where they used to be. We need to reach back and help other people where they are,” she says, adding that Master Gardeners are well positioned to do this as part of the Green Industry that “gets information out there.”

“‘Brent and Becky’s Bulbs has had a longstanding relationship with the Extension Master Gardener Program,” says Dave Close, State Master Gardener Coordinator. “Becky has a deep passion for getting people excited about gardening and she articulates that extremely well. We’re thrilled to have her at this special banquet and keynote address event.”

In her role at GardenComm, Heath is exposed to a cross section of the Green Industry–including new trends she hopes to share with Master Gardeners during her keynote address.

“Master Gardeners are all communicators in one way or another,” says Heath. “I hope they come away from my talk thinking of themselves as communicators who have the power of knowledge to share.”

Banquet: A first for Master Gardener College!

Master Gardener College 2019 will feature Heath’s keynote as part of a special Thursday night banquet–the first time we’ve offered such an event.

“The banquet will be held at our College venue, The Main, on Thursday night” says Close. “It will feature dinner and is open to all Master Gardener College attendees registered for the full conference.”

The banquet will begin at 6:00 pm with dinner, followed by Heath’s keynote address, and then a Milestone Award ceremony honoring 2018 Milestone recipients.

“This is an exciting opportunity for us to offer a new event to College attendees,” says Close. “We’ve always had a milestone ceremony and a keynote speaker on Thursday, but we’ve never combined them into this kind of celebratory banquet before! We’re excited for Becky Heath’s keynote and also for this new event to kick off college!”

For more information on Master Gardener College, please visit our website at:


EMG Involvement at the 2018 State Fair of Virginia

By: Gabrielle Sanderson

Last fall, people from around Virginia flocked to the Meadow Event Park in Doswell, Virginia to attend the 2018 State Fair. Once there they were met with carnival rides, funnel cakes, and multiple educational exhibits that offered learning opportunities for all ages; these informative attractions are why people call the State Fair “Virginia’s Largest Classroom.” Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOLs) were able to come to life this year for 14,000 youth at the State Fair, and Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners (EMGs) were able to take part in the process.   Continue reading

master food volunteers prepare food at a demonstration

From the Cookbook to the Community: Who are Master Food Volunteers?

By: Gabrielle Sanderson

The famous red and white cookbook Joy of Cooking is a timeless classic for any kitchen, and it’s referenced throughout the training manual for the Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Food Volunteer program. Just as Joy of Cooking educates its readers about the food they are preparing, Master Food Volunteers (MFV) are able to reach and educate people around Virginia about food preparation, nutrition, food safety, and physical activity. The program allows volunteers to merge their appreciation of cooking, nutrition, and physical activity with the act of  helping others. Melissa Chase, Master Food Volunteer Virginia State Coordinator, states that an aspect that draws people to this program is “their love of cooking,” although their love for volunteering fuels their passion as well. Continue reading

hanover master gardeners at help desk

Growing Our Program: Introduction to EMG Recruitment

By Maeghan Klinker

It’s that time of the year again.

The summer is ending, the leaves are just starting to blush with the first thoughts of autumn, and it’s time to start thinking about the future. With all the work still to be had in the garden, surely we could use a few more helping hands…

That’s right, it’s recruitment season for Extension Master Gardeners!

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hydrangea blooms

How to Choose a Bigleaf Hydrangea for Your Garden

Hydrangeas are one of the most popular garden plants, but, as many disappointed gardeners can attest, if you do not choose the appropriate species and cultivar for your location, your plant may not flower.

There are a few species of hydrangea, including four common species that are shrubs: Hydrangea macrophylla or bigleaf hydrangea, Hydrangea paniculata or panicle hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia or oakleaf hydrangea, and Hydrangea arborescens or smooth hydrangea. This post focuses on Hydrangea macrophylla, or bigleaf hydrangea. Hydrangea macrophylla is one of the most common species among home gardeners.

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bag worm

Cold Temperatures Have Minor Impact on Virginia Pests

With recent winter temperatures reaching single-digit lows across Virginia, a chorus of begrudging gardeners might be thinking, “Well at least these temperatures will kill garden pests!” But do cold temperatures really have an impact on pests?

We asked Eric Day, manager of the Virginia Tech Insect ID Lab and Virginia Cooperative Extension Entomologist what effect, if any, cold weather might have on the populations of insect pests that inhabit the Virginia landscape.

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