Playing in the dirt: come to PlantFest!

97.9 The Hill and have partnered with Orange County Master Gardeners for “Playing in the Dirt”, a monthly column exploring the fertile ground of home gardening in our community and intended to provide the information and inspiration that gardeners in all levels need to flourish! Check back each month on Chapelboro for a new topic – from our gardens to yours!

By Margaret Alford Cloud, Orange County Master Gardener Volunteer

Mark your calendar for Saturday, October 8 – that’s when the Master Gardeners of Orange County will be hosting PlantFest, and you don’t want to miss it!

PlantFest will include a large plant sale, children’s activities, exhibits and gardening demonstrations. There will be a silent auction featuring unusual plants and nature-themed pottery and yard art.

It will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on October 8 at the new Bonnie B. Davis Environment and Agricultural Center, 1020 US Hwy 70 West, Hillsborough (across from the DMV office). The rainy date will be October 15.

Proceeds from the plant sales and silent auction will support the activities of master gardeners in the community. The Master Gardener program is part of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Volunteers help the public learn about gardening through community and school gardens, a seed exchange, information tables at farmers markets, and educational activities such as the Dig Deeper With Us talks at the Orange County Library.

Here’s a quick tour of the PlantFest booths and exhibits:

Information booth

When you arrive at PlantFest (and are coming, aren’t you?!), first stop by the Master Gardeners information booth. You will find a map of all exhibits and a list of specific activities and demonstrations. You can also learn more about the work Master Gardener volunteers do in the community and you can find out how to apply for our next training class.

Sale of plants

You will love our plant sale. We will have over 1,000 plants, including over 200 different species. Many of them are indigenous. Plants will include ferns, grasses, ground covers, herbs, perennials, annuals, shrubs, trees, aquatic plants, vegetables, bulbs and houseplants. A full plant inventory will soon be posted on the PlantFest website.

Garden basics

Are you new to gardening, wondering how to improve your garden or have a question about plants or the garden? Stop at the Basic Gardening kiosk. We will have 20 minute demonstrations on:

  • Soil analysis and soil amendment: We can help you figure out how to improve your soil (with simple amendments and even worms!) or determine if it needs improvement.
  • Plant Selection, Placement and Care: Wondering where to put a plant? Need advice on garden design? Come ! We can offer you simple landscaping tips to get you started.
  • Choosing and caring for indoor plants: Do your indoor plants have “houseatosis”? We might have an answer to cheer them up. You will learn how indoor plants improve the air in your home.
  • Vermiculture: Find out how to raise worms and how these hardworking critters improve your soil.
  • Cut: Are your bushes overgrown and looking messy? Trimming is easier than you think and we’d love to help you spruce them up.

Fred Nijhout, professor of entomology at Duke, will teach children about caterpillars and butterflies. Megan Mendenhall, Duke University.

Activities for children

Children will enjoy many of our booths, but this one is specifically for them.

Caterpillar races and more! A highlight will be the appearance of Fred Nijhout, a Duke entomology professor (an “insect expert!”). He is interested in butterflies and moths and he regularly participates in activities to teach all ages (often children) about the life and benefits of insects. He will be at the booth from 10 a.m. to noon.

He will bring the different life stages of tobacco hornworms to show and discuss, including a butterfly if he has one available. Even better, it will organize exciting caterpillar races for children!

Garden and planting tools: We will have gardening tools, including unusual tools, for children to manipulate and explore. Kids can put their own potted plants to take home. There will also be a worm bin!

Books: In a relaxation area, we will have dozens of books on gardening and outdoor living, with adults on hand as volunteer readers.

Treasure hunt : Each child will receive a PlantFest Passport with words and pictures of items all around the event. Children are encouraged to have their passport stamped when locating objects or kiosks.

Other activities: Kids will also find plenty to see at other stands – they can learn about bee hives at the Bee Stand, worms at the Basic Gardening Stand, and helpful pollinators at the Biodiversity Stand.

Free seed packs will be available from the Community Seed Library. Dana Climas.

Community Seed Library

The Community Seed Library will provide free vegetable, flower and herb seeds to all PlantFest attendees. We hope to help new gardeners get started with gardening and we hope to encourage everyone to try new seed varieties.

The Community Seed Library is a volunteer project of the Orange County Master Gardener. Throughout the year, we offer free seeds to people in the community. In 2021, we received generous seed donations from Southern states to Carrboro, Weaver Street Market, Burpee, Seedsavers Exchange, Master Gardener volunteers, local growers and community members. Recently, Cherokee Seed Company gave us a large seed donation.


The purpose of propagation is to make more plants. Volunteer master gardeners will discuss and demonstrate propagation by seed, cuttings and division. Demonstrations will be from 9:30-10:15 a.m., 10:45-11:30 a.m., and 12-12:45 p.m. You will have the opportunity to try propagation and take home new plantings.

The bees

Take a look inside a hive (no bees will be present). Learn about beekeeping and how bees help us by pollinating plants. Hive demonstrations will take place at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 12:45 p.m.

Biodiversity in your garden

Learn about beneficial insects, including native bees and Piedmont butterflies. Find out how these insects work and how to attract them, including the use of native plants.

We’ll show you how to make a mason bee house, providing materials and instructions while supplies last. Mason bees are excellent pollinators!

Identification of invasive plants and weeds

Learn to recognize common invasive plants that displace native plants and disrupt the ecosystems that depend on them. Understand the options and strategies for managing and removing them.

Videos: Edible Landscaping, Rain Gardens and Native Plants

In 2020, the Orange County Master Gardener training class made three videos for the town of Hillsborough, which had new rules allowing “natural landscapes”. Enter the agricultural center to watch short videos on:

  • Edible landscaping (growing vegetables, herbs and fruits among other plants).
  • Rain gardens, which help with drainage.
  • Native plant gardens, which help encourage pollinators.

fall containers

Learn how to combine plants for a beautiful fall container display.

Fall and winter vegetables

Learn more about growing fall and winter vegetables. You’ll find information on our region’s fall planting cycle, vegetables that grow well here, and cover crops. There will be a soft neck braided garlic display. Fall vegetables started from seed in September will be available for sale.

Silent auction

A silent auction will feature interesting and unusual plants as well as beautiful nature-themed artwork and pottery.

Plants for the silent auction were donated by Camellia Forest Nursery, Down Home Garden Center, Get Rooted, Gro Smart, Piedmont Feed and Garden Center, Plant Delights, Southern States Carrboro and Southern States Mebane.

(Thanks to the following Master Gardener volunteers for providing information for this article: Linda Bell, Sharon Billings, Val Blettner, Ken Brockenbrough, Lynn Calder, Pat Collins, Sheri Gant, Jerry Gschwind, Frances Harris, Dana Klimas, Mary Leonhardi, Faye McNaull, Deborah Pollard, Mary Beth Powell, and Sherri Seagroves.) does not charge subscription fees, and you can directly support our local journalism efforts here. Want more of what you see on Chapelboro? Let us bring you free local news and community information by signing up to our bi-weekly newsletter.

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