Master Gardeners Nancy Putnam, Gayle Henkin, Barbara Anuzis, Nora Sirbaugh, Marie Rickman and Janet Sheppard and Mercer County horticulturist Barbara J. Bromley display their Search for Excellence Award poster.

For the fourth time since Mercer County horticulturist Barbara J. Bromley started the program in 1994, Rutgers Master Gardeners of Mercer County has received international recognition for service and education projects.

The gardeners received the 2013 Search for Excellence Award in the demonstration garden category at the International Conference in Alaska. They were awarded for “using a restored native plant meadow to expand community awareness and demonstrate plant/animal interdependence.”

The major focus of this project was to educate the community in native environments and habitat by providing a restored meadow “classroom.”

With support from the Mercer County Park Commission and grant funding in 2008 from the Washington Crossing Audubon Society, a three-quarter acre meadow at the Mercer Educational Gardens in Hopewell Township was stripped of a dense invasive plant population and replanted by Master Gardeners with a variety of native grasses and wildflower species.

Fully restored by 2010, the meadow has become an integral part of the many Master Gardener educational programs, especially those that have highlighted how native wildflowers and grasses sustain effective water conservation, contribute to plant pollination through the insects they attract and provide food and shelter for maintenance of healthy populations of birds and other native wildlife.

Between 2010 and 2012, 21 different educational programs on these topics were presented, and several were repeated multiple times.

By teaching plant and wildlife interdependence, often with an emphasis on specific bees, butterflies, birds and native plants, the restored meadow was also a continuation of a long-term commitment by the master gardeners to emphasize responsible gardening and further support its mission, “to excite, inspire and encourage the residents of Mercer County to participate in the rewarding experience of responsible gardening and pest management.”

The Rutgers Master Gardeners of Mercer County is a volunteer educational outreach program of Rutgers Cooperative Extension. Master Gardeners answer home horticulture questions through their helpline, (609) 989-6853, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

More information is online at mgofmc.org.