About a month ago, I visited with Steve Mayer in the Purdue Marion County Extension Demonstration Garden at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. I found him sitting on a bench under a tree, making notes on white paper.
I was working on a story about Indiana’s eight All-America Selections Demonstration/Display Gardens for At Home Indiana, a publication of Indiana Farm Bureau, and I wanted details about the Indianapolis site.
It had been a while since I’d seen him. He and I taught the extension’s City Gardener Program for about six years. He retired in December 2020. He’d been there about 24 years, having succeeded Extension Educator Dick Crum. Steve’s retirement coincided with the onset of the Covid pandemic, and along with just about everything else in the country, there was no City Gardener program.
2nd Master Gardener class
We first met right after I left my reporter’s job at The Indianapolis Star in 1997. I was in Steve’s second Master Gardener training program. Among other things, it’s where I met my go-to bug guy, Cliff Sadof, a professor of entomology at Purdue. My pretest score was 63%, I think, but the post test was 100%. I loved the program and learned so much. It fueled my interest in gardening and horticulture, a passion that continues today.
Now a Master Gardener
Despite having taught the Master Gardener program for years, Steve now can claim the title. He took the program through Johnson County. He wanted the Master Gardener training primarily so he could continue to volunteer at the Demonstration Garden and could count the hours. It was the only way volunteer hours could be counted, he said. I didn’t ask what his score was.
Award-winning AAS garden
His work and the work of about two dozen Master Gardener volunteers have garnered the Demonstration Garden several 1st place awards from AAS. This year, the garden placed 2nd in the 10,000 to 100,000 visitor category.
“He deserves all the credit that can be given for his vision in planning and developing the garden back in 2012 and for the countless hours he has spent and continues to spend planning and working in the garden,” said Lynn Roncco, a Master Gardener volunteer in the garden.
“Granted, it couldn’t have been done without the Marion County Master Gardeners and support from Purdue Extension. It’s his leadership and mentorship that continue to guide all of us in making the garden a place to be proud of and for thousands of people to visit. The added bonus is the produce that is donated to a local food bank,” she said.
More than a ton of food donated
In 2022, the garden donated 2,090 pounds, 12 ounces, to a local Indianapolis food pantry. “That’s over a ton,” he said. The previous record was 1,600 pounds donated in 2020. amazingly, the fruit of six plants accounted for 239 pounds. Six Green Light cucumbers, a 2020 AAS Winner, yielded that amount when the vines were allowed to grow about 2 feet taller (up to about 8 feet) on livestock panel trellises.
Several of the AAS plants on display are visitors’ favorites, he said. He even marvels at some, such as the Tidal Wave Red Velour petunia, which never needs deadheading, and its color does not fade.
Another favorite is the Profusion series zinnia, especially the Red Yellow bicolor. No mildew, color changes throughout the season but never looks bad.
How to visit the AAS garden
You can see for. yourself what the Demonstration Gardens looks like and what plants are there. It’s chockfull of ideas to try at home. The garden is on the northside of the fairgrounds, next to the Department of Natural Resources compound.
The garden is open to the public and is usually free. If you want to visit, tell the ticket takers that you’re there to visit the Purdue Demonstration Garden and you should be let in with no charge. The exception is during the Indiana State Fair. However!! Visiting he Demonstration Garden is one of the few FREE things you can do during the fair.
You can also follow the garden on social media: