Buncombe County, North Carolina, Extension Master Gardener Sarah R. Gnilka passed away August 17. Those who knew her grieve the loss of a gifted teacher. Although education is the Master Gardeners’ core mission, the program description for prospective volunteers emphasizes: “The desire to help others is the first requirement.” Nothing makes people feel more helpless than death, yet Sarah’s passing gives us new insight into the healing power of both flowers and working with other Master Gardeners.
Buncombe County Master Gardeners sometimes provide garden flowers for funerals or memorial gatherings for a Master Gardener or spouse. Bouquets lovingly arranged with flowers gathered from the gardens of fellow Master Gardeners are so much more meaningful than “store bought” flowers.
Buncombe County, NC Master Gardeners Reach out to Hill City, VA Master Gardeners
On Sarah’s death, many Buncombe County Master Gardeners joined in gathering garden flowers, arranging them in donated vases and transporting them to the funeral and reception here in North Carolina. However, Sarah’s family planned to bury her in Lynchburg, Virginia, many hours away. For the first time, we thought about reaching out to other Master Gardeners for their support. We contacted the Hill City Master Gardeners, who serve Lynchburg, Amherst and Campbell counties in Virginia and they quickly agreed to help.
The Hill City Master Gardeners took charge of identifying members who could gather their own garden flowers and locate suitable plastic containers, which the Lynchburg, Virginia cemetery required. As requested by the management, the Master Gardeners delivered their arrangements to the cemetery office before closing the day before the burial service. The cemetery officials assured us that the flowers would be in place for the service and afterwards spread on the grave.
Although we are all aware that there are Extension Master Gardener programs in every state, it was heartening to know that we not only share the mission to educate, but the desire to help. Master Gardeners may or may not grow flowers themselves, but many were still willing to find ways to lend a hand. So many worked together out of respect for a Master Gardener who they didn’t know personally. They just knew they’d feel honored to have others do the same for them.
Endnote: Providing garden flowers for services or receptions is a way to honor the dead and take comfort in doing something for those left behind. Of course, Master Gardeners’ flower offerings should not usurp the work of professional florists. It is important to determine the cultural and religious customs of those who die, as well as consult with the places where gatherings will occur. None of us expects to field requests for flowers on a regular basis, but let’s hope we can help when we lose a Master Gardener friend.
by Debbie Green, Master Gardener and Linda Blue, Extension Agent, Buncombe County, North Carolina