Doing the "Heart" Work

A woman wearing a white shirt with red and blue stars holds a potted plant in a garden. A group of 5 older women holding potted plants smile for a group photo. An older woman holding a potted Christmas cactus with peach blooms in front and pink blooms in back. Close up of a Christmas cactus with red blooms. Close up of a Christmas cactus with red blooms. Two concrete-raised platforms featuring Christmas cactuses housed in arching fences.
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Community Bonds

Master Gardener reaches community at Christmas cactus showcase

Story by Nathan Gregory • Photos by Kevin Hudson and Michaela Parker

The annual Christmas Cactus Showcase in Brooksville each December features anywhere from 45 to 60 colorful cacti, most of which are under the year-round care of Pat Hill.

Though it has only been held four times, the annual display and open house event in the Brooksville Methodist Church sanctuary has already become a community staple and continues the enthusiasm for plants and gardening that Hill has had for three decades.

“It’s just the way the plants show off,” Hill says. “It’s the number of plants in bloom at one time. I call it full strut, like a peacock. When they’re in full strut, they’re absolutely awesome.”

Hill’s appreciation for gardening was instilled in her by a close friend and fellow Brooksville native who gave Hill her first cacti. Gardening quickly became Hill’s primary hobby when she was not working at the Shell Food Mart she and her husband owned in Macon.

Right across the street from the filling station is the Mississippi State University Extension Service Noxubee County office. Hill learned about a program offered there that would allow her to ply her green thumb while providing a vital service to her community.

The Mississippi Master Gardener program offers 40 hours of educational training and certification in horticulture in exchange for 40 hours of volunteer service. After the first year, Master Gardeners must annually attend 12 hours of training and perform 20 hours of volunteer service to keep their certification.

Hill has been a member of the Master Gardeners of Noxubee County since becoming certified in 2011.

“The reason I got into it was kind of a fluke,” she recalls. “A friend of mine in Macon who worked in our store loved to be outside and gardening and knew that I did, too. He told me there was this Master Gardener course at the Extension office, and, ‘You and I ought to go to it.’”

Hill enjoys sharing the knowledge she gains with others in her hometown and teaming with other Master Gardener chapter members on community projects. The latest of these is the group’s work at a local cemetery on a memorial garden honoring U.S. military veterans.

“Our chapter is only successful because of the cooperation and hard work and enthusiasm of the members,” she says.

Hill occasionally needs a second opinion. This is when she calls Crayton Coleman, an MSU Extension agent in Noxubee County.

“At the drop of a hat, all I’ve got to do is call Crayton, and he knows who to send a picture or soil sample to or where to get the advice I need,” she says. “Being able to draw on the experience and expertise of the faculty and staff at MSU really is an attribute.”

If Coleman fields a horticultural inquiry he cannot answer himself, he sends the question along to an Extension specialist for assistance.

“Ms. Hill’s community projects and cactus showcases are great examples of how Master Gardeners help their local Extension offices reach a broader audience than we can alone,” Coleman says. “She has become a model representative of Extension to Noxubee County, and she’s a dedicated servant to her community.”

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Extension Matters Volume 8 Number 3 Cover.