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Penny Barton, Sandpoint

Connecting with Her community:

Near Sandpoint, Penny Barton calls earning her Master Gardener certification "one of the most exciting things I've ever done. When you're with other Master Gardeners you can talk about gardening all you want. They never roll their eyes, because they love it, too—and those friendships warm my soul."

A mid-1990s transplant from Oregon, Barton says the Master Gardener program has helped her "feel totally connected to Sandpoint—and that's a good feeling indeed." Throughout and even beyond Bonner County, she and her Master Gardener friends kick up their cultivating heels. They arrange fundraising garden tours, demonstrate best gardening practices at the home-and-garden show, advise inmates at the jail garden, and landscape high-visibility sites like the Waterlife Discovery Center, Mickinnick Trail, and Bonner General Hospital Healing Garden. They doll up downtown Sandpoint with hanging baskets and whiskey barrels and put their shoulders to the annual "Plant a Row" program, which yields thousands of pounds of produce for area food banks.

Because a hunger for gardening education draws many area residents to the Bonner County Extension office, the Master Gardeners also developed and tend a "Learning Garden" at the site. Here, visitors see "upside-down" tomatoes, a strawberry tower, raised vegetable beds, potatoes planted in tires, cucumbers and squash planted in straw bales, and flowers interplanted in barrels with berries and vegetables. "We wanted to show people various ways they could plant in their own yards," Barton says.

Amazingly, what Barton tends in her own yard is two acres of creatively mixed beds—perennials, bulbs, fruit trees, and berries. Flowers—including thousands of irises and hundreds of lilies—spread across hillsides, creep over rockeries, and spill down her 750-foot-long driveway. "My goal is to have color from early spring to frost in every bed," she says.

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