Desire to help others blossoms in Hinsdale gardener

For Carol Burck, spring cleaning doesn't just mean washing windows and cleaning out closets. As a master gardener, the promise of warmer weather takes her outdoors.

Burck has spent spring's sunniest days cleaning and preparing her garden for this year's growing season and looking forward to the day when her Hinsdale yard is once again filled with delicious vegetables and beautiful flowers.

Now semi-retired from a career in cancer research, the molecular biologist said she has always found gardening to be a great stress reliever. As a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener, she aims to make gardening just as enjoyable for others.

The program accepts a limited number of applicants every other year, Burck said. After 10 to 12 weeks of classes that cover subjects such as biology, botany, insects, pesticides and plant diseases, budding master gardeners must complete volunteer hours.

"The great thing about the master gardener program is you're going out and helping the public understand," Burck said.

Master gardeners are equipped with the facts, knowledge and experience to help amateurs overcome obstacles, solve problems and find joy in gardening.

Sometimes, a master gardener has to do a little research to solve a gardener's issue. That ongoing learning, Burck said, keeps things interesting.

"We reply to everything we get," Burck said of the calls and emails that come through the master gardener help line. Master gardeners also plant themselves at local events such as garden walks, festivals and at local libraries to answer people's questions.

Forest preserves, schools and park districts also benefit from the group's expertise. Burck has used her knowledge to help gardens at Cass Middle School in Darien and Anne M. Jeans School near Burr Ridge get their roots in the ground. The school-based gardens are important because they teach a new generation about the joys of gardening and the importance of plants, flowers and vegetables, Burck said.

In 2019, master gardeners participated in 13 community projects, 20 speaking engagements and 26 mobile help desks throughout DuPage County. Those 130 volunteers logged more than 10,000 hours in 2019, resulting in donations of 2,210 pounds of fresh-grown produce to area food pantries.

More than 200 of those hours were served by Burck, who was recognized at a U of I Extension event in December.

Burck said many of those hours were spent as leader of the Graue Mill Master Gardener team - a job that involves planning spring and summer events to help visitors to the mill find success in their own gardening projects.

She said backyard gardeners can start planting lettuce, radishes, kale, cabbage and bok choy now. But the greatest joy of gardening comes later in the year, Burck said.

"A fresh garden tomato is always, in my opinion, so much better than anything you can buy," she said.

- story by Sandy Illian Bosch, photo provided

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean