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Gardeners flock to 2023 Illinois Master Gardener State Conference

group of Master Gardeners holding their teamwork awards

Local volunteers recognized at state conference for outstanding work

EAST PEORIA, Ill. - Master Gardeners and gardening enthusiasts from across the state converged on East Peoria for the 2023 Illinois Master Gardener State Conference, held September 7-8. The conference was organized by Extension Master Gardeners and staff from Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties and offered a vibrant array of educational sessions, captivating tours, and networking opportunities.

Kelly D. Norris, a renowned landscape designer and author, delivered the keynote presentation on "New Naturalism: Designing and Planting a Resilient, Ecologically Vibrant Home Garden." Norris emphasized the importance of incorporating native plants, embracing natural processes, and creating gardens that harmonize with the surrounding environment. His words resonated with participants, encouraging them to adopt sustainable gardening practices that contribute to the health of their gardens and the broader ecosystem.

Attendees delved into a diverse range of gardening topics during the breakout sessions, each designed to expand their knowledge and enhance their gardening skills. Whether they were mastering the art of rain garden design, exploring the benefits of native plants, or tackling weed management strategies, participants gained valuable insights to enrich their gardening endeavors.

The conference extended into the community with tours, offering participants the opportunity to explore a variety of gardens and learn from experienced horticulturists. A full-day tour embarked on a journey to the Mason State Tree Nursery, Dickson Mounds State Museum, Black Sheep Flower Farm, and St. Ann’s Garden of Hope. Morning and afternoon half-day tours delved into the Illinois Central College Gardens, Wildlife Prairie Park and Luthy Botanical Garden. Each tour showcased the beauty and diversity of Illinois' flora, allowing participants to gain a deeper appreciation for the region's natural heritage.

Throughout the conference, participants engaged in lively discussions, exchanged gardening tips, and forged meaningful connections with fellow enthusiasts. The conference provided a platform for sharing experiences, fostering a sense of camaraderie among gardening enthusiasts from across the state.

“Participants are encouraged to carry forward the gardening inspiration and lessons learned in order to not only transform their own gardens but to enrich their communities as well,” commented Tara Heath, horticulture program coordinator.

Volunteers from across the state were recognized during the award banquet for outstanding volunteer work. Locally, 13 Master Gardeners and one team were honored with awards.

Outstanding Master Gardener Award 

The Outstanding Master Gardener State Award recognizes the best of Illinois Master Gardeners, those whose engagement with the program is exemplary. This award is given to 1-2% of active Master Gardeners in the state each year. To qualify, nominees must complete 120 volunteer hours and ten continuing education hours annually. 

Local Outstanding Master Gardener award winners in 2023 include:

  • Peoria County - Vickie Crosson, Joan Houser, Radine Kellogg, Holly Teig, Jane Mottram, and Pat Wehage  
  • Tazewell County - Karen Shelley and Fran Stroemer
  • Fulton County - Allie Goudy

Sustained Excellence Award 

The State Master Gardener Sustained Excellence Award recognizes previous Outstanding Master Gardener Award winners who continue to advance in their MG career with new responsibilities and initiatives. To receive this award, winners must have been active volunteers earning 300 volunteer hours and 50 continuing education hours since receiving the Outstanding Master Gardener award. 

Four local Extension Master Gardeners were awarded the Sustained Excellence Award in 2023. 

Susan McCabe, Pekin: A dedicated Master Gardener who channels her love and knowledge of gardening to contribute value to her community and others in need. She is committed to the development of the City of Pekin’s multiple pollinator gardens. 

Terry Meade, Canton: A Master Gardener since 2002 who serves in a leadership role for the planning of the spring garden day event called Gardeners’ BIG Day. She has used that knowledge and experience to help plan the State MG Conference hosted by the Fulton, Mason, Peoria and Tazewell unit in 2023 in East Peoria. 

Pam Scott, Pekin: An extremely hard worker who has always loved flower gardening. She has been involved with the Morton Giving Garden for 12 years and assumed leadership of the project in 2019. For the past four years, Pam has also worked in a second community garden. 

Trudy Yazujian, Washington: A Master Gardener for over seven years who has led at least three different projects over the years and approaches each with enthusiasm and a spirit for learning and teaching. 

State Master Gardener Teamwork Award 

The State Master Gardener Teamwork award recognizes Master Gardener projects that are impactful, innovative, and replicable statewide. The goal of sharing excellent projects is to inspire other Master Gardener groups to grow their programs and maximize the education of their projects. 

In 2023, the Sow to Grow & Phoenix Community Gardens volunteers Janine Donahue, Morton; Sister Anna Flanigan, West Peoria; Sarah Smith, East Peoria; Anthony Tiraboschi, Peoria; and Jaime Dooley, were honored with this award. 

The Sow to Grow & Phoenix Community Gardens are in the North Valley neighborhood near downtown Peoria and were developed through a collaborative effort with City of Peoria, Phoenix Community Development Services, Junior League of Peoria, and U of I Extension Master Gardeners. The Sow to Grow Garden provides food and gardening opportunities for the residents of Glendale Commons, a supportive housing complex for homeless veterans, individuals, and families. The adjacent Phoenix Community Garden is designed to provide produce and greenspace for community members in the area surrounding Glendale Commons. Both gardens provide residents the opportunity to learn about planting, growing, and harvesting nutritious and healthy foods, growing flowers that attract pollinators, as well as participating in the gardening process. 

Congratulations to all the award winners. Extension is delighted that your dedication to the Master Gardener mission "Helping Others Learn to Grow," is recognized not only locally but across Illinois. 

You can learn more about Master Gardeners and enjoy more photos of the Award Winners and State Conference on our webpage.


Photo captions -

photo above - Local Master Gardeners were honored with state awards. One of the awards was a teamwork award for the Sow to Grow and Phoenix Community Gardens located in Peoria. Pictured are team members (from left) Sister Anna Flanigan,  Janine Donahue, Sarah Smith, and Jaime Dooley. Missing was Anthony Tiraboschi.


photo below - Local Extension Master Gardeners and staff welcomed 300 guests to East Peoria for the Illinois Master Gardener State Conference. The two day event included tours, social event, educational sessions, and awards banquet. A team of volunteers and staff from the Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit worked together to coordinate this special event. Pictured above is Extension Master Gardener Randy Huber as he leads a tour at the Kim St John Butterfly Habitat located at Wildlife Prairie Park.

About Extension

Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities. Illinois Extension is part of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.