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Master Gardeners Gather To Explore, Learn, Network

ALAMOGORDO - Otero County's varied landscape supports a medley of plant life, from yucca-studded dunes at White Sands National Monument to towering Douglas firs clinging to the shoulders of 12,003-foot Sierra Blanca.



Otero County Master Gardeners, from left, Linda Zenner, Connie Klofonda and Lois Glahn identify a native plant during the Community Earth Day Fair in April at Alamogordo's Alameda Park. Otero County will be the site of the 2005 Master Gardener State Conference June 9-11. (05/19/2005) (NMSU Agricultural Communications Photo by Darrell J. Pehr)

About 100 master gardeners from three states will meet in Alamogordo June 9-11 to study the range of plant life here.

"We are one of the most extreme counties in New Mexico," said Philip G. Wright, Otero County program director for New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. Visitors can experience a 4,000-foot change in elevation in a 15-minute drive on U.S. 82 from Alamogordo to Cloudcroft. Along the way is the only highway tunnel in New Mexico, which seems perfectly situated between the county's two extremes. "You pass through that tunnel and you've entered a different world," Wright said. "We've got four seasons in the desert, but we've got four completely different seasons in the mountains."

Master gardeners from New Mexico, Texas and Arizona are expected to attend the "Eight Seasons, Eight Zones" conference. New Mexico master gardeners are graduates of an extensive curriculum offered by the Cooperative Extension Service in about a dozen New Mexico counties. These experts provide accurate, research-based gardening information to residents.

At the conference, which will be conducted on the NMSU-Alamogordo campus, master gardeners will learn how to grow and use culinary and cosmetic herbs. They can become certified members of a network of first responders who detect and track new plant diseases as part of the Homeland Security Act. They'll have a chance to accompany an NMSU entomologist on a field trip to collect and identify insects on native plants. Also on the agenda are irrigation systems, water harvesting, desert landscaping, pistachio growing and a presentation on the Apache people's use of forest plants for survival.

"We're trying to make it hands-on this year," Wright said. "We really want to get people out and show them the outcomes of this research, rather than standing up there and throwing facts and figures at them."

Wright said attendees will have a chance to share ideas. "There's advanced learning. There's an opportunity to interact with people in other programs and gather ideas on other program's activities and the challenges they face."

For more information on how to become a master gardener, contact Wright or your local Cooperative Extension Service office to find the closest program.