by JUDI BENTLEY
photos by DAVID AUSTIN
The Master Gardener Volunteers 2023 Let It Grow Garden Festival and Plant Sale is just around the corner! This is the fifth year for the event, and it keeps getting bigger and better each year. The festival is set for Saturday, Nov. 18 from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Bert J. Harris Jr. Agricultural Center at 4509 George Boulevard in Sebring.
As many of you are aware, the Highlands County Master Gardener Volunteers (MGV) are trained and certified pursuant to the University of Florida IFAS standards. Their volunteer work is done under the auspices of the University of Florida and Highlands County. David Austin, UF/IFAS Extension Residential Horticultural Agent and Master Gardener Volunteer Coordinator, trains and oversees them. You will find David and the MGVs teaching horticultural-related classes to the community via scheduled monthly classes or by special arrangements with schools, civic organizations, and special groups. You will also find them at the Help Desk at the Agricultural Center, where they answer questions and provide UF-sanctioned advice. You can also find them performing soil tests or manning a mobile Help Desk booth at a special event. But mainly, you will find them behind the Agricultural Center in the Prop Shed area where they are busy propagating plants all year long.
In years past, the MGVs held annual plant sales that were popular in the community. All they sold during that time were plants that they had grown that year. In 2018, the concept of the annual plant sale changed when the MGVs decided to spice up their sale by adding vendors, music, and entertainment.
The first year of the festival brought a respectable showing of about 30 vendors, some food trucks, a few singers, and a raffle and silent auction. It was a great improvement and the proceeds from the festival were more than double the proceeds from the plant sale. As a side note, proceeds from the festival are used to fund scholarships, outreach efforts through classes and on site assistance, propagation of plants, and building a teaching pavilion. The MGVs feel blessed to have received the level of community support they have had as a result of these festivals.
Each year, the Let It Grow Festival has continued to grow. This year, we already have 88 booths filled with vendors and we keep receiving applications from vendors asking to be in the festival. Most of the booths will be mercantile vendors who will be selling items such as plants, handmade sewn pieces, dog clothes and treats, home-canned jams, jellies, and vegetables, seasonal crafts, macramé decor, handmade wooden items, hand woven baskets, wood turned items, doll clothing, fishing items, home décor, candles, quilts, gourds, fused glass, handcrafted bags, tumblers, native photography, jewelry, cozies, natural organic products, rustic crafts, soap, rag rugs, orchids, wind chimes, beauty products, handmade headwear, and repurposed items, plus a lot more. What a wonderful opportunity to buy those special holiday gifts for your loved ones!
In addition to the mercantile vendors, you will also see civic and government organizations, insurance agents, nonprofit organizations, and plenty of pets to adopt. This is a good time to see some of the neat things our county has to offer. Mike Borders with the Florida Medal of Honor Memorial will be on hand to answer any questions you might have about the memorial.
Currently, eight food trucks have agreed to be on site at the festival. They will be selling ice cream, Italian ice, Cuban food and pastries, barbecue, arepas, subs, hot dogs, tacos, philly steaks, and varied meals on demand. There will be plenty of food to eat, and these food truck owners can fix you lunch to eat while at the festival and send you home with food for dinner.
While shopping, eating, or just relaxing, you will be able to enjoy the talents of the various musical entertainers who will be on site. Outside, “Calico” will play from 9 a.m. until noon near the prop shed area. Outdoor music will continue in the afternoon, the entertainer for the afternoon will soon be announced. Inside the Sam Polston Auditorium, “M Squared” will begin playing at 9 a.m. and will be followed by “Jamie Tremps” at noon. These groups are fan favorites and some festival attendees spend a major portion of their time at the festival relaxing and listening to the music. Toby’s Clowns will also be there to provide fun activities for the kids.
For those who are interested in learning as well as shopping, please consider taking one of the classes that will be offered. At 10 a.m. Susie Whitehead will be teaching all aspects of growing and caring for orchids. The cost of this class ($20) includes a potted dendrobium orchid for you to take home. At 11 a.m., David Austin will be teaching a class about growing and caring for succulents. The cost of this class ($25.00) covers a succulent dish garden that you will create with succulents, figurines, and other decorative décor. At 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., Mary Meier will offer a free 15-minute class to teach you how to propagate plants
Raffle and Auction
Some attendees say the raffle and silent auction are their favorite part of the festival. Each year, Master Gardener Volunteers secure donations from wonderful local businesses that support our mission. Some vendors also donate their wares to showcase their merchandise, and our MGVs also generously donate baskets of really neat items. Based upon their value, the donated items are placed in the raffle (usually less than $50) or silent auction (greater than $50). Some of the items donated are worth in excess of $500 so there are some very good items to bid on or take a chance on in the raffle. Most of the Silent Auction items fall within the $50 to $200 value and often go for far less than the stated value. Winners will be announced throughout the day, and you do not have to be present to win.
Plants, need I say more? If you like plants, this is the place for you to be. Not only have the MGVs been growing plants for you, but so have the vendors. You will find natives, ornamentals, exotics, fruit trees, veggies, succulents, orchids, strawberries, pollinators, and lots more all at really low prices! Most of the plants offered by the MGVs will be a little different than the run-of-the-mill plants you can find elsewhere. You will love having them in your yard. People often line up 30 minutes to an hour beforehand to be able to be first in line to purchase these plants.
Last, but certainly not least, are our sponsors. They are a vital part of our festival. Their support allows us to continue to offer the services that we provide to Highlands County residents. For that reason, I encourage you to support them in their businesses and utilize their services.
Our major sponsors are as follows:
- Bugs Bee Ware
- Bagwell Lumber
- Alan Jay Automotive
- Palmer Ace Hardware
- Lay’s Automotive
- The Home Depot
- Taylor Rental
- Heartland Living Magazine
- Clarke Pest Control
- Meg’s Quilt Cottage
- Peppermint Patty’s Billboards
- Classic Caladiums
- Highlands Radio Group
- Highlands News-Sun
- Sebring International Raceway
- Hartzell’s Meat Market
- Lake Placid Marine
- NAPA of Lake Placid
- O’Reilly Auto Parts of Lake Placid
- Storage Trailers of Florida
- The Blueberry Patch
- Lake Placid Western Wear
- Tassel & Thread
- Coker Fuel
- Stewart Construction
Plan to visit us on Nov. 18 for shopping, music, great food, deals.