Playing in the Dirt: Come to PlantFest!

Playing in the Dirt: Come to PlantFest!

97.9 The Hill and have partnered with Orange County Master Gardeners for “Playing in the Dirt,” a monthly column exploring the fertile ground of home gardening in our community and intended to provide the information and inspiration gardeners of all skills levels need to flourish! Check back on Chapelboro each month for a new subject – from our gardens to yours!


By Margaret Alford Cloud, Orange County Master Gardener volunteer

Mark your calendar for Saturday, October 8 – that’s when the Orange County Master Gardeners will hold PlantFest, and you don’t want to miss it!

PlantFest will include a big plant sale, children’s activities, and gardening exhibits and demonstrations. There will be a silent auction featuring unusual plants and nature-themed pottery and yard art.

It will take place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Oct. 8 at the new Bonnie B. Davis Environment and Agricultural Center, 1020 US Hwy 70 West, Hillsborough (across from the DMV office). The rain date will be Oct. 15.

Proceeds of the plant sale and silent auction will support Master Gardener activities in the community. The Master Gardener program is part of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Volunteers help the public learn about gardening through community and school gardens, a seed exchange, information tables at farmers’ markets and educational activities such as Dig Deeper With Us talks at the Orange County Library.

Here is a quick tour of the PlantFest booths and exhibits:

Information Booth

When you get to PlantFest (and you are coming, aren’t you?!), stop first at the Master Gardeners’ information booth. You will find a map of all the exhibits and a list of specific activities and demonstrations. You can also learn about the work that Master Gardener volunteers do in the community and you can find out how to apply for our next training class.

Plant Sale

You’ll love our plant sale. We’ll have more than 1,000 plants, including more than 200 different species. Many of them are natives. Plants will include ferns, grasses, groundcovers, herbs, perennials, annuals, shrubs, trees, aquatic plants, vegetables, bulbs and houseplants. A full plant inventory will be posted soon on the PlantFest website.

Garden Basics

Are you new to gardening, wondering how to improve your garden or do you have a plant or garden question? Stop by the Basic Gardening booth. We’ll have 20-minute demonstrations on:

  • Soil testing and soil amendment: We can help you understand how to improve your soil (with simple amendments and even worms!) or figure out whether it needs improvement at all.
  • Plant selection, placement and care: Wondering where to put a plant? Need advice on garden design? Come on by! We can offer simple landscaping tips to get you started.
  • Choosing and caring for house plants: Do your house plants have “houseatosis”? We might have an answer to perk them up. You’ll learn how houseplants enhance the air in your home.
  • Vermiculture: Learn about raising worms and how these hard-working critters improve your soil.
  • Pruning: Are your bushes overgrown and looking messy? Pruning is easier than you might think and we’d love to help you spiff them up.

Fred Nijhout, a Duke entomology professor, will tell kids about caterpillars and butterflies. Megan Mendenhall, Duke University.


Children’s Activities

Kids will enjoy many of our booths but this one is specifically for them.

Caterpillar races and more! A highlight will be the appearance of Fred Nijhout, a Duke entomology professor (a “bug expert!”). He is interested in butterflies and moths and he regularly participates in activities to teach all ages (often children) about the lives and benefits of insects. He will be at the booth from 10 a.m. to noon.

He will bring the different life stages of tobacco hornworms to show and talk about, including a butterfly if he has one available. Best of all, he will set up exciting caterpillar races for the kids!

Garden tools and planting: We’ll have garden tools, including some unusual ones, for children to handle and explore. Kids can pot their own plants to take home. There will be a worm bin, too!

Books: In a relaxing space, we’ll have dozens of books about gardening and outdoor life, with adults on hand as volunteer readers.

Scavenger hunt: Each child will be given a PlantFest Passport with words and pictures of items all around the event. Children are encouraged to get the passport stamped as they locate items or booths.

Other activities: Children will also find lots to see at other booths – they can learn about bee hives at the Bees booth, about worms at the Basic Gardening booth, and about helpful pollinators at the Biodiversity booth.

Free packs of seeds will be available from the Community Seed Library. Dana Klimas.


Community Seed Library

The Community Seed Library will offer vegetable, flower and herb seeds free to all PlantFest attendees. We hope to help new gardeners to start gardening and we hope to encourage everyone to try new varieties of seeds.

The Community Seed Library is a project of the Orange County Master Gardener volunteers. Year-round, we offer free seeds to people in the community. In 2021, we received generous seed donations from Southern States in Carrboro, Weaver Street Market, Burpee, Seedsavers Exchange, Master Gardener volunteers, local growers and community members. Recently, Cherokee Seed Company gave us a large donation of seeds.


The goal of propagation is to make more plants. Master Gardener volunteers will discuss and demonstrate propagation by seeding, cuttings and divisions. Demonstrations will be from 9:30 to 10:15 a.m.,10:45-11:30 a.m. and 12-12:45 p.m. You will have an opportunity to try propagation and take some new plantings home with you.


Take a look at the inside of a bee hive (no bees will be present). Learn about beekeeping and how bees help us by pollinating plants. Bee hive demonstrations will be at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 12:45 p.m.

Biodiversity in Your Garden

Learn about beneficial insects, including native bees and Piedmont butterflies. Find out how these insects work and how to attract them, including use of native plants.

We’ll show you how to make a mason bee house, providing materials and instructions as long as supplies last. Mason bees are excellent pollinators!

Invasive Plants and Weed Identification

Learn to recognize common invasive plants that displace native plants and disrupt the ecosystems that depend on them. Understand options and strategies to manage and remove them.

Videos: Edible Landscaping, Rain Gardens and Native Plants

In 2020, the Orange County Master Gardener training class made three videos for the Town of Hillsborough, which had new rules allowing “natural landscapes.” Step inside the agriculture center to watch short videos about:

  • Edible landscaping (growing vegetables, herbs and fruits among other plants).
  • Rain gardens, which help with drainage.
  • Native plant gardens, which help to encourage pollinators.

Fall Containers

Learn how to combine plants for a beautiful fall container display.

Fall and Winter Vegetables

Learn about growing fall and winter vegetables. You’ll find information about the fall planting cycle for our area, vegetables that grow well here, and cover crops. There will be a display of braided soft-neck garlic. Fall vegetables started from seed in September will be available for sale.


Silent Auction

A silent auction will feature interesting and unusual plants as well as beautiful yard art and pottery with a nature theme.

Plants for the silent auction were donated by Camellia Forest Nursery, Down Home Garden Center, Get Rooted, Gro Smart, Piedmont Feed and Garden Center, Plant Delights, Southern States Carrboro and Southern States Mebane.

(Thanks to the following Master Gardener volunteers for providing information for this article: Linda Bell, Sharon Billings, Val Blettner, Ken Brockenbrough, Lynn Calder, Pat Collins, Sheri Gant, Jerry Gschwind, Frances Harris, Dana Klimas, Mary Leonhardi, Faye McNaull, Deborah Pollard, Mary Beth Powell and Sherri Seagroves.) does not charge subscription fees, and you can directly support our efforts in local journalism here. Want more of what you see on Chapelboro? Let us bring free local news and community information to you by signing up for our biweekly newsletter.