A Blooming Success

300 Master Gardeners attend state conference in Canadian County

Canadian County Master Gardener Janet Horner (far right) talks to visitors about their work on the pollinator gardens at BlueSTEM AgriLearning Center in El Reno.

OSU Extension Canadian County Master Gardeners hosted the statewide 2023 Extension Master Gardener Continuing Education Conference on Thursday and Friday, Oct. 5-6 at Canadian Valley Technology Center’s El Reno Campus.

There were 300 Extension Master Gardener volunteers from 22 counties in Oklahoma at the conference on Friday.

Garden tours and evening social events on Thursday each had about 150 Extension Masters in attendance.

The conference theme was “Honoring Our Past, Growing Our Future”.

The Canadian County Master Gardener Conference Planning Committee consisted of 11 volunteers and 12 committees that met once a month for 11 months.

These committee leads and committees included:

Patti Ingram over registration, Cindy Lawrence over food, Courtney Keck over speakers and public relations, Carolyn Balson over tours, Shelly Collins over sponsors and door prizes, Merry Parker over fundraising, Susan Dobbins and Susan Turner over education booths, Janet Horner over vendors, Robin Graham over conference flow, Rhonda Hensley over Thursday evening social, and Ginger Mercer over lodging.

Courtney Keck, Canadian County OSU Extension horticulture educator, speaks to Extension Master Gardeners attending the state conference at Canadian Valley Technology Center’s El Reno Campus.

Of course, there were numerous Master Gardener volunteers that served on these committees under the leaders.

Other people who helped make this a phenomenal conference were:

El Reno Canadian Valley Technology Center’s Kim Adams and Evan Elliott, El Reno Chamber of Commerce’s Karen Nance, El Reno Main Street’s Ann Treat, El Reno Mayor Steve Jensen, Canadian County Historical Society Museum’s Vicki Proctor, Fort Reno Historical Society Museum’s Deborah Kauffman, and BlueSTEM AgriLearning Center’s Ann Threadgill-Marshall and Dr. Kristy Ehlers.

There was a total of 35 generous sponsors who donated items for door prizes or offered discounts:

Church of the Good Shepherd in Yukon, Yukon Chamber of Commerce, El Reno Chamber of Commerce, Wet Willie’s Custom Shop, Tractor Supply, Braums, CLS & Associates Landscape Architects, Wilcox All-Pro Tools, Proven Winners, Troncoso Panaderia y Taqueria, Tacos Jalisco, Roberts Grill, Marilu’s Café & Restaurant, Allie’s Baking Boutique, Linda Vater, Frito Lay, Minick Materials, Pugh Gardens, Horn Canna Farm, Skyridge Farm, Ross Seed Company, Midfirst Bank, Lee Valley Tools, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Indigo Wild, Okies for Monarchs, Rogue Hoe Distributing, Debbie St. John, BlueSTEM AgriLearning Center, Rhonda Hensley, Susan & David Turner, BancFirst, Bustani Plant Farm, Janet & Martin Horner, and VFW & Auxiliary Post 382.

There were six vendors at the conference:

Prairie Wind Nursery, Dark Side Cactus, Redtail Succulents & Sundries, Taggart’s Garden Center, Fringeship Studio, and Canadian County Master Gardeners.

There were eight education booths at the conference:

Oklahoma Forestry Service, NRCS Yard-by-Yard, Lillian Timber Farms Inc., Oklahoma Gardening, BlueSTEM AgriLearning Center, Golden Thumb Honey & Rafter Bar Bees, Oklahoma Horticultural Society, and Oklahoma Green Schools.

There was a total of 14 speakers:

Morning keynote Kelly Kindscher, ethnobotanist from University of Kansas; Adam Sarmiento with Eco Landscaping, Tony Pascall with the Oklahoma Forestry Service, Allan Storjohann with KRMG Gardening Show, Bret Scovill with City of Norman, Mark Howery with Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, Julia Laughlin with Oklahoma County OSU Extension, Sam Grimmett with Scissortail Park, Susan Turner and Dennis Bilbrey with Canadian County Master Gardeners, afternoon Keynote LaTasha Timberlake with Lillian Timber Farms Inc., Casey Hentges with OSU’s Oklahoma Gardening, Charles Luper with OSU’s Pesticide Safety Program, Justin and Pauline Harrison with Eden Flower Farm & Greenhouse, and Ryan Neal with University of Arkansas Benton County Extension and Neal Family Farm.

Merry Parker, Bill Velten and Terri Suppa-Velten eagerly await visitors at their booth during the 2023 Extension Master Gardener Continuing Education Conference at Canadian Valley Technology Center’s El Reno Campus.


Visitors look onward as a trolley ride begins during a guided tour of downtown El Reno provided by Vicki Proctor, Canadian County Historical Society president.

The schedule of events started Thursday at noon with a visit to the El Reno Chamber of Commerce, the first stop of the garden tour.

The next stop was the Canadian County Historical Museum and the trolley, where Vicki Proctor told visitors about the history of El Reno. Unfortunately, the trolley overheated before it could take more visitors than the initial 40 people, but fortunately the trolley stopped right in front of Robert’s Grill where many stopped and ate.

Visitors then went on to Heroes Plaza in downtown El Reno, where the Canadian County Master Gardeners maintain the beds and flowerpots.

Next, visitors went to the Canadian County OSU Extension Office to look at the demonstration gardens maintained by the Canadian County Master Gardeners.

The grand finale of the garden tour was BlueSTEM AgriLearning Center and pollinator garden at Fort Reno.

Yiskah Widekind played the harp at a social event as part of the 2023 Extension Master Gardener Continuing Education Conference hosted by the Canadian County Master Gardeners.

The Canadian County Master Gardeners worked all year to prepare the pollinator garden for the conference tour.

Gravel was spread for pathways, educational signs were made, and Native American spiral herb gardens were created and planted.

At each stop mentioned on the garden tour, there were stationed Canadian County Master Gardener volunteers to greet visitors.

The garden tour hosted over 150 Extension Master Gardener volunteers from across Oklahoma.

Thursday night consisted of an evening social event, where 150 Extension Master Gardeners networked and had fun in a relaxing outdoor atmosphere.

Canadian County Master Gardener Rhonda Hensley and her husband Butch Hensley hosted the event at their property in Yukon.

Local musician Yiskah Wedekind played the harp in the background while people mingled and ate hors d’oeuvres.

Canadian County Master Gardeners Cindy Irwin and Peggy Trokey prepare the hors d’oeuvres table before a Thursday evening social event.

Hors d’oeuvres consisted of charcuterie boards from Charcuterations in Oklahoma City, pulled pork sliders from Mike’s Meats in Cordell, and boneless wings from Buffalo Wild Wings in Yukon.

There was also a horse-drawn carriage ride, provided by Canadian County Master Gardener Gayla Thompson and her husband Terry Thompson.

Door prizes, such as yard ornaments and bird houses, were also given away at the event.

Justin and Pauline Harrison, of Eden Flower Farm and Greenhouse, talk to conference attendees about their flower farm and growing business.


Friday morning, the Canadian County Master Gardener volunteers arrived at the Canadian Valley Technology Center in El Reno just before 7 a.m. to set up for the day. Yukon Chick-fil-a donated chicken biscuits and Frito Lay chips.

The vendor committee was there to help people set up their booth space, the registration committee was there to organize goody bags and name tags.

The food committee was there to set up morning refreshments.

And Kim Adams and Evan Elliott with the CV Tech were hustling to get drinks set up in each room while making sure the technology was working and signs were set outside each room.

Just over 300 Extension Master Gardeners, speakers and OSU guests showed up on Friday morning by 8 a.m.

Canadian County OSU Extension Horticulture Educator Courtney Keck kicked off the conference at 8:45 a.m. in the seminar center with a welcome speech where she recognized the Canadian County Master Gardeners for planning the conference, gave a synopsis of the day’s schedule and mentioned two OSU guests, Dr. Justin Moss and David Hillock.

Dr. Moss was Keck’s graduate advisor who introduced her to a career in Extension and Hillock is the statewide program coordinator of the Extension Master Gardener program – and an advisor to the county educators with Master Gardener programs.

Hillock had a short presentation and welcome message about the statistics of the Extension Master Gardener program in the United States, as well as in Oklahoma.

He shared that there are over 86,000 Extension Master Gardener volunteers across the nation, about 5 million volunteer hours completed annually, and about 9 million people helped because of their work.

Keck then started the speaker lineup for the day by introducing the morning keynote speaker, Kelly Kindscher, an ethnobotanist for the University of Kansas and a plant ecologist for the Kansas Biological Survey.

Kindscher is a passionate advocate for native plants, native landscapes and wild places and his keynote presentation focused on native medicinal plants of the prairie.

He talked about several Native American tribes (Osage, Pottawatomie and Arikara) he has worked with and their past and present medicinal uses of prairie plants, such as Echinacea angustifolia, one of our native coneflowers.

Kindscher had the ability to connect gardeners to their roots, so to speak. His humility and winsome personality made him a crowd favorite that day. More information about Kindscher and his work can be found on https://kindscher.ku.edu/

Will, owner of DarkSide Cactus, greets a visitor at his booth during the 2023 Extension Master Gardener Continuing Education Conference hosted by Canadian County Master Gardeners.
The Canadian County Master Gardeners’ planning committee met in September at Canadian Valley Technology Center to plan the state conference: Clockwise left to right, Robin Graham, Gayla Thompson, Clifford Cagle, Linda Laverty, Carolyn Balson, Karen Tinsley, Janet Horner, Peggy Trokey, Candice Parker, Merry Parker, Larie Hunter, Anita McNeil, Cindy Irwin, Bill Velten, Terri Suppa-Velten, Patti Ingram, Melinda Rushing, and Shelly Collins.


Past the morning keynote speaker, there were two breakout sessions before lunch, where attendees could choose from four different speakers to listen to each time.

Many attendees told Keck and the Canadian County Master Gardeners that they had a difficult time choosing which speaker to listen to, as there were so many high-caliber speakers available. The classrooms filled up quickly each time.

Adam Sarmiento talked about native plants and landscapes, Tony Pascall talked about the Project Learning Tree curriculum, Allan Storjohann talked about today’s landscape and garden trends, Bret Scovill talked about municipal composting, Mark Howery talked about landscaping for birds, Julia Laughlin talked about the Italian Renaissance Garden, Sam Grimmett talked about compounding soil and water issues at Scissortail Park, and Susan Turner and Dennis Bilbrey talked about the hobby of beekeeping.

A fajitas lunch was catered and served by Pecina’s Mexican Café in El Reno. Their team did a phenomenal job serving over 300 people that day, and they were very easy to work with before and during the conference.

Attendees had their fajitas choice (beef, chicken or vegetarian) printed on their nametag to help the servers. Many people complimented the Canadian County Master Gardeners on their choice of food.

After lunch, Keck introduced the afternoon keynote speaker, LaTasha Timberlake with Lillian Timber Farms Inc., a non-profit organization that focuses on food educational programming in Oklahoma City.

Her career of 20 years in education shone bright as she involved the audience in her presentation with interactive slides of pictures submitted by the audience. It was the perfect presentation to have right after lunch.

More information about Timberlake’s work with Lillian Timber Farms Inc. can be found on https://www.lilliantimberfarms.org/

The last breakout session followed Timberlake’s presentation, where Casey Hentges talked about an OSU bermudagrass suppression demonstration, Charles Luper talked about pesticides from the past, Justin and Pauline Harrison talked about their flower farm and greenhouse business, and Ryan Neal talked about backyard blueberry and blackberry production.

Canadian County Master Gardener Carolyn Balson shows attendees her slice of heaven in the back yard during a conference grand-finale tour of her home garden.


The grand finale of the conference took place at Canadian County Master Gardener Carolyn Balson’s home garden, just a mile north of the conference center.

There were over 100 people that visited her garden, where she showed them her mathematically impressive vegetable garden, as well as her husband Ken Balson’s joy and pride, the ornamental landscape.

The ornamental side consisted of winding flagstone pathways, a fishpond, a fire pit seating area, and many OSU-recommended trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. It was evident that many hours are spent in their gardens.

After such an extraordinary feat, the Canadian County Master Gardeners will have to give themselves a pat on the back and take a well-deserved vacation.

Carolyn Balson is off to the vineyards in France. Others are surely headed to their own oasis of sorts.

For more information, call (405) 262-0155 or email Courtney.sidwell@okstate.edu