Plateau Discovery Garden: Promoting Gardening through Education and Service | Lifestyles

If you’ve been searching for buried treasure, look no further; it awaits your discovery. No need for shovels, spades, or picks. The valuable bounty reveals itself in early spring and welcomes explorers from all of Cumberland County. It’s the University of Tennessee-sponsored botanical plant collection known as the Plateau Discovery Garden.

Located on Hwy. 70N, about seven miles from Crossville, this spacious and well-tended garden grows more than a few opportunities. Over the past 25 years, it has supported research sites for redbuds, hydrangeas, roses, blueberries, ornamental grasses, and grape vines. UT professionals have guided important scientific projects, but volunteer Master Gardeners have planted, weeded and mulched along the way, adding their own specialized plant beds. The Discovery Garden has become a preferred spot for seeing thriving examples of herbs, native pollinator plants, shade lovers, conifers, turf grasses, and more. It is also an indoor/outdoor public classroom from February through November each year. (Check or for current class list.) 

But wait, that old, battered sea chest didn’t just suddenly wash up at the Plateau AgResearch and Education Center, spilling out its golden seeds. According to Cumberland County Master Gardener Rae Hozer, a long-time garden journalist, the first class trained to assist UT Extension Service in the Discovery Garden graduated in 1998. Theirs was the outstanding Master Gardener class, including leaders like statewide recognized Carol Burdett and Sara Senft, who saw the vision of teaching, speaking, planting and spreading the word about good plant practices. What followed is now a reflection of hundreds of strong backs and able minds bringing to life a garden bursting with color and seasonal events.

Working to increase community awareness and support this unique venue, the Cumberland County Master Gardeners, led by civic-minded Carolyn Jozwiak, produced the first fundraising Flower and Garden Show. Opening at Crossville fairgrounds in 2003, the chosen theme, Promoting Gardening through Education and Service, remains a consistent reminder of the organization’s mission. The monies raised launched a succession of ever-expanding class projects, planned and carried out by Master Gardeners. After completing 40 hours of UT instruction, led by Extension Agent Gregg Upchurch, new recruits added their plant versions of wealth. To name just a few: 2005—Trees and Shrubs; 2008—Conifers (expanded in 2016); 2009—Turf Grasses; 2013—Rain Garden; 2014—Day Lilies (currently 2500 specimens). The list goes on.

Meanwhile, Master Gardeners helped with public landscaping projects, such as the Art Circle Public Library, Centennial Park, and Crossville entryway (Water Tank Hill), while also volunteering for Arbor Day activities and contributing to horticulture and newspaper media. Over time, the group’s accomplishments became notable.

Accordingly, the International Search for Excellence, Master Gardener Conference of 2017 awarded top honors to the Plateau Discovery KinderGarden. Spearheaded by Beth Morgan and Nancy Christopherson and with many helping hands, the inviting, child-centered area welcomes small, future propagators. Each year, under the leadership of Garden Coordinator Shalena Durkot, Master Gardener volunteers refurbish, rebuild and add more kid-friendly features. The KinderGarden has become a certified Nature Explore Classroom. 

More recently added, a covered outdoor pavilion, along with restroom facilities, offers seating and comfort to visitors, vendors and classes in the Discovery Garden. Many flower lovers know it as the location of the big May plant sale. They may also connect the sit-down eating area with the annual Fall Festival, hosting more than a thousand visitors. The pavilion came about through generous individual contributions as well as Master Gardener fundraisers devoted to its construction. The pavilion is a place of pride for all who take part in its upkeep.

Maintaining one of Tennessee’s three sponsored botanical gardens (the others are in Jackson and Knoxville) means daily observation and commitment. To that end, several years ago, Master Gardeners agreed to partially fund a college summer intern, majoring in horticulture or agriculture. Successful fundraising by the group enables the selection of one or more interns who gain hands-on learning from the Discovery Garden. Walt Hitch, UT Plateau AgResearch Director, oversees and further supports the intern(s). This college credit program provides unparalleled experience in garden management. Participants attend a final meeting with Master Gardeners and report on their many positive experiences.

The public can be a part of the ever-expanding Plateau Discovery Garden story by attending the 2024 Flower, Lawn and Garden Show on Friday, April 26-Saturday, April 27, at Cumberland County fairgrounds. Plant vendors, knowledgeable speakers, a silent auction and food trucks will be among the attractions. Remember that Cumberland County Master Gardeners is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit agency. All donations or sponsorships are tax deductible.

In the meantime, take advantage of a sunny day this spring. Pile the family in the car and head to the Plateau Discovery Garden at 320 Experiment Station Road, Crossville. Admission is free. 

Later, when you get your $5 two-day pass to attend the Cumberland County Master Gardener, Flower Lawn and Garden Show (April 26-27) at the Crossville fairgrounds, know that you are becoming a partner in preserving one of nature’s true living treasures. 



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