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Employees Build Plant Demonstration Garden

September 4, 2013

At first glance, the Natural Resources Conservation Service field office in Terry, Mont., looks like any other field office—a U.S. flag, a service center sign, and parking lot with government vehicles.  But behind the office building, there’s something unique. It’s something that’s catching the attention of the community and thousands of pollinators. 

“It’s a living plant ID lab,” said Kathy Meidinger, NRCS soil conservation technician at Terry.  A plant ID lab is a garden with labels for each grass, tree or shrub.  The garden helps viewers identify various plant species. 

What started as a People’s Garden, a USDA initiative encouraging employees to create gardens at USDA facilities, quickly “morphed into a demonstration planting site.” Meidinger got the idea after seeing something similar at the NRCS Bridger Plant Materials Center.   

“I am terrible with plant ID,” she said.  “But as soon as I started digging, I saw that not only was I struggling with plant ID, so were our producers.”

After realizing this would be a great way to educate the community about different kinds of plants, Meidinger hit the ground running.  She joined forces with the Prairie County Cooperative State Grazing District, the Prairie County Conservation District, and the Bridger Plant Materials Center to help with the planning and planting.

The Prairie County Grazing District donated the land.  A state grant covered the costs for fencing, benches, gravel walking paths, and the signs for the individual species and the plot.  Local craftsmen created the signs. 

On April 25, 2012, sponsors and NRCS employees planted more than 70 different grass, tree and shrub species. 

The garden was instantly a hit.

“At first glance, people see the markers and think it’s a pet cemetery,” said Meidinger.  “They have to come and check it out.  And after they see what it is, they continue to stop by as the plants change.”

During the spring, pollinators also make frequent trips to the garden.

“We didn’t realize how many pollinators this garden would attract,” Meidinger said.  “The pollinators come in by the millions when everything is blooming.”

Meidinger and Sandra Brown, Prairie County Conservation District Administrator, maintain the garden—which can be a lot of work, even with the help of several Earth Team Volunteers.

“The decision to do something like this shouldn’t be taken lightly,” she said.  “Sandra and I spend a lot of time out there pulling weeds to keep it looking nice. But the value of having the living plant ID site is impossible to match.”

Since the initiative began 2009, over 600 People’s Gardens have been created by USDA employees. 

Sandra Brown, CD Administrator and Grazing District representative, and Robert Kilian, Area Rangeland Management, plant grasses.
Sandra Brown, conservation district administrator and grazing district representative, and Robert Kilian, NRCS rangeland management specialist, plant grasses. 
Demo plot sign and grasses.  Late June 2013.
Demonstration plot sign and grasses.  Late June 2013.
A few representative species. Late June 2013.
Sainfoin is just one of the many species planted in the garden. Late June 2013.