Partner Spotlight: Douglas/Sarpy County Master Gardeners

Most Thursday mornings during Omaha’s growing season, members of the Nebraska Master Gardener, opens a new window program can be found at W. Clarke Swanson Branch, opens a new window tending the garden beds in between the branch’s two parking lots.

The group adopted the site in 2000, and chose to work Thursday mornings because it overlapped with the Friends of Omaha Public Library, opens a new window’s book sales, offering more opportunities to interact with the public. The group maintains the gardens, and helps keep the property tidy by removing trash, fallen limbs, and other debris.

“They’ve really helped us make this place more inviting to the public,” said Nancy Chmiel, youth services librarian at Swanson Branch.

Master Gardeners are made up of individuals who are trained in horticulture methods through the University of Nebraska Extension. The program requires Master Gardeners to complete 40 hours of volunteer work each year, and Swanson Branch is one of several sites throughout Omaha maintained by the group.

In addition to volunteering, members also have a required annual teaching component. Volunteers at Swanson Branch have worked with library staff to incorporate their work into the annual Summer Reading Program, opens a new window (SRP) kick-off party that typically happens in late May/early June. They try to incorporate gardening into each year’s SRP theme and provide opportunities for kids to plant or do other gardening activities.

“The kids really like it and they can watch their plants grow and check on them when they visit the library,” said Kathleen Muldoon, library aide at Swanson Branch, who also leads the Master Gardeners assigned to Swanson Branch. “We try to instill some good ideas, habits, and thoughts into their library experience.”

Last year, the group maintained the gardens while OPL locations were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, wearing masks and spacing out as best they could. Volunteers relocated most of the plants from the west garden, because a crane was brought in to install a new cooler for the library. This year, they will redesign that garden, using some funds provided by the Friends of Omaha Public Library, and return the plants that were removed.