by Susan Fotovich McCabe
Special to The Leaven
OLATHE — Carol Gast doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty — especially when it gives her the chance to flex her green thumb.
Gast, a Master Gardener, volunteers her time to spruce up the grounds of her church, Prince of Peace in Olathe.
Gast is new to Prince of Peace, having joined only a month ago. She was looking for an opportunity to combine her sense of service with her love of horticulture. One look at its expansive parish grounds, and Gast was certain she could help.
“I’ve always had a big interest in landscaping, maybe because my dad had an interest in it, too. When I retired, I was able to go through the Master Gardener certification training and do what I love,” she said. “I really enjoy shrubs more than annuals, because shrubs are always there. I live on acreage, so I have plenty of opportunities to garden.”
After a 23-year career at Sprint, Gast’s retirement led her to the Johnson County K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener (EMG) class. The organization accepts 30 participants at a time for weeks of study in the disciplines of horticulture.
The selection process considers garden experience, volunteer experience and overall enthusiasm for public service and the mission of the EMG program. Participants then volunteer at the extension service. Gast volunteered her time at the organization’s gardening hotline and now helps with its public garden tours.
When she started volunteering at Prince of Peace, Gast worked hard to clean out its gardens — removing weeds and Bermuda and crab grass from the beautifully landscaped grounds.
She volunteers about eight hours a week at the church, splitting it into two, four-hour shifts. Hot temperatures and the potential for poison ivy can be a challenge, not to mention thorns. But it’s been worth it, she said.
“I’m hearing positive comments already,” Gast said. “People say it looks nice, even though I don’t feel like I’m making a huge difference. But I do think it looks a little more polished.”
Gast converted to Catholicism 33 years ago and recently enrolled in the RCIA program to “fill in the gaps” of her Catholic education. She and her husband of 40 years, Reg, are longtime Overland Park residents. Their one son, Cal, his wife Leslie and their four daughters live close by.
Eventually, Gast hopes to pass on her love of gardening to her granddaughters.
Caring for the grounds of a church can be overwhelming, but Gast has help. John Kimmi, a member of the parish facilities maintenance staff, lends a hand with the bags of weeds and debris. Gast uses her own garden tools. She understands how overwhelming gardening can be and encourages homeowners to use the resources of the K-State Extension office.
“Homeowners need to know the names of the shrubs they have, the age of the shrub and where it is planted (sun or shade),” Gast said. “If they are uncertain, they can bring a fresh twig to the K-State Extension office, about eight inches long, with leaves attached and we will help identify the shrub.
“K-State Extension has an abundance of information, such as how to prune, when to prune, watering needs and growth habits of the shrub. Be certain you are reading about shrub care for our area (plant hardiness zone) and using a website that is educational or research-based.”