- Associated Press - Saturday, May 28, 2016

LEXINGTON, N.C. (AP) - Sandra Kessler can’t point to one definite genesis in her life for her love of gardening. However, she does credit one woman with feeding her passion for orchids.

As a college student in Gainesville, Florida, in 1970, Kessler met Ruby Rains through a mutual friend. It was a serendipitous interaction, Kessler said, and one that has shaped her gardening habits ever since.

“A colleague of (Kessler’s) told her that he knew this woman that she would really like,” said Larry Cravey, Kessler’s husband, “more because of the way she thought than the orchid connection.”

“She was a life-changer,” Kessler said.

Forty-six years later, Kessler and Cravey have transformed the backyard of their Lexington home into one of the most unique displays of plant life in the area. For their efforts, Kessler and Cravey’s garden at 102 Sequoia Drive has been included as one of five homes featured during the 2016 Master Gardeners Tour on June 4-5. The June 4 tour will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The June 5 tour will be from 1-5 p.m.

Among the many offerings on display at the couple’s home during the tour will be a small rose bush that remains in the yard more for symbolic purposes than a taste for the flower.

“I’m not a rose person,” Kessler said. “I don’t understand roses very well.”

But this rose is different.

“When we moved here, the rose was pretty much on its last legs, and so we moved it,” Kessler said. “It started to thrive, and we called it ‘Ruby Resurrected.’ We have no idea what the name of the rose is, but its name here is ‘Ruby Resurrected.’”

A self-proclaimed “raging tomboy” growing up, 70-year-old Kessler said she has always enjoyed the outdoors and the natural world around her.

Kessler and Cravey met in 1973 and married in a Rains flower garden in 1986. Their entire relationship has centered on an appreciation of beauty in nature.

The couple lived in Florida, Taiwan and England before settling down in North Carolina. Now both retired, Kessler and Cravey spend their time experimenting with new plants in their yard, arranging the garden in a way that allows each plant to thrive.

Kessler, a Master Gardener in the county, said the organization is all about learning more about plants and sharing knowledge with anyone who is interested.

“You become a Master Gardener not because you know so much, in fact we realize how much we don’t know,” said Frankie Mefford, a Master Gardener and tour organizer.

Potential Master Gardener volunteers in the county enroll in a 40-hour training program, conducted by North Carolina Cooperative Extension. County extension agents primarily give instruction. Extension specialists, experienced Master Gardener volunteers, and local professionals may serve as guest speakers and instructors. The core curriculum is organized around 16 major areas of knowledge. Field trips are also used to expand the curriculum.

After completing the core training and passing the final exam, a candidate begins a 40-hour internship of volunteer service and learning, which must be completed within one year after the last training class. After successfully finishing the internship, the intern becomes a certified Master Gardener volunteer. Certification must be renewed annually by completing a minimum number of volunteer and training hours.

The annual tour serves as the organization’s largest fundraiser and allows members of the community an opportunity to explore several gardens while interacting with the gardeners, asking questions and receiving advice on projects they may want to pursue.

Participants in the 2016 Master Gardener Tour also are Frank Bell and Laura Lou Hedrick, 500 Kildee Drive; Mac and Beth Parrott, 110 Acacia Circle; Bob and Shirley Bowers, 406 Overbrook Drive; and Jerry and Aurelia Smith, 303 Balsam Drive. The tour will also feature a “gardening in small spaces” section with patio gardens showcased on County Club Boulevard.

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Information from: The Dispatch, http://www.the-dispatch.com

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