Plant sale helps Lake County’s Master Gardener program grow

Volunteers offer wealth of experience, knowledge about horticulture in area

Good people and good plants.

That’s pretty much how those involved with the Master Gardeners of Lake County sum up the volunteer program.

With interest in gardening on the rise since the COVID-19 pandemic, the program is in high demand.

People not only are growing their own food, they seem to be enjoying the outdoors more, said Kim Isaacson, horticulture program coordinator for the University of Illinois Extension/Lake County. The University of Illinois Extension sponsors the Master Gardeners.

“Once we went into the pandemic, we didn’t have access to everything, so it was a little scary,” Isaacson said. “I think that was kind of an eye-opener. Not that I’d ever want a pandemic again, but from our perspective, it opened up the world of growing your own food and taking care of nature better. We have a better understanding of it.”

Started more than 25 years ago in Lake County, the Extension Master Gardener program includes 116 volunteers who share their expertise throughout the county. The group offers educational programs throughout the year.

An annual plant sale serves as the program’s main fundraiser.

“The plants that are sold are from the master gardeners’ own gardens,” Isaacson said. “They do all the work in caring for them. We take all kinds of precautions and make sure they’re all healthy. They run the whole sale.”

Hosted this past weekend, this year’s sale featured more than 1,800 plants, including perennials, native plants that attract and support pollinators, houseplants and homegrown herbs, as well as “garden treasures” such as new and gently used yard art, garden tools, containers and gardening books.

The group had to cancel the sale last year because of the pandemic. So this year’s event was a welcome return.

“It’s just delightful,” said Stephanie Risinger of Grayslake, who has been a master gardener for the past 16 years. She joined after retiring from teaching.

She hadn’t gardened much, but loved it and had an interest in learning more. She enjoyed the several months’ worth of classes she took to become a master gardener, as well as the people she met along the way.

“I think it’s a great organization to be a part of because we learn how much we don’t know. We’re just eager to keep learning and helping others in the community,” she said.

“I loved meeting the people that I came in contact with during the classes and I liked the idea of giving. … The people who work with plants, they’re darn nice people.”

To keep the master gardener title, volunteers must remain active in the Extension Master Gardener program.

Among the program’s offerings is an “Ask a Master Gardener” horticulture free help line at 847-300-9232 or via email at Most recently, the group offered a virtual 2021 Garden Learning Series.

Information and future events can be found at

Volunteers provide free expertise on a range of issues, such as identifying plants, diseases and insects. Along with home gardens, they help with community and school gardens and work with youth through 4-H. They also educate those interested in therapeutic horticulture, project leadership and more.

The big issue impacting gardening this past year and now is the lack of rain, Isaacson said.

“It was so dry a lot of people couldn’t keep up with plants,” she said.

Still, she’s seen an increased interest in vegetable gardening, as well as growing plants to encourage insect pollination.

“More people are out in the yard and actually seeing the butterflies and seeing things rather than just jumping in the car in the garage and driving off,” she said.