McLean County Master Gardener Murphy nets state award

By Ken Keenan For Chronicle Media

Julie Murphy teaches a group of Master Gardener trainees at Sarah’s Garden. (Photo courtesy of Julie Murphy)

A love of gardening has blossomed into acknowledgement as a 2023 Outstanding Master Gardener in Illinois for Bloomington resident and McLean County Master Gardener Julie Murphy.

Murphy was recognized during the Illinois Master Gardener awards ceremony, held Sept. 8 in East Peoria. The award was established to honor the best Master Gardeners in the state, with only the top 2 percent winning the award every year. Candidates must excel in leadership, determination, positivity and initiative, and be highly involved in the Master Gardener program.

Since joining the University of Illinois Extension program in 2019, Murphy has checked all those boxes. U. of I. Extension Horticulture Educator Brittnay Haag stated that Murphy, “has been an active and valued volunteer” for the McLean County Master Gardeners, helping out in several areas.

“I was humbled, shocked and surprised to receive the award,” Murphy said. “I was fortunate enough to be nominated and honored that there were people who nominated me. In no way did I expect it, but it means a great deal to me. I feel very appreciated.”

Murphy said she was prompted to join the Master Gardener program because she wanted to know more about caring for her own yard, and to become more knowledgeable about gardening in general.

“There are many things I love about gardening,” she said. “It’s peaceful, calming, centering … being outside, the change of seasons. I particularly enjoy growing fruit, and I’ve taken pride in my black raspberry pie. My two sons will argue over it. But I also love other gardeners. They’re great people, and there’s a lot of camaraderie.”

In receiving the state award, Murphy was cited for her work as a leader and garden mentor as part of Sarah’s Garden Project at the David Davis Mansion, a national historic landmark site (also known as Clover Lawn), in Bloomington. The project focuses on growing and preserving historic plants, some dating back to 1872.

“Working with the project, I could learn about plants that had been grown in the area a long time ago, and the preservation aspect,” Murphy said. “We save seeds from the garden and take care of those, and we have a reserve garden. And I work with people as a mentor, introducing new folks to the garden and all the history there.”

Murphy also serves as a member of the Client Services Committee at the U. of I. Extension office, in Bloomington, regularly working at the help desk to answer community members’ gardening questions.

“Our motto is: Helping Others Learn to Grow,” she said. “We want to help people with concerns and questions, so we staff the desk and answer questions by phone and email, and sometimes visitors have questions about an issue with a plant, insect infestation or identifying a plant. A majority of the questions are about trees — why certain trees are not thriving, what trees grow well in my yard, etc.”

In addition, Murphy has been involved in helping with the Holton Homes community’s vegetable and flower gardens, leading educational events for children and adults.

“In the spring, the kids and parents plant pumpkins, tomatoes, greens — a number of vegetables — and the people who live there harvest them,” she said. “In the fall, there’s the harvesting, plus pumpkin painting, food, music and activities for the kids. It’s an underserved population, and it’s nice to help the kids learn about vegetables and gardening.”

Circling back, it was a desire to learn that led Murphy to join the Master Gardener program in the first place.

“I enjoy learning,” she said. “One of the best ways to learn is to teach other people, and also being around a community of nice people willing to share their knowledge. And when you give a presentation, you spend time researching, and then you learn even more.”

And receive an Outstanding Master Gardener award as well.