Meet a Master Gardener Volunteer Series: UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County Educational Outreach Garden

Welcome to our “Meet a Master Gardener Volunteer” blog series, where we delve into the inspiring stories and impactful contributions of the passionate individuals who form the backbone of our gardening community. These dedicated volunteers bring horticultural expertise, community spirit, and a love for sustainable practices to the forefront of our Master Gardener Volunteer (MGV) program. Through this series, we aim to shine a spotlight on the diverse projects, experiences, and motivations that drive these green-thumbed enthusiasts.

At the UF/IFAS Sarasota County Extension and Sustainability (Extension) office, our MGVs have established several committees to address various projects and programs, among them is the multi-phase Educational Outreach Demonstration Gardens (EOG). Join us as we introduce the lead MGV spearheading this significant endeavor in this Meet a Master Gardener edition. 

Meet a Master Gardener

Cindy Drill is a retired environmental professional and an avid cook and gardener from Ohio. In 2016, Cindy’s desire to understand growing plants in Florida led her to join the Master Gardener Volunteer program. Early on, Cindy joined the MGV Plant Sale Committee, helping with plant propagation to support the annual MGV Plant Sale and EdFest. In this role, Cindy quickly discovered the MGVs would benefit from a greenhouse.  

Attendees shopping for plants at MGV plant sale and edfest
Shoppers are aided by Master Gardener Volunteers to select the right plant for the right place at last year’s annual MGV Plant Sale and Edfest held at the UF/IFAS Sarasota County Extension and Sustainability office and Demonstration Gardens.

After more than 15 years, the MGVs’ vision to install demonstration gardens and a greenhouse is finally becoming a reality. The MGVs are due to break ground this spring on Phase 1a of the EOG with the installation of a greenhouse at Twin Lakes Park, home to the Sarasota County Extension and Sustainability office.  

Tell us something about yourself, and what sparked your interest in gardening

MGV with daughter baking
MGV Cindy Drill baking with daughter Rachael.

I am from the Toledo area in Ohio. There I worked in the environmental field. My family and I have been coming to the Sarasota County area since 1997. We initially owned a condo on Venice Island. We moved permanently to Florida in 2015. I became a MGV in 2016.  There are still a few of us from the 2016 class who are fairly active.   

I have always been an avid gardener and cook. I loved using produce and herbs from my garden in our meals.  I am also a lover of trees and flowers of all kinds.  I had been interested in the Master Gardener program in Ohio, but couldn’t find the time for classes while I was working.  Retiring to Florida, with a need to know more about growing plants here, spurred me to become a Master Gardener Volunteer.  I like the emphasis on the environment that an MGV education provides. As MGVs, we learn about our water, soil, invasive plants and animals and prevalent environmental issues. I wanted to become a part of the solution, not add to the problem. My first big MGV project was working on the installation of the Bioswale at Twin Lakes Park Extension Demonstration Gardens.  I have served as MGV President, and currently serve as the EOG Co-chair and I am a member of the Fundraising committee.  I’ve helped with all kinds of MGV activities, and especially enjoy the camaraderie and the chance to learn new things. 

Tell us about the Master Gardener Volunteer Educational Outreach Gardens (EOG) Project

I quickly discovered that my favorite MGV activity was plant propagation and I joined the Plant Sale Committee and Plant Sale.  When I was the Plant Sale Chair I learned that the MGVs were going to lose their home at Suncoast Technical College. Since plant propagation is foundational to the Plant Sale, plant propagation needed a new home, one that included a greenhouse. My goal became the building of a greenhouse at TLP to both reduce travel time and secure a permanent plant propagation home.  Other Florida MGV programs had greenhouses, so why not us?    

Diagram of EOG
MGV developed sketch of Phases 1a/b of the Educational Outreach Gardens (EOG) featuring a greenhouse (Phase 1a) and ADA sensory garden (Phase 1b).

I also learned that that there had been a longstanding dream among other MGVs to connect to the Sarasota community with meaningful demonstration gardens, gardens that showcase Florida-Friendly LandscapingTM (FFL) and native plants in residential landscapes.  

A small group of likeminded MGVs reflected on those dreams and the idea of the EOG project was ignited—a transformative vision poised to turn the TLP campus into a sustainable landscaping educational destination. It has been a long road from those early discussions; however, contracts are in place to break ground for our greenhouse in 2024. 

As with all successful projects, EOG has been a team effort that is supported by our Sarasota County Extension and Sustainability leadership.  I am proud to have been and will continue to be a part of the EOG team. That’s the thing that keeps me coming back and keeps me excited: EOG is an opportunity to work with a group of likeminded gardeners on a project that will impact our community in a huge way. 

The EOG project is structured into three distinct phases. Phase 1a involves the construction of a greenhouse followed by the installation of an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible Sensory Garden (Phase 1b). In Phase 2, the focus shifts to adding a covered outdoor classroom/kitchen and storage facilities. Phase 3 entails the development of the North Island at TLP into a wildlife area, complete with a waterside dock and a “rustic” classroom. The TLP Master Gardener Demonstration Gardens also play a pivotal role within the larger framework of the EOG project. 

EOG is envisioned as a resource for residents, homeowner’s associations, farmers, and businesses. As a future destination site, EOG will offer horticultural and environmental learning opportunities: All of which will greatly enhance our Sarasota community!

Mark you calendars for the 2024 Master Gardener Volunteer Plant Sale / EdFest: October 12th at Twin Lakes Park UF/IFAS Extension located at 6700 Clark Road, Sarasota. Follow us on social media to stay tuned for EOG updates and visit our Eventbrite for MGV-led demonstration garden tours and class offerings.


Cindy Drill co-authored this post, supplying written answers for questions posed by UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County.

Ashley Ellis, Residential Horticulture Agent and Master Gardener Volunteer Coordinator in Sarasota County.
Posted: February 12, 2024

Category: Agriculture, Conservation, Florida-Friendly Landscaping, Home Landscapes, Horticulture, Natural Resources, UF/IFAS Extension, Wildlife, Work & Life
Tags: Demonstration Garden, Master Gardener Volunteer, Pgm_HortRes

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