As busy as a bee, volunteer Master Gardener Billie Long, 76, of Sedalia, has a vast knowledge of horticulture, ornithology and entomology and during the month of July her yard is abloom with more than 400 varieties of daylily — and don’t kid yourself, she knows the name of each one.
Besides the nine beautiful flower gardens in her rural six-acre yard, Long has a bluebird trail, rows of trees and flowering shrubs, a grape arbor, a blueberry patch, and a nut orchard, plus she also knows what to do to combat common and uncommon garden pests.
With her full range of knowledge, it’s no wonder Long is officially a Show-Me Master Gardener Advanced Emeritus with the Pettis County University of Missouri Extension and also a Lifetime Member of the Missouri Master Gardener Association. Besides maintaining her large yard, she volunteers her knowledge with others by giving classes at the extension office.
“The master gardener program is run out of the extension,” Long said recently while sitting in her yard among her flowers. “I have a class on judging coming up the 16th and probably this fall I’ll be teaching core classes — one’s for the new people who want to be master gardeners. I usually organized it and run it.”
The master gardener program requires 30 hours of classroom training, Long added, with 10 three-hour sessions. But, she prefers to give classes twice a week for five weeks.
“That gives us our 30 hours,” she said. “And then they become master gardener interns, then they have to give back to the community (with) 30 hours of volunteer work to make up for their classroom training.”
Those in the program have to have six hours of continuing education within the 30 hours.
“And then every year thereafter, they get a pin that says ‘Master Gardener,’” she added.
Besides the time spent teaching others, Long stays active spending countless hours maintaining her home gardens each year.
“I’ve been active most of my life,” she said. “I don’t find sitting in a chair a great deal of fun.”
Long moved to the Sedalia area 11 years ago from Kenosha, Wis., where she was active in the gardening community.
“When I lived in Wisconsin, I was also an Emeritus Master Gardener,” she said. “And I ran the hot-line there and I run the hot-line here. I’m the one that organized it and I’m the one who runs it — alone.”
Garden problems and questions can be called into the extension office hot-line, where they in turn contact Long, who has a full horticultural library. Long’s library keeps her up-to-date on the latest garden pest problems and other issues related to growing flowers, fruits and vegetables.
“If you have any kind of problems with bugs or you have something that came up in your lawn and you don’t know what it is and you want to identify it … you bring it to me,” she said. “I have about a 1,000 volume library in my house. And I buy books all the time.”
She said her most prized volumes are the “Ortho Problem Solvers,” that have helped increase her gardening knowledge.
Long volunteers approximately 500 to 600 hours every year using her horticultural knowledge to help others. Every year she can be found in the Floriculture Building during the Missouri State Fair.
“I work at the fair every single day of the fair,” she said. “We have a question and answer booth that I organized, and we give answers to questions. We answer everything about how to be a master gardener to most of the time I’ve got this bug, you know.”
With some of the questions, she takes it a step further. Long writes down the person’s name and address and she goes out and looks at their property.
“I do that, I make home visits to evaluate,” she said. “I also do landscape plans, I’ve had 60 hours of landscape training — I do landscape plans for free for people in need. This is all volunteer.”
Her most unusual garden question had to do with a insect that left her perplexed.
“They wanted to know what kind of a bug that was,” she said. “I had never seen it before, it was an ant, it was an Argentinian ant. I didn’t even know we had them here. And I identified it for her. She had found a nest of Argentinian ants, and you know what, they are really rare! They are orange and they are furry, you should see them. That’s one I had to research. Do you how many ants there are? Millions!”
In her own yard, besides the daylilies, Long has more than 200 German bearded iris that bloom in the spring. She staggers the bloom times of her flowers to cover spring, summer and fall growing seasons.
“I have about 2,000 spring bulbs inter-planted in my beds,” she said. “That’s the first thing that comes up and blooms. I have no tulips, because I have millions of voles and they’ll eat everything. So what I plant are toxic bulbs like daffodils, jonquils, narcissus that type of thing, and they can’t eat those.”
In the summer with 400 varieties of daylilies blooming, ranging in size from 1.5-inches to 10-inches wide, Long can walk by each and name them off: “Veins of Truth,” “All American Chief,” “Whirling Rainbows,” Swedish Girl,” and “Space Coast Scrambled.”
Her favorite is the bright yellow “Buttered Popcorn.”
“You can see that one for miles,” she said. “I like it because it has lots of scapes (flower stalks), there are more than two weeks of blooms on some of them.”
Long’s property is lined with blooming shrubs such as viburnum, quince, mock orange, weigela and 20 different lilacs, and a variety of trees.
In the in late fall and in the wintertime while the gardens sleep, Long travels.
“Last year I went to the great rivers of Europe, it started in Amsterdam and ended up in Vienna,” she said. “On Sept. 30 I leave on a trip called ‘The Route of the Maya.’ That starts out in El Salvador and goes through Honduras, Guatemala, catches the edge of Nicaragua and ends in Belize.”
While on the trips she studies flora and fauna of the different countries.
“I did my ultimate best when I was in Peru three years ago when I went to Mount Machu Picchu,” Long added.
While there, near a large bank of flowers, she saw a iridescent Giant Hummingbird with a wing span of approximately 8.5-inches.
“I have never seen anything like that, he was huge!” Long said.
Long said for those interested in learning more about their gardens and who would like to take a class or for a garden hot-line question she can be reached at 827-0591 at the Pettis County University of Missouri Extension Center, 2011 Thompson Blvd.