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Extreme makeover-post office edition

--- Springfield post office gets welcome spruce-up

Story and photos by Douglas Stewart /Contributor

(Published August 6, 2007, 2:46 p.m.)

The U.S. post office in Springfield, just north of Lake Geneva at the intersection of highways 120 and 36, sees a lot of daily activity.

There's no local mail delivery and residents must come to the post office to pick up their mail.

"We're also on a main intersection, so we get a lot of traffic off the street," says Postmaster Bonnie Webber.

The post office sits on a nice little piece of land, but until last week, the only outside decorations were a few junipers.

Enter Barbara Mitchell and her son Jason, members of the Walworth County Branch of the Wisconsin Master Gardeners Association. Members are required to do 26 hours a year of community service.

"I drove to the post office every day," said Barbara, and she had an idea. She talked it over with Jason and proposed a major make-over to Webber. "Bonnie was enthusiastic too and added that she didn't much like the junipers either."

"I was very pleasantly surprised when they asked if they could do this," Webber said. "It's a great idea and, even now, people coming in have been very positive about the changes they've made."

The garden is an ongoing project. "Next year, when it's finished and in its full glory, it will be really stunning," Webber said. And, as a community service project, everything is free. The plants come from the Mitchells' own gardens and all labor is gratis.

Mitchell, who with husband, Mark, owns a massage therapy business in Lake Geneva, began gardening 30 years ago.

"When I started out in the master gardeners class, I thought I knew a lot about gardening. What amazed me were the millions of varieties of plants I thought I knew." Barb and Jason took the course together. "It is my greatest joy to share this interest with my son."

Jason, of course, grew up with gardening, and seven years ago started JNM Landscaping and Yardshaping.

"I've always been around green things and just nature, I guess," he said. "I love working outdoors. I do things differently than other landscapers. I like as many distinctive plants as I can find and the customer will allow."

The Walworth Chapter of the Wisconsin Master Gardeners Association is large and very active.

The course of instruction is 12 hours-three hours per week-and costs $200. "But, consider the materials you get," Barbara said, displaying two huge binders of course work, "and the knowledge you receive; its pretty cheap."

The program is run by the UW Extension and UW-Madison.

When the course is finished, members still are not done. In addition to the 26 hours of community service, participants are also required to take 10 hours of continuing horticultural education.

"We have 75 people in Walworth County," Barbara said. What other projects do they take on? We do all of the planters at the Walworth County Fair," Jason said. Barbara added that the group also does the horticultural gardens in Lake Geneva and for the kid's Barnyard Adventure farm.

Christine Regester, at the UW Extension office in Elkhorn, is their main contact.

"Anyone can call the Extension office and get advice on nearly any problems-mold, insect problems, fungus and any kind of plant morphology. It's a terrific program," Barbara said.

But one of the beneficiaries is that little post office in Springfield.

For more information about the Master Gardner's Association, or to ask questions about any plant problems you may have, call Christine Regester at UW Extension, 741-4958, or e-mail her at christine.regester@ces.uwex.edu. You might also want to look up their Web site, http://walworth.uwex.edu.

Jason Mitchell and JNM Landscaping and Yardshaping can be reached at 248-2780.

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