Master Gardener Program
Training Staff & Instructors

"If you can read this.., thank a teacher!"
We all remember a teacher that had a special impact in our lives. These ladies and gentlemen are the teachers and mentors for the Alabama Master Gardener Program. Their knowledge, training and experience range from college professors to decades of home gardening. They share their passion for all things horticulture, from Botany to Zoology, and all those -ologies in between. They have developed and will present a superb program of instruction that novice and veteran gardeners alike will enjoy and find both informative and beneficial. Alabama Master Gardener students receive quality training from the very best instructors in the state. These teachers, too, will leave a lasting impression and we thank them for their caring and sharing!
Kerry Smith
  • Home Horticulture Program and State Master Gardener Coordinator
  • B.A. Birmingham-Southern University
  • M.S. Auburn University
  • Teaches Landscape Design
  • Kerry Smith is a horticulture associate in the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) and the state coordinator for the Alabama Master Gardener Program. Reaching the needs of County Extension personnel as well as the consumer, she delivers training programs and timely, research-based information for home horticulture. Before joining the ACES staff, Kerry was an interpretive horticulturist with the Education Department in the Gardens at Callaway. She has been a school teacher, an estate gardener and many things in between. Kerry combines her love of horticulture with her experience in the classroom to teach gardening and conservation programs. Kerry, a native of north Florida, earned a Master of Science degree in Ornamental Horticulture from Auburn University with a minor in Urban Forestry. She learned an appreciation of gardening from her mother’s daylilies and an appreciation of the earth from her father’s vegetable rows. Her family now includes her husband, Chris, and their two dogs. Chris also enjoys gardening, but the dogs are still in training.

    Ken Creel
  • Regional Extension Agent for Limestone, Madison and Morgan Counties
  • BS and MS degrees from Alabama A&M University
  • Teaches many of the classes in the curriculum
  • Ken is a lecturer for the Madison County Master Gardener Program as well as for other Master Gardener Programs around the state - teaching plant propagation, fruit production and landscape design in Madison, Morgan, Limestone and Jackson Counties for more than five years. He has more than 10 years experience in lawn care and landscaping, and over 10 years experience in Shiitake mushroom production. Ken is a member of the American Society of Horticultural Science.

    Doug Chapman
  • Regional Extension Agent for Commercial Horticulture
  • B.S. degree, Horticulture, Auburn University
  • M.S. degree, Auburn University
  • Teaches Vegetable Gardening, Fruit Gardening and Plant Physiology
  • Born in Tuscaloosa, Doug has been employed by the Limestone County Extension System since 1992. For several years he was the Extension Agent for Home Horticulture and also the Master Gardener Coordinator for Limestone County. Many of the current Master Garener projects in Limestone County were initiated with his guidance. Doug writes a weekly horticulture column for the Athens News-Courier newspaper.

    Mary Lou McNabb
  • Bachelor's degree in Music - Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas
  • Master Gardener - 1975
  • Master Flower Show Judge
  • Presents the MG Welcome and Program Introduction
  • Mary Lou joined the Master Gardener program in Binghampton, New York in 1975. After returning to Huntsville in 1980, she helped establish the Master Gardener Program in Madison County and the State of Alabama. Mary Lou is a Charter member of the Huntsville Herb Society, a member of the Herb Society of America, and has played flute with the Huntsville Symphony. She is the owner of Marymac Farm - "you pick" blueberries. She tends her own herb garden, vegetable garden, perennial garden and grows "florist type" late blooming chrysanthemums in a temporary greenhouse and many houseplants and spring transplants in a permanent greenhouse. She is currently writing a book on growing and using herbs. Married for over 50 years to Robert McNabb - 3 children and 2 grandchildren.

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    Robin Chambers
  • Ohio State University - Horticulture and Landscape Architecture
  • Auburn University
  • Alabama A&M University
  • Horticulturist and owner of landscape design company, Landscapes by Robin. As a graduate student, she was a member of the first Master Gardener class held in Madison County. She has been a member of the Huntsville Botanical Garden since 1980 and has volunteered for various projects. Robin has been a Guest Lecturer for Madison County Master Gardeners program for many years.

    Harvey Cotten
  • COO, Huntsville-Madison Co. Botanical Garden
  • B.S. degree in Ornamental Horticulture from Mississippi State University
  • Teaches Plant Selection and Care
  • A native of Huntsville, he has been the General Manager at Monmouth Plantation in Natchez, MS, where he was involved in creating a period landscape at the plantation. He returned to Huntsville in 1986 as co-owner and general manager of Chase Nursery Company. Began working as a volunteer at the Botanical Garden in 1988 and joined the staff in 1992. As Director of Garden he oversaw the implementation of programs such as the construction of the Center for Biospheric Education and Research and the successful relocation of a 100-year old dogwood to the Garden grounds. Author of several publications including Relocation of One Hundred Year Old Dogwood Tree. A guest lecturer for the Master Gardener Program for several years, he also writes for Alabama Gardener and does a weekly column in Huntsville Times newspaper.

    Kathryn Davis
  • Master Gardener - 1998
  • Past president of the Limestone County Master Gardeners Association
  • Teaches Herbs
  • Kathryn’s interest in herbs arises from several points: her mother was a great cook and used herbs; she enjoys herb-flavored food; and, became most involved when she became a home owner with a sunny spot for a garden. However, to get that sunny spot she had to kick her husband's vegetable garden into the pasture. Her interest led her to join the Huntsville Herb Society within the Huntsville Botanical Garden, where she served several terms as President and oversaw much of the construction and growth of what now constitutes the Herb Garden. She is retired from the federal government and is active in the Donnell House of Athens and projects in her town of Mooresville.

    Barbara East
  • Master Gardener - 1991
  • State AMGA President for 2 years
  • Winner of Mary Lou McNabb award in 2000
  • Received Master Gardener Platinum Badge
  • Teaches Annuals and Perennials
  • From Etowah County, Barbara has served as local association Secretary for two years. Local Association board member for past 10 years. Served on state AMGA Board of Directors for three years. Co-Chair of 1997 State Conference and Program Co-Chair of 2005 State Conference. Instrumental in helping to set up Horticulture Center and Hotline. Presented more than 30 programs to Civic and Garden Clubs. Instructor for Anniston Museum Garden Lecture Series in 1996. Instructor in Master Gardener Classes Etowah county since 1992, Dekalb since 1995, Marshall since 1997, Limestone since 2001, Blount County one year and Cullman County one year. Served as Instructor for the Elder Hostel Program held at Auburn University in March of 1998 and March 1999. Winner of DAR National Conservation Award. Married 45 years to John East. 3 sons, 1 daughter and 7 grandsons.

    Drucilla Esslinger
  • BS in Ornamental Horticulture, Auburn University
  • MS in Vocational Education, Alabama A&M University
  • Horticulture Instructor. Guest lecturer in the Madison County Master Gardener program since the very beginning in 1981. Twelve years teaching horticulture/floriculture for Huntsville City Schools. Active volunteer at Huntsville/Madison County Botanical Garden since its inception. Now semi-retired consultant.

    Wes Harris
  • Master Gardener - 2005
  • 25 years experience growing Bonsai trees
  • Teaches Bonzai
  • His interest started in 1962 while hiking in the Olympic National Park in Washington. "Nature in the wild provides us with many examples of Bonsai, they are just too big." Wes practiced growing Bonsai until 1985 and has recently resumed the hobby while taking the Master Gardener class. His presentation provides the beginner with the information for starting the Bonsai hobby. He recommends starting with a Juniper from a local garden store or nursery and provides a demonstration on preparing the tree for potting, maintaining, and training.

    Dr. James Jacobi
  • Extension Plant Pathologist/Diagnostician
  • B.S. in Forestry from the University of Vermont
  • M.S. in Forest Pathology from Clemson University
  • Ph. D. in Plant Pathology from Auburn University
  • Teaches Plant Pathology
  • Dr. Jacobi manages the Plant Diagnostic Laboratory at the C. Beaty Horticulture and Environmental Center at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. The diagnostic lab offers a place where homeowners and commercial representatives (lawn care companies, nurseries, golf courses, and others) can bring there turf grass and ornamental plant problems to be diagnosed for a minimal fee.

    Herb Lewis
  • B.S. in Industrial Engineering
  • M.S. in System Engineering
  • Teaches design and construction of water features
  • Herb is a retired Engineer, employed over 30 years in the space and missile defense field. For most of those 30 years he has enjoyed developing and landscaping his home yard. Within the last 3 years he started working with stone to accent his landscape with borders and water features. He is also an avid bird watcher and since retiring he has expanded his interests into design and construction of a natural water feature as a landscaping element to create a natural wildlife habitat in his backyard. He and his wife Terry (MG 1995) live in Madison County. Terry says that although Herb used to work 12 hours a day at his paying job, he always found time to work in the yard, which she called his "R&R". He would get up at 5 AM in order to "play in the yard" an hour before getting ready for work. He would almost rather work in the yard than to eat.

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    Lee McBride
  • Owner of Landscape Management Consultants and Wilson Tree & Shrub Services
  • Attended UAH
  • Began in Green Industry in 1979 as a tree climber - began working with insect and disease control in 1985. Lee has owned a tree service, mowing service, and lawn spraying service - all divisions of one company. His firm won 14 beautification awards in 3 years. Lee was awarded one of the 1000 Points Of Lights awards for beautification efforts. He is a member of the International Society of Arboriculture; is a nationally certified arborist; is licensed as a pesticide supervisor, a tree surgeon and setter of landscape plants. He is also a Master Gardener, Class of 1990, and has been a guest lecturer with the Madison County Master Gardener Program since Fall 1998.

    Dr. Charles C. Mitchell, Jr.
  • Extension Agronomist
  • B.S., Biology, Birmingham-Southern College
  • M.S., Soil Fertility, Auburn University
  • Ph.D., Soil Fertility, University of Florida.
  • Teaches Alabama Soils
  • Dr. Mitchell is assigned to the Extension Soil Fertility Program, Department of Agronomy and Soils, College of Agriculture, Auburn University. Prior to that he was the Extension Laboratory Director, Agricultural Chemical Services, at Clemson University for four years; a Graduate Research Assistant at the University of Florida for three years; a Research Associate at Auburn University for 4½ years, and a Graduate Research Assistant, Auburn University for two years.

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    Gary Murray
  • BS and MS in Horticulture, Auburn University
  • County Extension Coordinator, Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, Etowah County, Alabama
  • Mr. Murray was responsible for the first Master Gardener Program in Madison County as well as in the state of Alabama. While working with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System here in Madison County, he was approached by a graduate of the Master Gardener Program in New York who had moved to Madison County (this graduate was Mary Lou McNabb). After talking with her, he contacted Dr. Sharma at Alabama A&M who was also interested in the Master Gardener concept. And as the saying goes, the rest is history. Even though he is no longer associated with the Madison County Extension Office, he continues to be a part of our program as a guest lecturer.

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    Bill Nance
  • BFA and MFA, University of Alabama
  • MA, Instituto de Allende, San Miguel, Mexico
  • Recently retired as Associate Professor at Alabama A&M University. He is an artist, a teacher and a gardener. A graduate of the 1988 Master Gardening Class. He has been an Artist-in-Residence for the state of Alabama; recipient of four Fulbright awards for study abroad; 2 National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships; and his work has appeared in Southern Living and Horticulture magazines. His garden is included in the Southern Living Landscape Book. As a guest lecturer for the Madison County Master Gardener program, he shares his enthusiasm for creating and enjoying gardens. He says this is his way of “paying back for what he learned from the program.”

    Dr. Rudy Pacumbaba
  • B.S. in Microbiology from UAH (1990)
  • M.S. in Plant Science from A&M (1994)
  • Ph.D. in Plant Science with an emphasis on Horticulture from A&M (2002)
  • Presently working at A&M as an Instructor and Post-Doctoral Research Associate. Has been a guest lecturer with the Madison County Master Gardener Program for over 5 years. A native of Manhattan, Kansas.

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    Dr. Bess Parks
  • Alabama MG of the year for 2001
  • BS in English and Music from Jacksonville State University
  • MA in Special Education from University of Alabama
  • Ph.D. in Curriculum Leadership Personnel with major emphasis in Early Childhood and Special Education from George Peabody College of Vanderbilt University
  • Taught learning disabled, mentally retarded, language handicapped, and behavioral disordered, and physically handicapped children in elementary schools for about 10 years. Taught teachers of those children for about 13 years. Loved teaching but hated the paper work and "yes" the children had changed when I went back in the classroom my last three years. But I did find some really sweet children who were eager to learn. Most fun I ever had in school: The Master Gardener Program (Fall 1995). Hobbies other than gardening: taking care of wild birds and going to the beach (which is the only really relaxing place I know). I used to enjoy crazy quilt embroidering, but who has the time now? Once I spent a lot of time reading all sorts of books, but who has time now? Once I thought I would enjoy traveling, but now I have a greenhouse. I have always enjoyed people and now I enjoy sharing gardening information with and learning from other gardeners. Many of my plants help keep me connected to people from my past, and I enjoy getting plants from friends for this reason. I tend to keep a plant a long time. (This week the amaryllis I bought when Harold and I first got married is now blooming. That means it is at least 30-years-old.) I like a lot of the old heirlooms and also add a lot of plants for birds and butterflies. One thing I learned is that it is hard for a gardener to move from a place where she has lived for 27 years, but it can be done. Like a plant that is sickly, I guess instead of food, the gardener just needs a lot of water until she gets re-established. Greatest frustration in gardening: Dealing with the computer!

    Mary Pendley, Alice Lawler & Brenda Tapp
  • Mary Pendley, MG 1999
  • Alice Lawler, MG 1998, Madison County, MG Coordinator
  • Brenda Tapp, MG 1998, State MG News Letter Editor
  • Teach Container Gardening
  • All are present or former teachers. They grew up as "country girls" and have been Master Gardeners together for more than 6 years. Completed the Advanced MG Container Gardening Program offered by the Michigan Institute. They are warm-hearted, delightful people that love to share their talents with others.

    Jerry Redus
  • BS in Physics from the University of Alabama
  • Aerospace Consultant retired from NASA. Also served as Chief of the Propulsion Systems Division. Primary work has been in the environmental area. Has taken courses in composting and is designated as Master Composter. Is also a Master Gardener, completing the class in 1995. This Master Gardener enjoys teaching others and has spent many hours instructing classes on environmental gardening, composting, and vermiculture for the Extension System, the City of Huntsville, the Soil Conservation Service and the Botanical Garden. Has also taught worm bin composting to elementary school children for Operation Green Team. Jerry, who is renown for his humor, authored two articles for the Garden Journal: Why keep a Garden Journal? and The Legend of Saint Fiacre. When someone asked him how long he had been working in the compost demonstration area his reply was, “I’m not sure, but it couldn’t be more than 72 years.” And to quote a participant from the Fall 1998 MG class, “He has a passion for this topic.”

    Niki Sothers
  • Associate Degree in General Education, Calhoun College
  • Horticulture Supervisor at Huntsville/Madison County Botanical Garden. Landscape/Vegetable & Fruit Production, at Alabama A&M. Madison County Technical School, 2 years. Involved with Master Gardener Program as guest lecturer for more than 2 years. Master Gardener volunteer for more than 5 years

    Janet Szofran
  • BS in Nursing from Washington University in St. Louis
  • Registered horticultural therapist technician (HTT) in 1995
  • Registered horticultural therapist (HRT) in 1998
  • Janet became a Master Gardener in 1992. She was employed by Healthsouth Rehabilitation Hospital of North Alabama until 2000. She is currently volunteering as Coordinator of the Five-Year-Plan for Horticultural Therapy at the Huntsville-Madison County Botanical Garden. She implements therapeutic horticulture projects at the Senior Center Adult Day Care and Presbyterian Apartments.

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    Ken Ward
  • BS Biology, University of Alabama, Huntsville, 1981
  • MS Biology, University of Alabama, Huntsville, 1985
  • PhD Entomology, Mississippi State University, 1989
  • Assistant Professor of Entomology, Center for Forestry & Ecology, Department of Plant and Soil Science, Alabama A&M University. The forest protection specialist within A&M's forestry program, with 50/50 teaching/research responsibilities and teaches courses including entomology, natural resource conservation and dendrology (tree identification). Research interests include management of insect pests in agroforestry plantings, fire ant management and honey bee impacts on cotton production and is part of a team working on development of a program on fire ant management. Became a Madison County MG lecturer for the Winter 2002 Class. A native of: Huntsville, AL; married (to an entomologist!).

    Chuck Weber
  • BA in English from Rhodes College
  • BS in Forestry with specialization in Urban Forestry, University of Florida (First UF graduate specializing in Urban Forestry)
  • Supervisor of Urban Forestry and Horticulture, Huntsville Department of Public Services. Has worked with FL Division of Forestry and with AL Forestry Commission – Madison County Forester and Urban Forester for NE AL District. First municipal forester in the State of Alabama. Currently responsible for: supervising urban forestry, horticulture and landscape support programs for City of Huntsville; developing work standards and training programs fro crews involved with upkeep of trees, shrubs, flowers on rights–of–way; developing public information materials on maintenance of public and private landscapes. Serves on Alabama A&M Agriculture Advisory Committee. Technical advisor to Huntsville Tree Commission. Member: International Society of Arboriculture; American Forestry Association, life member; AFA Urban Forestry Leaders Council. Also member of North Alabama Country Dance Society and Anon (a musical group — he plays the fiddle).

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