Class project

Monday, April 5, 2004

Francine's Gardens are lovely enough to have been featured in Southern Living magazine, but never before this year has there been such a spring display.

Last fall, 24 horticulture students from the Cape Girardeau Vocational School planted 5,000 bulbs at the Cape Girardeau business that provides a setting for weddings, receptions and other gatherings. The product of their work is currently blooming all over 28 N. Pacific St.

Debby Erlbacher owns Francine's Gardens. The business once was the back yard of her mother, the late Francine Seier, Debby Erbacher's mother's back yard.

After Erlbacher, who used to live in Holland, got the opportunity to restore Francine's Gardens, she bought the business and last fall decided to put in spring bulbs in a big way: 18 acres planted with an assortment of 5,000 tulips, hyacinths, narcissus, daffodils, allium, scilla and muscari.

"It was the closest I could get to Holland," Erlbacher said.

To help, she called Harry Bertrand, chairman of the horticulture department at the vocational school, and enlisted the help of his classes.

The students from both the morning and afternoon classes prepared the soil and worked with Erlbacher designing the beds by plant and color, staggering the different varieties so that during the six- to eight-week growing period something was always in bloom.

Erlbacher said some of the students stayed with the gardens and came out on their own time to keep the beds looking their best.

Bertrand, who has taught horticulture at the vocational school since 1981, said his classes regularly work with civic groups to keep the city looking its best. Each year the students plant a tree to celebrate Arbor Day at a different school in conjunction with the Federated Garden Club. Recently the classes spent three days at the Capaha Park Rose Garden preparing rose bushes for the season.

"It's a community project and experience in maintaining roses," Bertrand said.

The classes also keep the grounds of the vocational school and the high school looking their best.

Some students graduate and go to work at greenhouses, garden centers and nurseries while some may continue their education at the community college or four-year college level.

"I've had some students go to West Texas University's turf grass school and go on to be golf course superintendents," Bertrand said.

At Francine's Gardens, the spring bulbs were a new addition to the flowering fruit trees, forsythia and redbuds that herald the arrival of spring. Erlbacher said Francine's Gardens will have five different gardens in a year's time, featuring different plants and flowers of the seasons, striving to make each planting last two months.

The students will return when the blooms are spent, dig up the bulbs and divide them, Bertrand said. Next year, Erlbacher hopes to have at least 7,000 bulbs to plant in her spring garden.

335-6611, extension 160

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