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Around Town: Gardening at the Governor’s Mansion

Wisconsin first lady Tonette Walker admits that it’s not exactly an original idea. She agrees the nation’s current first lady really brought attention to gardening.

A month after her husband was sworn in as president in 2009, Michelle Obama turned part of the White House lawn into the largest vegetable garden the residence had ever had. It now has 55 types of vegetables.

Tonette Walker gave Obama credit Sunday afternoon during a free gardening event at the Governor’s Mansion in Maple Bluff, where members of the public were welcome to stroll through the grounds and kids got their hands dirty with projects.

“She obviously put gardening on the map, so to speak, especially your backyard gardens, like we’re doing,” Walker said. “I don’t mind if it was Michelle’s idea or not, it’s a good idea.”

The first of three Summer Sundays events drew almost as many volunteers and protesters as guests, which numbered about 100.

Walker is holding two more events on the second Sundays of July and August.

Asked where Gov. Scott Walker was, Tonette told a guest that he was on a motorcycle trip in Iowa. He was among a group of declared and likely Republican presidential candidates who attended Saturday’s “Roast and Ride” fundraiser for Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.

Walker said it’s the first time she has invited the public to see the gardens. She got the idea after gathering with other first ladies through the National Governors Association.

“It’s really nice that we have each other to share with and confide in and help each other out,” she said.

The gardens at the Governor’s Mansion total one acre, said Melissa Finkelstein, the first lady’s executive assistant.

One person tends the gardens full time, but Walker said she has planted some of the plants and flowers herself. “My hand is everywhere here because that’s how I am. I’m a total hands-on person.”

Walker said the Governor’s Gardens initiative promotes sustainable gardening showing that even with limited space and a low budget, growing a garden is possible, and eating from it is healthy.

“It’s just about families getting together, doing something together,” she said, pointing to a table where a planter was being raffled off.

Brienne Brown of Whitewater brought her mother, Jean Diebolt, visiting from Texas, and her children, Margaret, 6, and Nels, 3, who happily planted and watered pumpkin seeds in a raised bed on the side of the mansion.

Raised garden beds keep certain weeds away, provide good drainage, and serve as a barrier to some pests.

Brown is a gardener who is trying to instill a love of gardening in her children. They have raised beds in their backyard, and she just helped install them at Margaret’s school.

“We wanted to reinforce that raised beds can be anywhere,” Brown said. “You can garden anywhere.”

The event was also a good excuse, she said, to take her visiting mother to the governor’s mansion “and show her something other than Whitewater.”

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