GC Top Gardeners: Margaret Conrad
By Jessica Rodrigo
For Margaret Conrad, the DeWitt County Historic Museum is more than just an asset to Cuero. The museum not only serves as the headquarters for the DeWitt County Wildflower Association, but it also serves as a way for her to give back to the community.
Conrad's involvement with the museum began through her role with the Wildflower Association in 1991, when the group was founded. As part of the relationship between the museum and the association, the group tends to the garden as needed. Members of the group help change out seasonal flowers and choose plants that will fit the best in the garden. Conrad, 71, even remembers when popular icon, botanical role-model and former first lady Lady Bird Johnson came out to see the museum a few times and called the group's work a "perfect marriage."
In 1996, Conrad became part of a tradition when the Stevenson prison unit's Honor Squad started visiting the museum once a month to help with cleaning. Conrad said they couldn't have done it without them.
During the summer months, she spends her time at the museum kneeling over the flower beds, spreading mulch, pulling weeds from the cracks of the brick walkways and ensuring each plant has enough water. Other months, she might be perusing the aisles and tables of plants at area nurseries.
"It's always different," Conrad said. "They may not always have the same plants or flowers that you found before."
She grew up on a farm in Cuero, so she was exposed to gardening at a young age.
"I enjoyed it," she said. "You get hot. You get dirty. And you get sweaty."
At home she grows a small selection of vegetables and herbs that she uses in her cooking. She admits it may be easier and less expensive to go to the grocery store and buy them to cook with, but that is just not the same.
It's the simple act of getting down on her hands and knees and cleaning up what she might call an "awful-looking" flower bed that is most rewarding for her.
Once the flowers start to come up and blossom in every color, giving off the light perfumes and aromas, she believes there is something more to it.
"There can't be any doubt in your mind that there is a supreme being," she said. "They are just so beautiful and each one is different and inspiring."
Family: Jim, married 57 years. Three children, all in their 50's, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
What are your favorite things to grow in your garden?
I like the spring planting because it rewards the most. We plant petunias, coleus, lobelias and geraniums.
One of the things that I enjoy out at the museum garden is that I have never planted that much from seed before - I've always done just transplants. But now I have done more seed planting, and that has been a lot of fun.
At home, I'm back to planting tomatoes and herbs, and this year, I think I am going to try some okra.
Has gardening taught you any valuable life lessons?
It's really good therapy. I am 77 years old, and I was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2005. There are lots of times when you think, 'I have got to get out of here and go somewhere where I can think.' It's a therapy. Many times when I say, 'I'm going to the garden,' my husband knows what I am talking about.
Are there any specific reasons why you garden?
My mother was a gardener. I'm not a master gardener, and I have never done any of that. It's all from what I learned from her, and lots of trial and error.
At one period in my life, I did do lots of flower shows, and helping my friends and peers with weddings - not as a professional, but just as a gesture of helping them with parties.
What is the biggest problem that you have come across while gardening?
The toughest part of the job is keeping this place alive during the summer.
Also, drought and heat and snails.
We have been very fortunate that we have not been rationed on water. You can just water as much as possible. We try to make sure it doesn't run out into the street, and we are trying to go through the transition of not having that many annuals and things, so we can get more drought-tolerant plants worked into the landscape in order to conserve water because it could become a real problem.