CRESTVIEW — After another year of voluntarily sowing gardening and landscape advice for area residents, Okaloosa County Master Gardeners took time Wednesday afternoon to be recognized for their efforts.

CRESTVIEW — After another year of voluntarily sowing gardening and landscape advice for area residents, Okaloosa County Master Gardeners took time Wednesday afternoon to be recognized for their efforts.

Choosing some of the award recipients was difficult because all of the county's 95 Master Gardeners are active in the program, Okaloosa County Extension director Larry Williams said.

See the photo gallery from the Master Gardener awards ceremony>>

"It's a challenge because if it was just a few people and they didn't do anything, it'd be easy, but it's a big group that does so much," Williams said.

Volunteer Master Gardeners serve under the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Cooperative Extension Service at its Airport Road office.

Volunteers’ amount of work equates to three full-time employees, Extension Commercial Horticulture agent Sheila Dunning said. Their services include answering home horticultural questions in person and on the telephone, and working with youth through the county 4-H program.

The gardeners also operate the County Extension testing laboratory; operate a speakers bureau for organizations and gardening clubs; and run Fort Walton Beach’s Master Gardener nursery.

"You're not on your own when it comes to home horticulture," Master Gardener Carol Rose said. "If you move here from anywhere else, you'll know gardening in sand is just difficult. We're here to help."

"I'm just astounded by the amount of valuable volunteer work this organization does," County Commissioner Dave Parisot said during the awards luncheon.

Potential Master Gardeners must apply and interview for admission to the program's 50-hour training classes; pass a comprehensive examination; and work under a mentor before becoming certified.

This year, 31 newly graduated Master Gardeners, the largest class Williams ever instructed, received their diplomas at the awards luncheon. They will be certified following mentor internships.

Then they can operate the phones and address often-memorable gardening questions such as a query Shari Farrell received about 15 years ago.

"This woman called and said, 'Was I right in turning off the water to my neighbors' house while they were on vacation, because it was overflowing on my property and I was getting fungus on my lawn?'" Farrell said.

Farrell said she was about to assure the caller it was probably a good idea until the woman added that shutting off the water also deprived the inside sprinkler system and the house burned down.

"'But I took brownies over,' she told me," Farrell said.

Master Gardener Awards

Master Gardener of the Year: John Bauer

Outstanding Telephone Communicator: Laurie Mackey

Outstanding Educator: Marge Stewart

Outstanding Service to Youth: Linda Meyers

2,000-hour pin: Jenny Gillis and Marge Stewart

1,000-hour pin: Honey Jennings

500-hour pin: Charlie Reuter, Amy Jo Rosati and Joyce Waters-Smith

15-year recognition: John Hipp, Karen Kirk-Williams, Dr. Lionel Leon, Sandie Olsen, John Palm and Ed Smith

10-year recognition: Pat Collins and Linda Morris

"Call On Me" Award: Bob Bayer, Bill Buckellew, Andy Donatelli, Matt Donavin, Charlotte Dunkle, Jenny Gillis, Dorothy Green, Dick Hickenbotham, John Hipp, Laurie Mackey, Linda Morris, Charlie Reuter, Marge Stewart, Bob Thomas and Faye Todd

Service to 4-H/Youth: Lynn Fabian, Linda Meyers, Jane Montgomery, Olga Nemtseva, Marge Stewart, Carol Strom, Stacey Taylor and Roxy Shelgen

Community Education Award: Bob Bayer, Les Chambers, Mike Crow, Andy Donatelli, Shari Farrell, Dave Gordon, Rick Hastings, Marie Harrison, Linda Kulaw, Jane Montgomery, Marge Stewart and Karen Kirk-Williams

Friends of the Master Gardeners: Roger Jay, manager, Lowe's of Crestview; and Bob Buhrow

Pink Flamingo Award— given to a Master Gardener who makes a "grievous or hilarious error of judgment”: Stacey Taylor. She guided a field trip into Alabama that was intending to visit a farm in Walton County.

Home Gardening Advice:

Master Gardener volunteers provide free advice for home gardeners, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, at the University of Florida/IFAS County Extension office, 3098 Airport Road. The hotline, 689-5850, is open during the same hours.

Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.