Spotlight: Lillian Mahaney, MMGA member

Leelanau County Master Gardener Lillian “Lil” Mahaney has been part of the Michigan Master Gardener program for most of a decade. Although she’s lived in Michigan for many years, her earliest gardening experiences were in Florida, where she lived for 35 years. Part of her focus in each state was having a rose garden – which can be a challenge in Northern Michigan.

Lillian is also a licensed wildlife rehabilitator who is sometimes known as “Raccoon Mama” although she also has rehabbed many other species including fox, squirrels and birds. Her interest in animals naturally extends to gardens that provide an environment where wildlife can live in harmony with their human counterparts.

Another of her passions is the Junior Master Gardener (JMG) program. When Lillian was first certified, there were only two or three Junior Master Gardener programs in the Leelanau-Grand Traverse area and very little training available for willing volunteers.

She began with the JMG program by doing a wildlife segment for each of the classes and started her own class – both teaching and collaborating with local MSUE educators like entomologist Duke Elsner, who works at the Traverse City MSUE office. Jumping in with both, feet Lillian began programs at the public schools in Suttons Bay and Leland and at Lake Leelanau St. Mary. She also developed a training class to entice more local Master Gardeners to become involved with the Junior Master Gardener program. While her involvement in that program is currently on hiatus due to some family member’s health problems, she continues to train others on doing the program and is involving a new training partner. “It’s my passion,” says Lil. “I want to see people getting involved with Junior Master Gardeners. The teachers I talk to all want the program, but we just don’t have enough volunteers to teach it. “

Toward recruiting more teachers, Lil has created a student workbook, curriculum, activity sheets and reference information to assist those MGs and others who haven't taught a JMG program before. "I'm proud of my student workbook" she says. "It is very child-friendly with fun cartoon-type dividers."

To recruit new teachers, Lil talks with every local MG class about the program. And while Junior Master Gardeners are her passion, she doesn’t stop there. Lil is involved with the gardens she’s helped plant at Lake Leelanau St. Mary and she is working with Sarah U'Ren, Program Director at The Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay, to help recruit people to learn to care for the 18 small rain gardens sprinkled through the town of Suttons Bay. "We are hoping to have MG volunteers work with the public and teach them about the native plants in the rain gardens." She also writes for The Real Dirt – the newsletter of the Master Gardener Association of Northwest Michigan, belongs to the Michigan Herb Association, MMGA, the Wildflower Association of Michigan, Cherry Capital Rose Society and Botanical Gardens at Historic Barns Park.

While she never taught for a living, it’s obvious that teaching is one of Lil’s passions. In addition to teaching Junior Master Gardeners and their leaders, she’s taught classes at Kettunen Center on native plants – another big focus for her – and on how to start a garden club. She also teaches at St. Mary’s pre-school, educating three and four-year-olds on the environment.

Although she isn’t officially a VMS ambassador, Lil often helps her MG friends with computer issues, including recertification. She’s just submitted her tests and is waiting to hear if she will be a Smart Gardening Ambassador. “I really hope to be more involved with Smart Gardening,” Lil says, adding that “Smart Gardening really coordinates with my work in wildlife rehabilitation.”

In fact, she often talks to groups about gardening with wildlife around – something that’s a critical issue for gardeners in rural Northwest Michigan. “I teach them how to do things to protect their garden, house and boat and live in harmony with the wildlife.”

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