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story.lead_photo.caption Deb Rademan poses at the greenhouses in north Jefferson City, where she served as manager of the Central Missouri Master Gardeners Greenhouses. (Julie Smith/News Tribune)

Deb Rademan doesn't have a green thumb by accident.

The Jefferson City native has gardened most of her life, ever since her mother inspired her love of plants as a young girl. Her mother, she said, "was the queen of African violets. She had African violets all over the house." Her mother knew how to maximize their beauty, including where to put them to give them the proper amount of light.

Gardening is a science, but it's also an art.

"It kind of takes an artist's eye to see how to combine plants so they look good together," Rademan said. "Because you incorporate color, texture, size and then you have to consider the location that the plant requires, too. It's a combination of a lot of things."

The Jefferson City High School graduate earned a degree in agriculture with an emphasis in horticulture from the University of Missouri-Columbia. In 1985, she took a job with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, where she maintained the state Capitol grounds. After 25 years, she retired with the title of horticulturist in 2010.

But after just two years, the state asked her to come back to supervise the grounds at the Governor's Mansion and lower gardens. She did that until 2016.

She didn't take the Jefferson City Master Gardeners class until 2008, when she was urged to take it by a friend. Despite a degree and a career in the field, she said she learned things in the class. She had known how to do various things with plants, but the class reminded her why it's done that way.

It was two years after that she became involved in the Master Gardeners, taking on upkeep and additions at River City Gardens in 2011.

She and her co-chair made improvements to the gardens, beside the Missouri River in north Jefferson City. But 90 percent of the gardens were lost to flooding in 2019.

"It was very disheartening," she said. "But when Parks came to us and said, 'Would you be interested in some areas at Riverside Park?' we jumped at the chance.

Now, the club is in the planning stages with the city's parks department to have a botanical garden at Riverside Park. It will be designed to add beauty to the park, but also to educate local residents about plants.

In 2016, the club turned over management of its greenhouse to Rademan, a title she still maintains. The job requires planning the Master Gardeners annual plant sale, its only fundraiser of the year.

It's like the Black Friday of plant sales. Each year, the sale is held in early May, and shoppers eagerly line up ahead of time to get their pick of the plants. This year, it featured more than 20,000 plants, including hanging baskets and all of the popular vegetables.

The nonprofit organization raised more than $40,000 this year to fund its various projects throughout the city.

Maintaining the greenhouse is close to a year-round commitment that intensifies as the sale gets closer. Rademan orders many plants, and some are grown by seed.

It's more than a casual hobby for someone who's retired.

Does she enjoy the job? "I must," she said with a laugh. "It's frustrating at times, but yes, I enjoy the job. I think I enjoy most the people. It's a like-minded group who are all basically after the same thing, the same knowledge."

As soon as the sale is over each year, she starts ordering soil and pots for the following year, then puts in orders for plants in September.

There's always more to learn, and Rademan said part of her motivation is keeping up with the newest varieties of plants.

But it's the people in Master Gardeners who inspire her to keep going.

"It's the camaraderie," she said. "It's the satisfaction of watching the plants grow and looking their best and the satisfaction of watching the happy customers who come through here and buy them, and they come through in droves."

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