By Nancy Adams, Mobile County Master Gardener, CoastalAlabamaGardening@gmail.com
When talking to people about their past, it’s interesting to see how circumstances weave together to create a life. Sybil Burnett’s parents grew up on farms in Elba and Enterprise, and Sybil spent many happy times with her family on those farms, although she and her immediate family lived in Robertsdale. Country life was a big part of her childhood and she loved seeing and helping to make things grow.
Fast forward to the 1960s: Sybil and Wyley Burnett were busy raising five children and operating what became one of Mobile’s premier bakeries, The Pastry Shop, whose original owners had been apprentice bakers in Austria during World War II.
The Burnetts were careful to keep the recipes and ingredients true to the originals, using only natural ingredients like butter, almond paste and fruit blends — with no yeast.
The Pastry Shop is now owned and operated by Sybil and Wyley’s son and daughter-in-law, who are continuing the tradition, with many loyal customers. Sybil often helps her daughters in their bakery, The Little Cake Shop, in Spanish Fort, where the same time-tested recipes are used.
Sybil tried traditional retirement for a short time, but she really liked being busy, feeling useful and learning new things. In 1992 she saw an article in the newspaper advertising a Master Gardener class — the first Master Gardener class in Mobile County. That was the beginning of a long and happy experience.
Master Gardeners are a group of people from all walks of life who have one common denominator: a love of nature, plants and gardening. They take on projects, large and small, divide the duties and work together for the betterment of the community. The serendipity of it all is Master Gardeners continue to learn and make great and lasting friends along the way, as well as enjoy the many known healthful benefits of gardening — at any age. Gardening, in Sybil’s estimation, is healing for the mind and the body.
Because there are so many different ways one can participate in the Master Gardener program, most members eventually find a particular area in which they are most comfortable. Sybil took the class and volunteered for several years with a friend who ran a plant sale for Augusta Evans School in Mobile each spring. She also began to work with a group of ladies at Mobile Botanical Gardens called Petal Pushers. These ladies organize workshops and projects, send out newsletters about plant sales, serve food for volunteers at plant sales and generally help the Botanical Gardens however they can.
Sybil is also a long-time member of the Gulf Coast Herb Society, having supervised the weeding and planting in its garden, which has also been a part of Mobile Botanical Gardens for many years. In 2010, this garden was officially named the Sybil Burnett Herb Garden.
One of her continuing goals as a Master Gardener is to help young people know and understand our environment. She feels we need to reach children at an early age and give them exposure to life outside the home — to the wonders of nature that children who grow up in the city don’t always have the opportunity to experience.
Nowadays, you can expect to find her working in her own garden or in the kitchen at Mobile Botanical Gardens, preparing and organizing lunch for the hungry volunteers during plant sales. Yes, Sybil has found yet another way to combine her life experiences well into retirement, to continue serving the community and making a positive difference.
And she’s still learning and making new friends!
Gardening Events for Your Calendar
What: Monthly Master Gardener Meeting
When: Oct. 3 (10 – 11:45 am)
Where: Jon Archer Center, 1070 Schillinger Road, North, Mobile
Speaker/Topic: Fred Nation, Invasive Vines
What: Mobile Botanical Gardens Fall Plant Sale
When: Oct. 18 – 20
Where: Mobile Botanical Gardens, 51 Museum Drive, Mobile
Contact: email@example.com or 251-342-0555, ext. 2
What: Alabama Master Gardener State Conference
When: March 30 – April 1, 2020
Current activity: Inviting sponsors and donors to participate
Contact: AMGA2020Mobile@gmail.com for information about sponsorships and donations for the conference
Master Gardener Helpline: 877-252-4769, or send your gardening questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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