County horticulturist's job withers as extension service budget is trimmed Adviser to gardeners will be out of work today

August 29, 1996|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

For 9 1/2 years, Harriett F. Tinker has been answering questions about sickly plants and pesky bugs.

But today her job as a horticultural consultant at the Baltimore County Cooperative Extension Service will end. The part-time position -- and with it the home horticultural division of the county extension service -- has been eliminated because of a county budget cut. She was the division's only employee.

The office will maintain its 4-H, commercial agriculture and home economics divisions.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," said Tinker, who has been classified as a temporary state employee with no benefits for all those years. The county extension branch -- funded by county, state and federal money -- is part of the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension Service.

In peak planting times, Tinker, 54, got as many as 80 calls a day, she said. "I'd answer questions on home horticulture and insect problems -- all kinds of questions."

People also would bring in withered plant specimens or slimy bugs in a jar for assessments by Tinker at the extension service's Cockeysville office.

With Tinker gone, home gardeners won't be left with nowhere to go for help, however. Callers will be referred to a statewide Home and Garden Information Center at 1 (800) 342-2507.

A recording directs callers to audio tapes on specific problems or a horticultural consultant. The center will offer tips of the week, which yesterday included handling fall web worms, mile-a-minute vines, toadstools and yellow-jacket nests.

"The priority of the state over the years has been for us to go to the Home and Garden [Information] Center," said Debbie Bowman, interim county extension service director.

Tinker points out that the central phone number is "all well and good, but most people don't know what the problem is in the first place."

To help backyard gardeners, the county extension service also will hold clinics by volunteer master gardeners and provide resource books in its office at 9811 Van Buren Lane.

"It's a more efficient way to deal with consumer calls," Bowman said. "The disadvantage is people can't bring in their little plants to us."

Pub Date: 8/29/96

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