Meet Us

Meet the Roanoke Master Gardeners

Learn about our leaders and some of the members of the community.  Our stories vary from person to person and they are unique. Each of us became  became a Master Gardener for a reason. 

From backyard farming to commercial, we all come together to pool our knowledge:

“You put egg shells on what?” “I got to try that!”

“That is an herb, not a weed!” “Oh! How do I use it?”

We benefit from each other’s knowledge and the entire Roanoke Valley reaps the rewards from our dedication to education.

Meet our Tireless Leaders!

Kathleen Reed, State Coordinator of the Extension Master Gardener Program in Virginia

We were very fortunate to have Kathleen straight from graduation at Virginia Tech to heading our local Extension office!  Her new ideas, endless energy and fabulous leadership made Virginia Tech want her back.  She moved up the ladder because of what she knows and how she implements it.  We hated to lose her but she didn’t leave us entirely.  

She spearheads volunteer leadership and development efforts, provides administrative and volunteer management support to Extension Agents and Master Gardener Coordinators, and helps to promote the Master Gardener Program throughout the Commonwealth.

Extension Agent, ANR


Meet our newest and greatest leader-of-the-pack of dedicated Master Gardeners! Shawn Jadrnicek has taken on the Extension Agent position with a weighty list of experiences. Aside from his formal education (BS Plant Science, James Madison University and MS Plant and Environmental Science Clemson University) he has worked as a farmer, nurseryman, arborist, landscaper, Extension Agent, and manager of Clemson University’s Student Organic Farm and Wild Hope Farm.  Early experiments included no-till farming in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California to his highly functional bio-integrated designs in the Southeast. Shawn has learned how to cultivate food in a variety of climates and landscapes over 24 years of working with the land.  A snapshot of his knowledge is available in his book The Bio-Integrated Farm. He is a valuable and welcome addition to our organization.

Roanoke Master Gardener’s Officers

We appreciate these people to the nth degree for all that they do!  They help us in so many ways that it is hard to recount the whole list.  Suffice to say, they keep us financially secure, and make sure we are informed on all activities and volunteer opportunities, and just plainly keep us organized.

  • President:  Kathy Sink
  • Vice President: Lisa de Vries
  • Treasurer: Claire Privitera
  • Recording Secretary: Eraina Conner
  • Newsletter:  Jessica Miller

Tonya Harper, Virginia Master Gardeners Association (VMGA) Representative

Tonya is an army of one who represents our Roanoke Master Gardeners at the state level.  She  attends the six regularly scheduled meetings  held all over Virginia.   There are educational events sponsored by VMGA, as well as MG College scholarships.  In addition, VMGA was responsible for creating the Endowment Fund. 

She is one of six people from across Virginia to chair the Scholarship Committee. Tonya is a member of the Master Gardener Advisory Team that works with the State Coordinator’s Office in the planning and implementation of our annual Master Gardener College and the 2021 International MG Conference.  The International Conference is held every 2 years in a different state.  Sometimes another country will host the Conference.

A Sampling of our Amazing Members

Sharon Burnham

Sharon moved to Roanoke from Honolulu and spent a lot of time taking local classes and studying all these new plants around her. After ten years, she felt she wanted to share what she had learned with others while deepening her own knowledge. She took MG classes in Blacksburg, since that program had night classes, and then transferred to the Roanoke program. Sharon has been an active member since 2008 and enjoys helping the public expand their gardening knowledge.

Frankie Bygum-Cecil

This lady had thirteen great-aunts and -uncles who all had farms. Holidays and summer vacations were spent with cousins working on the various farms and kitchen gardens.  So it was in her blood much to her mother’s dismay, who was a city girl. Saved seeds came home with Frankie and they made their way to many a coffee can garden.  After about forty back yard gardens, a retirement and a cross country move, she landed in Virginia.  She thought she was in heaven!  Forests of beautiful trees and woodland flowers galore. Who could tell her all about these incredible plants and trees?  Well she found the RMGA and now she is a very proud badge wearing member.

Eleanor (Ellie) Clark

One day Ellie noticed an article in a Roanoke newspaper about someone in her church who was a Master Gardener. She read the article with interest and wanted to learn more. Ellie always had a love affair with nature, despite a foray into poison ivy and enduring all manner of insect stings.

She was still working full time as a school librarian at that time. Finally in the year 2000, she became a Master Gardener herself and she has truly enjoyed being part of the Roanoke Master Gardener group. What a great bunch of people to be associated with!

Ellie enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge. Frequently she has the opportunity to research items and that further increases her own knowledge. She wishes she knew even more.

Eraina Conner

Years ago Eraina was reading her Southern Living magazine and she happened upon an article about Master Gardeners of all things!  She knew from that moment on she wanted to be one herself.  Eraina loves to garden and what could be more perfect than this?  She had to wait until she retired and then promptly enrolled in Master Gardener class.  After taking the class she realized that there was a lot more out there to learn than you can from a book.  She is always eager to try something new and really enjoys our continuing education talks at the monthly meetings.

Lisa de Vries

Lisa started maintaining the garden around her house in Roanoke.  Her husband saw the green lawn next door and decided to “help” her by hiring a lawn service.  Pretty soon she found that when cutting the bushes, she got rashes on her arms!  It turned out that the lawn service sprayed too close to both her vegetable garden and her plants.  She took the Master Gardener class in 2004 and convinced her husband that a lawn in Virginia always has summer and winter grasses, and thus, some bare spots. Now seventeen years later, gardening is still fun and Lisa thinks there is much more to learn.  Lisa has gone on to specialize in herbs and foraging.  In addition to her vegetable garden, she grows edible perennials and she uses every one of them for food and health.  She is a member of the Speaker’s Bureau and the Help Desk. 

Barbara Leach

Barbara was employed by the Virginia Cooperative Extension-Roanoke County in 1993 as a horticulture technician.  By 1996 the Roanoke city and county offices were merged and Barbara was asked to start assisting with the city’s Master Gardener program.  Having no experience with volunteers, she accepted, with trepidation.  After working with the volunteers briefly, the program was turned over to her and she became the MG Coordinator.  What always impressed her was the spirit of giving of these earth stewards, from all walks of life, and she decided she wanted in.  In 2000 she became a volunteer herself, while remaining the MG coordinator and she continues to volunteer into her retirement.  Favorite saying:  In the end we will be judged, not only by what we created, but by what we refused to destroy.

Ellen Holtman

Ellen was fascinated with box turtles, rabbits, wineberries, minnows, and small wildflowers in the suburban neighborhood where she grew up. She has enjoyed learning and teaching about the natural world all her adult life.

Ellen is a longtime Salemite. She graduated from Andrew Lewis High School and Mary Baldwin College. She married her high school sweetheart Roger, and then went on to earn a Master’s degree at Virginia Tech.  Teaching biology at Cave Spring High lasted only until her daughters were born.  Raring to get back to teaching, she began a twenty-five-year career at Virginia Western Community College.  Retirement brought her back full time to what she once loved and she joined the Salem Garden Club, the Blue Ridge Wildflower Society, and our Master Gardener group.  Ellen stays busy volunteering with her memberships as well as her church.

Her current passions are wildflowers, gardening for the butterflies and bees, and her family which now includes two beautiful little granddaughters.

Kristen Mattioni

Remember when you were little and playing in the mud and soil was nothing but pure unadulterated joy?  Well joy turned into good therapy for Kristen.  Getting her hands dirty keeps her centered and healthy.  When she found out that there was actually a group of people that also liked to help things grow, she was hooked.  She was Master Gardener bound!

Jessica Miller

As one of the younger Master Gardeners, she is proof that you can be a part of this great organization while still working a full time job.  She was inspired by her grandmother, who was a member of the Penn State Extension Master Gardeners, to join us.  She has many fond childhood memories of working in the garden with her grandmother; it was always Jess’s job to spread the poppy seeds throughout the garden. She always enjoys visiting  greenhouses.  Today she dabbles in both vegetables and flowers. She loves working on the RMGA Newsletter team and helping at events like the Go-Fest and Buchanan Garden Festival.

Sarah Post

Sarah grew up on Bent Mountain taking lots of walks through the forest with her Dad.  He must have been pretty savvy about the local native flora because he pointed out plants like the rare Pink Lady Slipper while they were chewing on sassafras and wandering through the trees!  College years were spent at Roanoke College where she obtained a BS in Biochemistry in order to understand the intricacies of nature and life itself.  It presented her with a challenge and with answers to her questions.  Fortunately for us she remembered the need to be in nature and she wanted to be with like-minded is people.  Sarah is still learning like the rest of us and is teaching her love of nature to her mini Master Gardener.  Maybe he will be a member one day?

Claire Privitera

Claire’s dad worked at a nursery so we can surmise that she was probably just out of diapers when she, her sister and brothers were all helping with planting, propagating and anything else that would put a smile on their daddy’s face. It was inevitable that she would eventually end up in a Master Gardener class and she joined the ranks in 2016. She had a big head start over her classmates. Now she volunteers at the Virginia Western Community College Arboretum and is the Arboretum Council Chairperson. As if that weren’t enough, she volunteers with her fellow Master Gardeners on special projects and programs.

Kathy Sink

Kathy’s first-time gardening was helping her grandmother plant petunias beside the driveway when she was in grade school.  Both her grandfather and great uncle had beautiful gardens full of tomatoes, green beans, cabbage, peas, and corn of which she got to taste the freshness of vegetables just picked from the garden.  As she was considering retirement, everyone wanted to know what she was going to do with the next chapter in her life.  She had heard of Master Gardeners through her co-workers but did not give it much thought until one day when staring out the office window at the wonderful color and structure of the trees and plants. Kathy decided right then and there that she wanted to do something outside in her next adventure.  And so, her journey to be a Master Gardener began.  She has made many new friends in the program and she continues to meet other Master Gardeners throughout the state.  Her favorite part is that she gets to educate and help others learn best practices of gardening and ways to help our environment.

David Williams

Earlier in their lives, David and his wife bought and developed several acres of rural woodland. They planted flowers and shrubs guessing how best to do it.  Years later David realized that he needed information on their trees and plants which resulted in him being a frequent visitor to the Virginia Tech Extension Office.  Born out of necessity and with friendships acquired along the way, it became obvious to David that the most logical path would be to become a Master Gardener himself.  

Richard Rosti

Some people have an innate desire to never stop learning.  Richard is one of those people. He likes learning from those around him and in turn, puts his knowledge into practice by giving back to our community.  He found the Roanoke Master Gardeners and it has allowed him to  pursue his goals.  Nature definitely keeps you humble and your mind will always be alert to new plants, trees, weeds and pest issues in addition to finding better ways to accomplish the same old task!  

Cyndy Unwin

Cyndy has been a Master Gardener since 2013, when she enrolled in MG classes two weeks after moving to Roanoke. Cyndy wasn’t yet committed to a job, so she jumped at the chance having been a gardener since girlhood. Professionally, Cyndy continues to enjoy a career as a reading specialist since 1989 and she has published several children’s books. She is currently employed as an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, where she advises students on their personal statements for their residency applications and co-teaches a Narrative Medicine course with her husband, Brian Unwin. Another hobby  (er, obsession) of Cyndy’s is raising orchids. She has about 150 plants in her personal collection and helps curate the extensive orchid collection at the VWCC Community Arboretum.