Donna Rouch’s first gardening job was picking bugs off her grandma’s hundreds of potato plants.

Mary Kroliski promised the youngster a penny a bug one summer, and Donna found so many she nearly broke the bank.

“That’s how I got started,” Rouch says.

Many years later, the Omaha woman is the newly elected third vice president of National Garden Clubs Inc., and in a few years will be president. The organization has 165,000 members as well as clubs in every state and across the world. Nebraska, part of the Rocky Mountain Region, has several clubs that belong.

Rouch, a retired pharmacist, is also a flower show judge, something she learned at a school sponsored by the National Garden Clubs. She passed the handbook exam in 2016 and judges five or six shows a year.

It’s a lot of work. She has to take a symposium to learn more every three years and earn ribbons of her own at shows. Whatever flower show she judges, she needs to know everything about the plant.

“You have to hone your skills. If you don’t have the design correct, you don’t get a ribbon,” she said. “It works well together and is a lot of fun.”

Now that she’s retired and traveling more with husband Jim, she has trimmed back her own extensive garden efforts. This year they’re going to Canada with the club and the following year to New Zealand.

She no longer grows vegetables for one.

“I have things that I find are easy to grow and I can also use in flower shows and arrangements,” she says.

Hostas are a favorite. Growers are working on making them more fragrant, she says, and creating bigger blooms.

Her hosta tip? Group mini hostas for the look of a big hosta.

Her biggest piece of advice for gardeners: Be sure you have the right plant for the right spot. The simplest way is to look at the tag accompanying your plant at the garden center, nursery or big box store. The tag contains the list of requirements, so you’ll know if it will flourish.

For example, the plant’s height, spacing between plants, bloom time, sun and shade exposure, water requirements and hardiness zones are usually listed. The hardiness zone informs you if the plant can withstand the summer heat or winter cold in your area. If not, you may choose to plant it as an annual.

Marjie is a writer for The World-Herald’s special sections and specialty publications, including Inspired Living Omaha, Wedding Essentials and Momaha Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @mduceyOWH. Phone: 402-444-1034.

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