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Every year, Bud Dasenbrock gets especially excited about spring.

This time of year means one thing for him: gardening.

"His green thumb goes all the way up to his elbow," said his wife, Betty.

Though their yard in Lincoln isn't huge, the Dasenbrocks love digging in the dirt and putting in plants they'll watch flourish throughout the season. They try to mix it up each year with what plant varieties they put in their garden.

And for horticulturists such as Bud, the Nebraska State Arboretum's annual Spring Affair, held Friday and Saturday at the Lancaster Event Center, is a major highlight of the season — a time to buy plants, attend gardening workshops and catch up with fellow "plant addicts."

"This is the place to be," he said.

For 32 years, the Nebraska State Arboretum (NSA) has held the plant sale, which is its main fundraiser.

NSA is a statewide nonprofit that helps a network of arboretums, both small and large.

Christina Hoyt, NSA's executive director, said the arboretums' mission is to plant Nebraska for healthy people, vibrant communities and a resilient environment. It's a network that's unique to Nebraska, she said, as other states don't quite have the reach they do when it comes to public garden sites.

"We take pride in the fact that we're grass-roots," Hoyt said.

While Spring Affair began as a way to promote planting all over the state, its focus has shifted over the years to address what NSA leaders view as community needs. This year, the goal is to educate people about native Nebraska plants and encourage them to plant those in their gardens instead of plants foreign to the area.

"It's about showing people what's good for their communities," Hoyt said.

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Every year, the event draws about 3,000 to 4,000 gardeners, and many of them have been attending since it was just a small gathering of like-minded folks at the State Fair Park.

At this week's event, more than 700 plant varieties were available for purchase. They were sold by pot size and priced from $3.50 to $12.

Many of the plants the NSA sells were provided by Bluebird Nursery, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. Its founders, Harlan and Shirley Hammernik, were big supporters of NSA, and Hoyt said the event has been successful because of the nursery in Clarkson.

"This annual Spring Affair event has been made possible because of their willingness to partner and provide high-quality plants, many of which are not available elsewhere in the state," she said.

A large part of why people keep coming back is because of the variety of plants available.

"It helps them add to their gardens in an inexpensive way," Hoyt said.

Joani and Dave Severson were looking for new additions to their garden.

They had picked out viburnums (shrubs) to replace some bushes they had in their backyard. Joani also had her eye on some herbs, such as grapefruit and lemon leaves, because she likes to use those in the kitchen.

"It's a great event," she said. "We've been coming forever and we'll keep coming."

The attendees were not only able to buy plants, but also could attend presentations by professionals about sustainable gardening and bird watching.

Vendors from around the state sold gardening supplies.

"We like to give people the opportunity to give people, especially those from small towns, things they normally won't be able to find," Hoyt said. "It's an opportunity for every citizen to change their practices or their techniques or add material to their gardens that can be really beneficial to our state."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7223 or hmuslic@journalstar.com.

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