By Sue Sensenbaugh-Padgett, Advanced Extension Master Gardener
Gardening at its essence is the desire for connection. We connect seed to soil, soil improvement to plant growth, even native plants to insect habitats. As Master Gardeners, we expand that desire to connecting others with gardening and gardening information. The pandemic removed the opportunity for face-to-face volunteering. It also limited our chance to connect with and learn from fellow Master Gardeners.
Creativity is finding ways to expand volunteering opportunities, while Zoom meetings are allowing the continuations of regular meetings. This article is a way to learn from and about fellow Master Gardeners. Each article interviews 3 members asking them the same questions.
This Issue interviews members Lillian Mahaney, Michele Worden, and Gary Michalek asking them each about mentoring. The answers are interesting and informative. Our subject is mentoring beginning with:
Did you have a Garden Mentor growing up?
As a child I loved visiting my grandparents, particularly seeing the huge perennial garden. My grandmother showed me what were weeds, and I would very carefully dig them up and replant them in a little bed that I created to the delight of my grandfather! I would keep them watered, and if I remember correctly, they did well.
My grandfather, Roman, worked in a commercial wholesale florist’s greenhouse. We lived in a duplex above him and my grandma. Growing up, our backyard was a large plot of cana lilies, most taller than me, and salvia lining the sidewalk to the alley. I had the opportunity to watch, help, and learn from him, from the start of the season to fall cleanup.
I had two garden mentors. The first was my great-grandmother, Stella. I remember weeding her rock garden, and her tall stand of African violets in her sunny sewing room. She taught me to cut the heads off of zinnias and put them in a paper bag in the basement. They could be planted whole in the spring to create a bed of colorful zinnias.
My Dad was my other mentor or “task master”. He loves his roses and tomatoes. We had fruit trees and vegetables and perennial beds when we were growing up. We could not ride our bikes to our friends’ houses on Saturday until we had done our garden chores – weeding, harvesting, etc. It was agonizing. We used hand trimmers to edge the beds on our knees. My brother and I both hated gardening as kids. Interestingly, we both grew up to have big gardens at our houses.
What was the best/most useful thing your Mentor told you?
Gary was clear:
Success in growing plants requires patience, precision, and hard work. You can’t cut corners and get good results. It’s gratifying to do it right and see the beauty of the results.
I learned to pay attention to detail in the garden. Really look. There is lots to see.
Lillian’s is practical:
My grandparents had the perennial garden and a very large vegetable/fruit garden. The one garden was strictly for enjoyment and the other was a necessity, so I learned about both parts of gardening.
If you were Mentoring, what would your advice be to a young gardener?
Michele tells us:
I would say just get your hands dirty. You learn first by doing. You never know a plant until you have killed it three times. Then get a subscription to a garden magazine and read some books. It complements the hands-on work.
My advice to young gardeners would be to try new things and always, always, have fun. Even if things don’t work well, it is a learning experience and the process is what makes it fun. I tried to instill this in all the Jr. Master Gardener students I taught at 3 schools over many years. It is wonderful when they tell me they love gardening since they are now young adults.
Gary gives us:
Learn all you can about gardening, then go out, work hard and carefully, and have fun. Don’t be afraid to experiment and learn from your failures. Assemble the best garden tools you can to make your gardening tasks easy and enjoyable. Always garden with a 5-gallon bucket at your side. Keep learning new things and be passionate about gardening.
We hope you have enjoyed learning about these EMGs’ experiences with mentoring. The next issue’s subject is Seeds.