A passion for gardening inspires many gardeners to want to learn more so they can become better gardeners. This desire to learn more leads many gardeners like Gretchen Heimlich-Villalta to the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Master Gardener program.
When she learned that the Master Gardener program provides trainees with a solid science-based foundation for growing plants sustainably as well as teaching their communities to do the same, she decided it would be a perfect fit to accomplish her goals. She applied and was accepted into the 18-week intensive training program, graduating in July 2014 as a UCCE Master Gardener.
Gretchen's training as a Master Gardener was also been a significant factor in her decision to pursue a degree in Integrated Pest Management (IPM) ucanr.edu/Integrated Pest Managment at Mt. San Antonio College (Mt. SAC) where she also teaches IPM classes. Master Gardener training also helped Gretchen make a career change to an arborist position at the Disneyland Resort. Currently, she is a Plant Pathology PhD student at UC Riverside.
Gretchen has had the opportunity to work on many exciting Master Gardener projects. For the past two years she has been teaching UCCE Master Gardener trainees about the Invasive Shot Hole Borer. She is also excited about a recent opportunity to write Integrated Pest Management (IPM) blogs for the UCCE Master Gardeners of San Bernardino County Newsletter. Gretchen is an accomplished and engaging writer, so it is no surprise that she was asked if she would be interested in writing blogs for the newsletter. Be sure to watch for her blogs in upcoming issues. I am sure you will find them interesting, well-written and informative!
Most Saturday mornings, you will find Gretchen and other volunteers working at the garden. They provide socially distanced, hands-on instruction in sustainable gardening practices to people interested in growing food in their own gardens. The volunteers and visitors help plant, manage pests and harvest food that is also consumed by them. Gretchen enjoys the social aspect of seeing people come together and eat the food they have helped produce at the garden.
Many events such as workshops, classes, Girl Scout events, food swaps, and potlucks, to name just a few, have been held at the garden.
Like many Master Gardeners, Gretchen has had an interesting gardening journey. Her love of gardening started when she tried growing vegetables in sections of her parent's yard. That was where she discovered root knot nematode. She says that pretty much everything she grew back then was eaten by beetles and slugs. She has certainly come a long way in her gardening knowledge!
Gretchen did not have any prior public speaking or presenting experience before becoming a UCCE Master Gardener. Although she is still getting comfortable with presenting, she enjoys it more as her presentation experience grows. She has discovered that attendees of her presentations are eager to learn about gardening. Their enthusiasm during her presentations inspires her to share her gardening and IPM knowledge with them. She connects with her audience in a way that makes her an engaging presenter. The realization that nearly everyone has had stage fright at some time helps her relax and enjoy presenting, something we can all relate to.
Master Gardeners continually learn new things to make them better sustainable gardening volunteer educators. For Gretchen, this happened when she attended a presentation by Yvonne Savio, retired Master Gardener Coordinator for the University of California Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County after 21 years. During the presentation, Yvonne said, "You're going to be shocked by this..." as she pulled a vegetable out of its pot and began removing the roots that had begun circling the perimeter. Seeing a plant's roots being pruned was especially enlightening to Gretchen.
After years of working as an arborist and seeing trees fail because they were pot-bound before they were planted, Gretchen has learned to be bold when pruning a tree's roots at planting time. It took Gretchen a long time to accept that pruning a plant's roots can be as beneficial to it as pruning the canopy. She says this process “helps trees know that they are no longer in a pot—and that they frequently live to tell the tale, as well!”
Gretchen says one of the best things about being a Master Gardener is that it connects one to a network of people with similar values and passions. Her many accomplishments, dedication to sustainable gardening, and knowledge and love of science-based gardening inspires us all to be better gardeners and volunteer educators. The Master Gardeners of San Bernardino County are proud to have Gretchen as part of our growing Master Gardener community!
This month's Spotlight Master Gardener, Valerie Kimmel-Oliva had a personal goal to complete three UCCE programs in one year which she did (fall to spring 2017-2018). She is a UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) San Bernardino County Master Gardener, a Master Food Preserver and a UC California Naturalist! Completing all three programs helped her achieve a better understanding of global environmental issues, desert ecosystems, sustainable gardening, plant care, and growing food.
Valerie has attended and participated in the "Agriculture in the Classroom" online conferences several times (a few with our very own UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener Coordinator, Maggie O'Neil!) The conference mission is to raise awareness and understanding of agriculture among California's educators and students. The concepts presented at the conference are helpful to Valerie in the classroom. She also shares resources from the conferences with her fellow teachers and interns to teach their own students.
Valerie has been a Master Gardener since 2017, but her interest in sustainable gardening extends back many years before. Her interest in sustainability started with learning about recycling programs. Her efforts in teaching kids about the environment just snowballed from there. With a strong belief that kids are our docents for the future, Valerie teaches them how to garden appropriately. Because of what they have learned in Valerie's classes, some started their own home gardens.
Valerie has been involved with school-site and community gardens for about fifteen years. While teaching special needs students from the inner city of Richmond, California, she took on the task of re-establishing the school's neglected garden. She later joined the board for a city community garden as the teacher representative. While in the Bay Area, she also trained in the Watershed Program.
Valerie returned to the high desert in 2011. As a Special Education teacher in the Apple Valley Unified School District, she facilitated the school garden restoration at Desert Knolls Elementary School. Valerie and her students' hard work paid off in growing a wonderful garden of flowers, vegetables, and herbs. She believes that kids learn about science and math through their gardening experiences. Measuring a garden bed, figuring out how many plants to grow, amount of soil and water needed is required within the scope of hands-on science and math-based learning.
There are a lot of socio-economically disadvantaged children living in the desert communities where Valerie teaches. She teaches students who may not have adequate nutrition and all the other comorbid things that go with that. When a child grows something, he or she gets an incredible feeling of, I got something from basically nothing. Valerie believes that is a real moment of surprise for children (and for adults too.)
Valerie has worked hard to facilitate recycling practices at the schools she has taught. In 2016, Desert Knolls Elementary School was also selected as the School of the Year for Recycling at the annual Recycling and Recovery State Convention and won the Town of Apple Valley “Green Award” that same year. "It was quite an honor, as we have been establishing our program through sustainable practices. I learned many of the practices after attending MEEC-Mojave Environmental Consortium-sponsored workshops. Composting, energy, and gardens in every classroom, to name a few," Valerie said about receiving the award on behalf of the school and her students' hard work.
Valerie taught the district STEP program, grades 1-6, and was an advisor for the GATE after-school programs. She volunteered her time to take students on field trips to support service-learning and STEM activities. MEEC has provided transportation services funding for her to take students on field trips to organic farms and recycling recovery enters. She has taken students to the YELC-Youth Environmental Leadership Conference, the Showcase event, and the Annual Solar Oven Competition. She has had winning teams for several years in solar oven competitions.
In 2016, she was honored to be selected by the MEEC board as the MEEC-Mojave Environmental Education Consortium Teacher of the Year in recognition of her dedication and hard work in fostering environmental awareness in the classroom. Valerie said, “It was a turning point in my professional career and personal development!”
Valerie's dedication leads her to continue her students' environmental learning by virtual outreach. In her Google Classroom, she has a Garden Corner where she shares information with her students and their families about gardening activities that they can do at home. She shares California Teachers Agriculture in the Classroom Program fruits and vegetable cards with her students. She is working on indoor garden activities that she can take back to her classroom to share with her students and their families when COVID restrictions are lifted. She has an herb garden kit with lights and plans to get a hydroponics kit with Betta fish. She had started a similar project at Yucca Loma Elementary School with her K-2 class before in-class instruction temporarily ceased.
Being a Master Gardener has helped Valerie expand her gardening knowledge and interests. She loves everything about gardening from pest control to the importance of trees. One of her favorite gardening activities is experimenting with methods to grow new things in the desert. She likes to grow flowers from bulbs. For the past six years has been experimenting with different types of bulbs to see which ones grow best in the desert. The most unusual thing she has grown is Loofahs. She grew so many that she and her daughter packaged them in spa gift baskets to give to friends.
Valerie said, “The Master Gardener program is a great community to learn, network, volunteer, and share meaningful experiences with people who have common interests. The learning is ongoing, and everyone comes with different levels of expertise or strengths. It is a great way to help share what you learn and do with others in your community.”
UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardeners are proud of Valerie Kimmel-Oliva's commitment to promoting environmental awareness and positive change within schools and communities. We celebrate her many successes and are honored to have her as a member of our community!
UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener, Meredith Hergenrader says that one of the best parts of volunteering at Master Gardener events is the camaraderie of gardeners sharing gardening tips and tricks with each other. She has been an active UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener volunteer and sharing her gardening knowledge in many Master Gardener events since her graduation in 2016 and resides in the high desert.
Before the cancellation of regularly scheduled monthly events at the Hesperia Library due to COVID restrictions, the San Bernardino County Master Gardeners and UC San Bernardino County Master Food Preservers gave presentations on various gardening topics at the library. Meredith gave presentations on integrated pest management (IPM). With a strong belief in IPM, she does not use chemicals on any of her property. She uses natural and cost-effective ways to get rid of pests. Meredith has also volunteered at local farmers' markets in Wrightwood and Phelan, answering attendees' gardening questions.
One of the most significant things that Meredith learned through being a member of the Master Gardener program is the importance of being water-wise. She says that with water resources becoming increasingly limited, we need to make the best use of the water available with an eye towards future sustainability. The Master Gardener program teaches us ways to do that. One of the methods is by planning our gardens around the needs of plants. Meredith says, “We should use plants that naturally grow in the space they are planted, and by using native plants.”
She advises everyone, especially if you consider using graywater in your garden, to be aware of ingredients in detergents and soaps you use. She makes her own cleaning agents like dish soap and clothing detergent. She does not use fabric softeners or products that are scented and don't easily biodegrade. With better technology, fabrics, and laundry products, fabric softeners are no longer necessary. Instead, Meredith occasionally adds vinegar to the rinse cycle as a softener.
Meredith believes that if you see something that needs to be fixed, “be the solution” and do something about it. She and a group of Master Gardeners and other volunteers were motivated to do something after seeing the vegetation at the Phelan Post Office being removed because of the rising cost of upkeep. She approached the postmaster with the idea of using natives and other plants that would not need much water. She received his approval to proceed with the project and quickly started to work.
It was a large space, so Meredith tackled the job in three sections. Meredith and other volunteers provided native and other drought-tolerant plants for the first area. In the second area, she planted succulents and cactus that she dug up from her own property.
Meredith would like to thank Wendy Walsh Walker for her wonderful donations of a California Flannelbush and Penstemon spectabilis. The California Flannelbush is a fast-growing evergreen shrub that can grow 20 feet high by 20 feet wide and is one of the most spectacular of the native California shrubs. Meredith said: “The team has been fortunate to have Wendy as an advisor for the project. She has studied California native plants and natural history all her adult life. She worked for the Riverside Corona Resource Conservation District, doing habitat restoration for four years before moving to Transition Habitat Conservancy.”
The maintenance worker at the post office was concerned about having to water the plants. Meredith explained that only native and other water-wise plants were used, and once they were established, they would require minimal water. She watered the plants for the first year but has not watered them for the past year, and they are still alive and well.
Last summer, the post office grounds had become overgrown with weeds. The maintenance staff did not have time to maintain the grounds. Because of COVID, they were being utilized to clean inside the post office full-time. Funds at the post office were too low to hire more staff.
Around the time the post office was becoming overgrown with weeds, Meredith received a call “out
of the blue” from UCCE Master Gardener trainee Debi Dossey. Debi asked if Meredith had been responsible for replanting at the post office two years ago and if she was interested in being part of a team of volunteers to clean up the post office grounds. Meredith saw the need and immediately said yes.
A team of volunteers worked early on Saturdays, late on Sundays, and in their free time for several months. Most of the work was done with hand tools. However, they used Weed Eaters to finish work around the pine trees. Meredith wants to acknowledge Debi Dossey for spearheading the clean-up effort at the post office, getting approval from the postmaster, and providing encouragement to her and the other volunteers.
All the volunteers were motivated by a spirit of civic duty. Darlene House (another UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener), Amanda Plunkett (owner of BeeRooted, an environmental service “dedicated to promoting healthy environments for honeybees and humans through live bee relocation services, education, and products”), Debbie McAfee (Phelan resident), Barbara Hamilton (Hesperia resident), as well as many other volunteers from local high desert areas participated. Congratulations to you all for a job well done supporting your local community
Meredith is a life-long learner with a desire to acquire ongoing knowledge about gardening, IPM, and protecting the environment. She has extended her gardening knowledge by taking classes at Victor Valley College Agriculture and Natural Resource (AGNR) Department. She is currently taking courses for her own self-knowledge (while toying with the idea of possibly getting an advanced degree in Botany in the future.) She has taken an IPM class, is currently taking a class on identifying 100 non-native plants by their Latin names, and in February, will be taking a class on native plants.
Meredith was recently asked by one of her professors at the AGNR Department to start a seed library at the college. She has wanted to create a seed bank in the high desert, so she agreed. Meredith already has some thoughts about how she will organize the seed library utilizing onsite resources and volunteers. There are greenhouses wherethe library can be set up to bring in seeds that can be traded. There is even an onsite lab where the seeds can be cleaned, dried, and stored. She is looking forward to getting started on the seed library as soon as COVID quarantine restrictions are lifted!
Learning about Meredith's extensive knowledge of holistic health and living a fully holistic lifestyle has been eye-opening and inspirational! In her 20's, she adopted an organic lifestyle and has grown everything organically ever since. Early on, she read a book called "Back to Eden" by Jethro Kloss about herbs, how to use herbs, eat well, and avoid toxins. After reading the book, she concluded that there is probably an answer to almost any problem by using plants.
Meredith has a passion for educating people about keeping a pure seed supply and avoiding pesticides. She has never seen any logical reasons for using a lot of chemicals in our day-to-day lives. She has given talks in the high desert, promoting healthy choices, and encouraging people to lead organic lifestyles.
Meredith has an extensive property that includes a goat farm, rabbits, horses, and herb, vegetable, and flower gardens. Over several years, she has removed most of the invasive vegetation on her property while encouraging native plants to take over.
Every year the native plants reseed and have slowly taken over the invasive plants. The native plant areas need little water. However, Meredith installed a drip system to use during the hot summers in the high desert. She enlisted the help of her grandson and granddaughter and their friends to haul way truckloads of weeds. Another generation of farmers in the making!
Meredith's life-long love of farming began on her grandparents' farm in Nebraska. Like many people during that time, they had a farm growing their own vegetables, planting fruit trees, and raising chickens. They canned what they grew and preserved eggs by the water glassing method. Keeping eggs by water glassing is a long-standing historical method that works well for long-term egg storage. Meredith learned to operate farm equipment and helped her grandparents with their farm.
Meredith's fascination with seed saving started with rows of unlabeled jars of seeds on shelves in her grandparents' basement in Nebraska. Her grandmother taught her everything that she knew about farming and seed saving. Meredith learned how to operate farm equipment and plowed areas on the farm. She and her grandmother planted the collected seeds in the cultivated areas. When she was only 10 years old, she produced a large flower garden in Nebraska and won her first garden award (from the Spanish American War Auxiliary that her grandmother was a member of.)
One of the many things I hear Master Gardeners say that they like about being in the group is meeting life-long friends with common interests. It must have been "serendipity" that Meredith met UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener Dana Marchica-Herring. She was attending a San Bernardino County Master Gardener composting class presented by Dana in Wrightwood. After the class was over, she and Dana "hit it off," talking about their mutual gardening interests. Dana encouraged Meredith to apply to the Master Gardener program. Dana moved and she and Meredith did not see each other for over 20 years, but Meredith always remembered Dana's encouragement and applied and was accepted into the Master Gardener program years later. After all those years of not seeing each other, Meredith and Dana “ran into each other” giving talks at a Whole Life Celebration in Wrightwood. Dana was representing the San Bernardino County Master Gardeners and Meredith was giving a talk on GMOs. As Meredith likes to say, their friendship came full circle.
Meredith encourages people to think about becoming a Master Gardener by saying, “it is easier than it looks.” Having an interest in gardening and a little gardening experience is a good start. The desire to help others become better gardeners is necessary, but it is also the most fun! She says that becoming a Master Gardener is a commitment, but there are many resources available through the Master Gardener Program that provide ongoing training.
The motto of Meredith's Valhalla Farm is, “A wee small farm with lots of animals, gardens, and penchant for independence.” I think it epitomizes the spirit of Meredith!
The UCCE San Bernardino Master Gardeners thank Meredith for her enthusiasm, diverse gardening knowledge, and dedication to creating a more sustainable future!
In today's world, we have too much information, too much pressure, and too much to do. Many people would like to contribute to their community. Still, they cannot find time in their busy schedules to volunteer. When UC San Bernardino County Master Gardener Michael Bains first became a Master Gardener in 2017, he wanted to volunteer. He was unsure how he could find the time while working full-time and raising two young children with his wife.
His love for gardening and passion for the UC Master Gardener program inspired him to find creative ways to manage his time to contribute to the Master Gardener program. He saw a need for volunteers to work on the UC San Bernardino County Master Gardener helpline and thought it would be interesting to learn more about it. Michael realized he could research callers' gardening questions and provide answers on his lunch hour or after hours while home with his family. So, he thought he would give it a try. That one small step evolved into Michael's providing consistent helpline support to the local community for several years.
Michael enjoys interacting with the people who contact the helpline. Everyone he has met through the helpline has been appreciative of the information provided by all the volunteers. He says it is a good feeling knowing that he has helped other gardeners. Callers realize the helpline's value delivering research-based and practical gardening and horticulture answers to their questions. San Bernardino County residents are invited to contact Michael and his fellow helpline colleagues with their gardening questions via telephone (909.387-2182) or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please leave a message with your name and contact information along with specific information about your gardening or landscaping question(s).
Michael learned through the UC Master Gardener program how easy gardening can be. In the class on fruit trees, he learned about the variety of fruit trees grown in San Bernardino and that many trees can be espaliered. Michael had a property section at his house where he wanted to create more privacy from his neighbors. He decided that a couple of espaliered apple trees might multi-task as a privacy screen and provide fruit for his family's consumption. Michael says the process for espaliering trees is not complicated and that anyone can do it. His first step in the process was to embed three posts in the ground 8 feet apart. In step 2, he ran a metal wire across the posts at 18 inches and 36 inches above the ground. Step 3, he planted the apple trees between the posts. Step 4, he attached individual branches of each of the trees to the nearest wire. As each tree branch grows, he continues the process of connecting limbs to the closest wire. Michael enjoyed his first experience with espaliering trees so much that he is espaliering some peach and nectarine trees in his front yard. What Michael likes best about the UC Master Gardener program are the people he meets.
He says that gardeners are some of the nicest people he has ever met and that he has “never met a grumpy gardener.” UC Master Gardeners are just a further example of that! If you are interested in becoming a UC Master Gardener, Michael encourages you “to go for it!” The 3-month research-based UC Master Gardening training takes time; however, it is rewarding. You will learn a lot about home horticulture, pest management, and sustainable landscape practices. (While the current class is full, if you are interested in next year's class, please leave your contact information with the MG helpline to receive information when the application process opens again).
Michael developed an interest in gardening when he took a vegetable class in 2015 at the Loma Linda Library. He learned a lot about vegetables and realized that he enjoyed gardening. At the time, he thought, "Hey, I can do this!" Taking the vegetable class helped him grow a vegetable garden in his side yard. His gardening interests have taken off from there.
Michael's Native Plants Garden
In learning about sustainable gardening and the importance of native and well-adapted non-native plants, Michael and his wife developed a strong desire to remove the lawn at their home and replace it with native plants. In 2017 he took out the family's front yard. I have heard many different approaches to taking out a lawn, from simple steps to more labor-intensive methods. Michael was so motivated to replace his yard with native plants that he removed it the old-fashioned way with a shovel and hours of backbreaking labor. Michael has been a member for several years of the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (RSABG), now known as the California Botanic Garden in Claremont. He has always enjoyed and appreciated native plants but thinks people sometimes do not fully appreciate them. They see native plants in their natural, wild habitat during the hot summer months when their beauty might not be at their peak. Michael decided he wanted to demonstrate that native plants can be an attractive addition to gardens in all seasons with some TLC, and they are easy to grow. Michael did not need to use any soil amendments; “you just plop them in the ground” and let them grow. Michael posted an excellent article on the UC ANR website about using native plants https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=24031.
He replaced one side of the yard with an olive tree and under plantings. He created a courtyard with native plants on the other side of the yard leading to the front door. Michael says it takes work (removal of whatever was there, adding irrigation, mulching) to start a native plant garden. Still, it is a good feeling of accomplishment! In April 2017, Michael decided to transition one of his raised bed vegetable gardens to a cut flower garden.
Michael's Cut Flower Garden
His decision to transition was because he fought a losing a battle with the “Squirrel Hoards of Chino Hills.” Michael found the transition easy because vegetable gardens and cut flower gardens require the same things - rich, loose soil, fertilizer, and regular watering. Be sure to read Michael's helpful article on the transition he made https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=25189.
Michael likes to use drip irrigation systems in his garden. He has converted nearly all his yard to it. Michael has practical advice to anyone interested in converting to a drip irrigation system. Use a drip line and prepare a grid system to cover the whole bed. Don't use a drip line that you will need to punch into and then add emitters. As the plants grow, you will need to move the individual emitters further from the plant. You will also have to go to the trouble of adding more emitters when you plant a new plant. They also seem to break more often. Michael enjoys container gardening as well as in-ground gardening. He likes to grow plants that do not do well in Chino Hills' heavy clay soil in containers. He has dahlias growing in containers this year with an underplanting of pansies, basil, mint, parsley, tea roses, and some clipped boxwood. Michael has a tip for gardeners who are interested in container gardening. The rabbits and squirrels eat those plants too, so be prepared to keep the critters out. They can reach higher than you think.
The UC San Bernardino County Master Gardeners are thankful for Michel's dedication to the helpline. He has extensive practical gardening knowledge that he shares with anyone who contacts the helpline. He also shows us how we can manage our time effectively to fit volunteer activities into our busy lives!
I recently enjoyed taking a “virtual garden walk” with UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener Betty Richards (class of 2016) while chatting on a Zoom call with her.
I came away from our meeting with the distinct impression that the gardening world is a better place with Betty in it. She has always had a deep interest in our environment and what individuals can do to protect it and make it a better place to thrive.
With increased awareness of the importance of native plants to birds, bees, butterflies, and our environment, Betty has become more active in promoting California native plants in home gardens. With her science background (she is a retired physician), coupled with a passion for sustainable gardening and protecting the environment, she has a winning combination for success.
Betty not only believes in the UC Master Gardener mission of sustainable gardening but exhibits her beliefs through her actions and participation in numerous volunteer activities. Volunteering for various Master Gardener activities has allowed Betty to meet people and find out about other projects that interest her. She has successfully and tirelessly led many Master Gardener projects.
Betty and fellow Master Gardeners designed the native plants demonstration garden at the historic Asistencia on Barton Road in West Redlands. The Asistencia was acquired by the Redlands Conservancy to teach about the history of Redlands, the history of native Californians, and as a place to demonstrate the importance of incorporating native plants in neighborhood landscapes. In November 2019, Betty worked with a large group of volunteers from the UC Master Gardeners and the local community to plant the demonstration garden. She continues to be involved in the Asistencia project by educating the staff about caring for the native plants. She is currently working with fellow Master Gardeners Heather Ross and Heather Nichol on designing and implementing the main front garden area and a cactus/succulent garden at the Asistencia. We look forward to seeing the changes that Betty and the UC Master Gardeners team and other community volunteers make to the Asistencia gardens.
Betty is the main organizer of the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardeners' presence at the Redlands Farmers' Market. She coordinates volunteers, makes sure the Master Gardener information table is set up, and that printed gardening materials are available to give out to people who stop by. Betty says it is fun to talk to the folks who visit. Working at the Farmers' Market is an excellent opportunity to get to know fellow master gardeners working at the table and trade gardening tips. Betty is looking forward to COVID restrictions being lifted so the Master Gardeners can get back to providing research-based answers to gardening questions!
In early 2020, Betty started organizing a quarterly series of talks by Master Gardeners at the Redlands Community Center on Lugonia Avenue. This was begun, as an educational activity for gardeners from the city's community gardens and attracted many community members. Betty hopes to continue these well-attended talks when COVID restrictions are lifted and the community center reopens.
Last spring, UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardeners Betty Richards, Linda Richards (no relation to Betty), and Brenda Spoelstra got together with the California Native Plant Society's local chapter and planned a tour of their local native gardens. Each of the three yards was in different lawn replacement stages with low water-use plants – Brenda Spoelstra's new drought-tolerant space, Betty Richards' maturing (3-5 years) garden, and Linda Richards' mature garden. When the COVID 19 pandemic made the tour impossible, they made virtual tours of the gardens and posted them online https://ifnaturecouldtalk.com/youre-invited-to-virtually-visit-three-california-gardens.
Gardens such as the three featured in the native plants video take time and care. The transition of Betty's lawn to a native plants garden has evolved over the past 3-5 years, and continues to evolve. In 2015, she decided she would begin the process of transitioning the water-thirsty lawn at her home to California natives and other low water use plants. She started the process by learning all she could about which native plants to grow in her garden. She took a class on how to grow native plants at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden (now California Botanical Garden) in Claremont, California. The 86 acres garden is a non-profit organization dedicated to California native plants. Events and classes are offered throughout the year.
Betty also researched native plants on the California Native Plant Society Calscape website https://calscape.org/. She recommends the website to anyone interested in making the transition to a native plants garden. It is an excellent source of information about which plants are native to any location in the state. It helps people figure out which plants to use, where to buy the plants and how to grow them.
When Betty started to work on the transition, she decided to leave a group of existing White Alder trees that thrived in the well-watered lawn space. She added an extension to a pre-existing drip irrigation line to continue to give the trees the irrigation they needed. After putting in a path of decomposed granite she planted a group of three desert willows and added other low-water-requiring native shrubs and perennials. Every year she adds a few more plants and throws out some wildflower seeds before the first winter rains.
She has recently added a birdbath to encourage birds to stop by and visit the garden. Over the years, she has seen an increase in native bees, butterflies, and birds. Her water bill has even decreased significantly! The evolution of Betty's garden continues with plans to add keystone species of plants to the landscape. Keystone plants for our local area such as live oaks, ceanothus, coyote brush, and black sage are especially important in supporting a diversity of life.
For the past year, Betty has been working as a volunteer at Caroline Park in Redlands. The City of Redlands 16+ acres park is planted with California native plants. On Tuesday mornings, a small, dedicated crew works to remove invasive non-native plants, prune, and maintain the plants and trails. If you have the opportunity, take a walk in Caroline Park to see which California native plants are blooming. The park is primarily a great example of the dwindling Coastal Sage, although it also showcases several habitats, including woodlands and various chaparral plants. Betty would love readers to view the beautifully produced video she made to spread the word about this local native plants gem https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7FQAb0AuOI. She hopes that the video will inspire people to plant some natives in their home landscape. I have viewed the video several times and am always touched by the “visual poem” created by Betty to the park.
In the summer of 2018, Betty and fellow UC Master Gardeners Anita Matlock and Trisha Fitzgerald participated in transforming a grassy area in the front yard of Micah House into a lovely drought-tolerant garden. Micah House in North Redlands is an after-school educational program for children and youth from 1st through 12th grades. It provides homework help, tutoring, literacy education and character-building themes and extracurricular activities, including gardening, art, music, and bike restoration.
Master Gardeners removed the existing lawns and replaced them with drought-tolerant plants watered by a new drip irrigation system. They partnered with Micah House staff, families of their after-school program, and the community. On planting the day, they worked with volunteers from Trinity Church and children and staff from the Micah House program to put the finishing touches on the water-wise garden. The project was made possible through a grant from the Inland Empire Resource Conservation District (IERCD). (Betty also serves as an advisory committee member for the IERCD/UCCE Master Gardener partnership which helps UCCE programs reach over 35,000 county residents each year.)
Betty has always been interested in outdoor activities such as gardening, birding, hiking, and camping. She has done some vegetable gardening in raised beds and some planting of “this and that about the yard.” So, when she heard about the UC Master Gardener program through a friend who was applying to Riverside County's class, she applied to the UC San Bernardino County course. The UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardeners are thankful that Betty took that step and joined.
Betty says that what she likes best about the Master Gardener program is meeting new friends who love to garden and share their gardening knowledge. She encourages anyone interested in becoming a Master gardener to apply. “There are many opportunities to try different gardening areas. It doesn't matter whether you are a very experienced gardener, an enthusiastic beginner, an introvert, an extrovert, no matter your age or abilities. You can start a community garden, present at gardening events, or even help provide research-based information to people calling in on the Master Gardener Helpline. There are many opportunities to utilize your current skills and strengths and develop new ones and develop confidence.” Working on the Micah House project gave Betty the confidence to jump into designing the Asistencia project.
Through the Master Gardener program, Betty has become more aware of the many ways people in our communities are working toward a sustainable future for our region and our planet.
Here is some "food for thought" that I came away with from my time spent chatting with Betty. Birds are an excellent indicator of the health of the environment. 29% of the population of birds in the United States and Canada have disappeared since the 1970s. Many songbirds require insects to feed to their young. Caterpillars are especially important to birds. Betty is a natural teacher, illustrating concepts through storytelling that non-gardeners and gardeners can understand. “Think of a caterpillar as a little sausage full of good nutrition for a baby bird. Most caterpillars (not just the Monarch butterfly caterpillars) require particular native plants. As we lose our wild areas to development, we are losing our birds and butterflies. This is because the ornamental plants we have used in our gardens for so many years do very little to support them. We can do something about this by planting native plants and avoiding the use of pesticides. We don't have to have 100 % of natives to make a difference."
GALLERY OF SOME OF THE NATIVE PLANTS IN BETTY'S GARDEN.