- Author: Debbie LeDoux
I recently spent a delightful morning with UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) San Bernardino County Master Gardener Vikki Gerdes, chatting in her light-filled kitchen over coffee and cookies about why she loves gardening and the UCCE Master Gardener program. As a Master Gardener, her focus in the program has always been water-wise gardening. She believes that "with over 60% of water use occurring outdoors, it is essential for residents to learn how to use water efficiently in their landscapes."
Vikki graduated from the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener class of 2003/2004. She feels lucky to have had the opportunity to take part in the training, especially since she almost missed the application deadline. Luckily for the program, she faxed in her application the last day of acceptance and, due to her background and enthusiasm, was welcomed into the program.
Her Master Gardener's final project was to introduce her classmates to the Maloof Foundation Gardens. Beverly Maloof had conceived of a water-wise garden on the site that would be in harmony with the Southern California climate and respectful of California's limited water supply. She received a Metropolitan Water District Water Wise Grant in 2003. Community members, including Vikki who led a team of volunteers including Master Gardeners, assisted with the plantings. Master Gardeners also created botanical listings of all the plants.
In 2014, Vikki was honored to be named as Featured Homeowner Grand Prize winner of the Cucamonga Valley Water District's (CVWD) 7th annual Water Savvy Landscape Contest. Open to all CVWD customers, the Water Savvy Landscape Contest promotes water efficiency by recognizing residents who have installed beautiful, water-saving landscapes. Each landscape is evaluated based on a set of criteria which includes overall water efficiency, appearance, selection of plant material, and irrigation design. Vikki and other Master Gardener volunteers and homeowners educate participants during the Garden Tour on what plants and design elements work well in California's inland climate. Participants take a self-guided tour through each garden to learn how to make their yards more water-efficient.
Vikki entered the Water Savvy Landscape Contest as a result of a complete overhaul of her landscape that included selecting appropriate water-wise plants and installation of a new irrigation system that fit the needs of her water-wise plants. Taking workshops and using the knowledge she gained through the Master Gardener program helped her in this daunting project. Vikki and her husband put a lot of hard work into their landscape to reduce their water use by 65% on their ½ acre lot. Since they wanted a water-wise garden that would blend in with their neighborhood, Vikki decided on a Water Wise Moonlight Garden, named for the water-wise plants that bloom with white blossoms.
Converting an all-turf yard into a more water-wise landscape on such a large lot was no easy feat, taking several years to complete. Attending workshops taught by UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener (and then Water Conservation Specialist at Chino Basin Water Conservation District) Debby Figoni as well as other Master Gardeners helped her gain the knowledge and motivation to see the project through to its completion.
Vikki is inspired to make a difference as a resident of the Cucamonga Valley Water District service area. Utilizing her experience and knowledge as a UCCE Master Gardener, she has been very involved with the Cucamonga Valley Water District Annual Garden Tour for several years. Recently, she has served as a judge for the Garden Tour and considers the overall design, level of involvement by the homeowner, use of water-wise plants, and appropriate irrigation system design for a successful water-wise garden in her selections. In 2019, she was recognized as a Garden Tour judge for her continuing commitment to the community and to water conservation.
CVWD greatly appreciates the UCCE Master Gardener program and values its contributions to the community. (The contest and tour for this year have been canceled as a result of the COVID-19 virus.) Vikki asked me to let everyone know that the CVWD offers many landscape programs to assist customers in doing their part to save water, including landscape workshops, the free sprinkler nozzles program, educational resources, and more. For more information about these opportunities, please visit www.cvwdwater.comor call (909) 987-2591.
Like most UCCE Master Gardeners, Vikki has had a life-long passion for gardening. Her parents had a vegetable garden and Vikki's job as a child was to pick up rocks in the garden. Master Gardeners' passion for gardening sometimes “runs in the family” going back many generations, as is the case with Vikki. She developed a love for flowers from seeds and bulbs from her grandmother, who grew many different types. Through research, she was able to find out that her great-great-great-grandfather earned his degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Edinburgh in 1865. After emigrating from Scotland to America, he settled in Detroit, Michigan, where he actively participated in the landscape design of Grand Boulevard, an 11-mile long thoroughfare running east to west in some places and north to south in others. It is recognized as a major civic attraction and its entire length is decorated with trees, shrubbery, and flowerbeds. Vikki's grandfather was also invited to participate in the landscape design of Belle Isle Park, known as Belle Isle, a 982-acre island park in Detroit developed in the late 19th century.
After coffee, Vikki treated me to a tour of her prize-winning water-wise garden. Each plant was specially chosen and planted by Vikki for viability in a water-wise garden. Vikki made an eloquent comment: “Wherever blooms are, people will be initially attracted to that part of the garden.” As Vikki tells me about each plant, the love and care that she has put into the garden are evident. From the story about the California bluebell that she planted by the curb (which then decided it liked a different location better and reseeded itself accordingly) to the three different species of oak trees that she hand-planted from acorns 18 years ago (more about these below!), her attention to the concept of ‘right plant right place' is clearly evident.
People may think that a water-wise garden means a garden with just cacti and agave. Vikki wants people to know that you have other choices (unless, of course, that is what you want.) She has planted a wide variety of water-wise flowers, shrubs, and trees in her garden. The extensive list of plants includes white California poppies (one of my favorites), Chinese redbud and western redbud trees, and a white crepe myrtle tree. There is a beautiful ‘Stellar Ruby' magnolia tree, which buds when there are no leaves. After the buds drop, the leaves start growing. And, of course, her beautiful oak trees!
Vikki attended a presentation several years ago by the Mystic Lake Iris Garden (famous for their award-winning irises). where each attendee received one complimentary iris. That one bearded iris Vikki received many years ago has since been divided by her to number at least 100 beautiful irises!
While we were touring the garden, I spotted several bees pollinating the California bluebells. Vikki told me that her garden attracts many pollinators, including the hummingbird moth, a brown moth that approaches flowers exhibiting the same pattern of flying as hummingbirds. Vikki described this moth so eloquently that I was intrigued enough to find out more information. The US Forest Service says it is “perhaps one of the most delightful insect visitors to your garden is the hummingbird moth. They fly and move just like hummingbirds. They can remain suspended in the air in front of a flower while they unfurl their long tongues and insert them in flowers to sip their nectar. They even emit an audible hum like hummingbirds. Often inexperienced garden visitors notice what they think is a tiny hummingbird fleeting among flowers such as bee balm (Monarda).”
She showed me the three varieties of oak trees (cork oak and a beautiful coastal oak in the front yard and a holly oak in the back yard) that she planted from those acorns about 18 years ago and shared with me how to tell if collected acorns are viable and will grow. After soaking in water overnight, viable acorns will sink rather than float. She suggested that when planting acorns, plant them sideways, and a seedling will start to appear in a few months.
One of Vikki's water-conserving successes was to install a drip irrigation system with low flow sprinklers. The entire property gets watered for no more than10 minutes three times a week including summer. I was surprised to learn that approximately ½ of the front garden area is not irrigated. Vikki explained to me that once plants in the area got established, they were able to sustain themselves. I have to admit that all the plants looked healthy and thriving! Plants in that area include coast rosemary, trailing lantana, drought-tolerant red fescue, two rock rose plants, and white sage (one of Vikki's favorites) used by Native Americans for ceremonial purposes.
Vikki also has a vegetable garden where she grows beautiful purple artichokes as well as other vegetables like green onion and lettuce. She finds that the purple artichokes are more flavorful than the Globe variety we buy in our local supermarkets. After discussions with Northern California artichoke growers and through her independent research, she was able to find purple artichoke seeds from an online distributor in Italy.
Vikki has found the UCCE Master Gardener program to be very rewarding. Near the end of the garden tour, she proudly told me that she has 1000 hours of volunteer time as a Master Gardener volunteer and is looking forward to receiving her Master Gardener Gold Badge, a rare and highly acclaimed accomplishment in the program! She encourages anyone interested in joining the Master Gardener program to apply, stating that “the Master Gardener program is a great place to meet people, make friends, and learn a lot about sustainable gardening." The UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardeners are fortunate to have Vikki Gerdes as a member of our community. Her dedication and many years of volunteer service to the program are much appreciated!