Are you ready to transform your yard into a more sustainable landscape but don't know the first thing about irrigation systems? Our very own UC San Bernardino County Master Gardener Anita Matlock really knows her “stuff” when it comes to irrigation! She has enough experience and in-depth knowledge about irrigation to teach anyone how easy it is to transition their landscape from spray sprinklers to a drip irrigation system. She has provided numerous in-depth presentations and hands-on workshops that helped attendees increase their knowledge of beneficial irrigation concepts and decrease water usage in the garden.
As a Master Gardener, Anita has been our “de facto” trainer on irrigation systems since 2003. She says, “there are still many people who are unaware of how much water and money they could save by simply swapping out standard sprays and rotors for those with integrated pressure regulation. Communities everywhere continue to face the problem of high water pressure. High water pressure causes irrigation systems to experience a higher water flow rate, which results in wasted water, higher water bills, and damaged system components.”
Before retiring, Anita's professional background since 1991 had been in the irrigation industry. She was familiar with the irrigation concepts related to the "plant, water, soil relationship," but she was not familiar with growing plants. In 2003, she was inspired to join the Master Gardener program because she wanted to learn how to prune grapes and rose bushes. Through the Master Gardener program, Anita learned about growing roses and developed enough expertise and knowledge to teach a rose pruning workshop in January 2020.
Anita says that if you enjoy gardening and want to give back to your community, consider joining the Master Gardener program. You will experience many hours of pleasure spent in your garden while also teaching others about the many joys and benefits of gardening. She also wants to remind everyone to consider joining the UC San Bernardino County Master Food Preservers program if you enjoy growing edible gardens, especially if you grow many fruits, vegetables, and herbs. You will gain a lot of satisfaction from growing your own food, preserving it for your family, and giving your preserved foods as gifts! Joining the Master Gardener and Master Food Preserver programs will open opportunities for you to develop your interests in many different directions and make life-long friends with similar interests and passions.
Anita has used her expertise in irrigation to lead several Master Gardener landscape renovation projects. Her most recent project was in the summer of 2018, at Micah House in Redlands. Along with fellow UC Master Gardeners Betty Richardson, Trisha Fitzgerald, and other volunteers, she participated in transforming a grassy area in the front yard of Micah House into a lovely drought-tolerant garden. Master Gardeners removed the existing lawns and replaced them with drought-tolerant plants watered by a new drip irrigation system. The project was made possible through a grant from the Inland Empire Resource Conservation District (IERCD).
In 2018, Anita donated irrigation equipment to a research project that measured the impacts of gardening on 82 first and second-grade students at Norton Space and Aeronautical Academy, a charter school in an ethnically diverse neighborhood in San Bernardino. It was a team effort with Master Gardeners Loleta Cruse, Jackie Brooks, Robert Simpson, and other community volunteers. The study found that students participating in planting and caring for the garden had greater concentration and group cohesiveness than students participating in other group activities. These positive outcomes corroborated research from several other studies worldwide, linking enhanced mood, feelings of self-worth, improved cooperation with others, and even higher standardized test scores and grades to school gardening.
Anita's previous career in marketing and consulting sales presenting to customers and potential customers, and becoming a Toastmasters member helped her develop the confidence to speak in front of groups. She has presented at Master Gardener events too numerous to list in this article. In 2018, she presented SoCal Landscape Transformation – The Hunt for Water Savings, a workshop at Western Municipal Water District (WMWD).
In April 2020, she presented at a free webinar on DIY water-efficient landscape irrigation hosted by IERCD in partnership with the (San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District (SBVMWD.) She led attendees through the ins and outs of retrofitting and drip irrigation to increase their knowledge of effective irrigation practices and help decrease their water usage.
If you are interested in presenting as a Master Gardener but are hesitant to take that first step, you don't need years of public speaking experience like Anita has. She has some great tips to get anyone started. The first step is to study and understand the subject you are presenting. Prepare an outline for your presentation and practice it in front of your family and friends. Here is a great tip that worked for Anita when preparing to present a new topic to her fellow Toastmasters. She would introduce a shorter version to get feedback and gain the confidence to fine-tune her final presentation. Try it yourself and see how it works for you! Don't hesitate to ask your fellow Master Gardeners for help by giving you feedback on practice presentations or co-presenting with you on your favorite gardening topic.
Anita's latest gardening project reflects her interest in vertical gardening. If you have not already “dipped your gardening toes” into this fascinating and fun gardening activity, I highly recommend trying it! I think you will be inspired to try your hand at vertical gardening when you read about Anita's vertical herb and vegetable garden.
In 2003, Anita (and her husband Tony) decided they wanted something more visually appealing to look at while enjoying their patio than a bare wall separating their property from their neighbors. They also wanted herbs to use for cooking that they had grown themselves, so they built a vertical herb and vegetable garden made of wood. After 7 years, the wood had deteriorated. They recently created a new vertical system made of HDPE drainpipe to replace the old wooden system. Be creative and start your own vertical garden using unique and fun materials.
You never know where the path of being a Master Gardener will lead you. In 2003, Anita and her husband Tony started a hobby in home wine making. Anita also decided to join the Master Gardeners program in 2003 because she wanted to learn how to prune grapes (and roses.) Fast forward to 2018, when Anita and Tony decided to take their years as home winemakers to turn their hobby into an encore career to establish their commercial winery. Anita is now an award-winning winemaker and serves as a Board Member of the Yucaipa Valley Wine Alliance. She has provided hands-on training at many workshops on growing grapes and wine making.
UC San Bernardino County Master Gardeners are thankful to Anita Matlock for enthusiastically sharing her extensive knowledge of irrigation concepts that decrease water usage. She is a wonderfully approachable presenter, and we are proud to name her as this month's Spotlight Master Gardener!
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!
- Author: Brenda Spoelstra
I became a University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Master Gardener in San Bernardino County in January of 2019. I had learned about it from a friend who is an instructor with the UCCE Master Food Preserver program. She knew I liked gardening and suggested I look into it to see if it was something I would like to do. At the time I was working for a City Parks and Recreation Department in Planning and Design and my interest was increasing public open spaces and parks and gardens, knowing how essential they are to a healthy lifestyle. In another way, I was looking for an opportunity to get involved in the community. My interest in gardening and garden design just seemed like a natural fit for the UCCE Master Gardener program.
Within the UCCE Master Gardener program, I have volunteered in the San Bernardino School District (SBUSD), informational tables at farmer's markets, and more recently, with a non-profit after school program in Redlands called Micah House. There are two locations but the Micah House program on Oxford Street has been my main connection in the community, working with the mothers of after-school students on their vegetable boxes.
(The UCCE Master Gardener program would like to express gratitude to Micah House Executive Director Alison Anderson and the Chapel Street Micah House team for opening their doors to allow us to offer our 18-week training class there. In turn, Master Gardeners partnered with Micah House staff, families of their after-school program, and the community at large to transform a grassy area in their front yard into a lovely drought-tolerant garden through a grant from the Inland Empire Resource Conservation District.)
In one of my first UCCE Master Gardener activities with the SBUSD, I quickly became aware that it would be imperative to know Spanish well if I wanted to contribute to the UCCE Master Gardener mission to, "develop and extend practical research-based information in agriculture and natural resource to the residents and workforce of San Bernardino County." The US census states that 54% of San Bernardino County is Hispanic, and that 37% of the population speaks Spanish as their first language.
Thus, the story of how I needed to re-learn Spanish led to becoming the on-site UCCE Master Gardener at Micah House on Oxford Street. It began when I reached out to an extended family member who previously taught an immersive Spanish program and is the program director at Micah House on Oxford Street, for Spanish tutoring. After a couple of sessions, she asked if I might be interested in leading some gardening workshops in their vegetable beds started by the previous program director. Well of course! One hiccup. The mothers I would be instructing in gardening speak only Spanish and I want this to be inspiring, not complicated.
In the fall of 2019, with interpretation help from the program director, we set off together in planning the cool season vegetable garden with four mothers of children in the program. We were able to discuss the appropriate cool season vegetables and they selected the desired plants to grow over the winter. None had grown any of their own vegetables but were superb at gardening techniques such as weeding and planting. Much of gardening workshops can be a physical demonstration and then accomplished by the attendees, and I'm thankful for that because at this point my Spanish is still not up to a working standard!
With Spring coming, the program director had an idea how to include the children. We had an activity for them to plant seeds in recycled egg cartons, to be grown indoors as starts for the Spring garden. Again, the mothers were in the lead with selecting the warm season vegetable types and decided on a salsa garden.
With the help of the seed supply in the UCCE Master Gardener office, the kids were able to plant onion and jalapeno peppers. The mothers decided what to plant, install, regularly maintain. Harvest from the vegetable boxes are generously shared with their neighbors. Even with a few Spanish words, my sub-par communication skills seemed to go a long way with building rapport within the community and the workshops seem to be exciting for the kids and the vegetables are growing well! Fast forward to January, they are now harvesting cilantro, radish, lettuce, kale, and soon beets, carrots, and broccoli.
I like the personal benefits of gardening, doing something outdoors while getting a little exercise. Also, the learning and the organizational skills built on from one season to the next as you learn more about how plants behave in changing seasons. Watching plants form and develop over time makes it an activity of patience, as well, along with the maintenance lessons and mistakes. Before becoming a UCCE Master Gardener, I had experience in developing my backyard from a dead lawn to trees, shrubs, and flower garden (along with vegetable patch gardening). I believe the most outstanding thing I learned is the number of people volunteering in the community and the free resources UCCE Master Gardeners provide. I had not heard of the program up until then, and I think the program has many more ways to develop and transform in the coming years.
What I like best about the UCCE Master Gardeners program is the access to the science-based peer reviewed information regarding growing, pest management, and resources on plants and their requirements. It gives more confidence to the advice and recommendations I give in the community, which supports the work, rather than just relying on someone's personal experience with gardening. I think the first thing I would ask people interested in becoming a UCCE Master Gardener is whether they have a personality that likes to engage with the community. You can't stay sheltered away from the public while being a UCCE Master Gardener and you can't just have an interest in more information to be an arm-chair expert without experience. We test our knowledge in the community with questions they have or with activities which go along with instruction.
You may not have a natural desire for teaching, but you will need to have some interest in passing along knowledge with an open mind and appreciation for varying levels of experience in others. I tell people just because I have the UCCE Master Gardener badge does not make me a master of gardening -- it's the process of mastering, which never ends. I have a list of community service, both domestic and international. I've been involved with a City's Arts commission, 5k founder and organizer, an overseas director's assistant on a construction project, installed California Native gardens, community garden volunteering, and various past volunteer work with churches and work.
The purpose of this brief article is, even though you may think a little isn't enough, your efforts extended to the community can go a long way and grow into something you may not have planned. Stay open to opportunities and activities; you just never know where 'yes' will lead you.
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!
- Author: Debbie Ledoux
When Loleta first learned she had been chosen for the Monthly Master Gardener Spotlight for March, she said she didn't think there would be much of interest about her to put in the article. I soon came to the realization that this was Loleta's humility speaking. I found in talking with her that she has had many interesting life experiences, all while developing a huge knowledge base of gardening experience and training.
Loleta grew up in a small town in Illinois where she met her husband Pete. After she and Pete got married, life got very interesting for them! Pete was in the Air Force and they travelled around the world together for much of their lives. As Loleta and Pete traveled from place to place, she always had a garden wherever they lived. She would plant a garden knowing that she and Pete would move onto the next place within a few years and she would eventually leave her garden behind. Throughout their travels, Loleta learned a lot of gardening tips and tricks through her own research and good old-fashioned trial and error. She very generously and humorously shared with me some successes and failures that she learned in some of the many places she has traveled to and lived.
UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener Loleta Cruse
One of the most important gardening lessons Loleta learned during her travels is that gardening in California is nothing like gardening in the Midwest where she grew up. While living in Sacramento, she learned that calendulas are easy to grow in Sacramento in the winter, but she never had any luck growing them elsewhere. Loleta was able to really indulge and further develop her interest in growing things when she and Pete moved to their current home in the San Bernardino area.
Loleta accepting Certificate of Appreciation from Master Gardener Coordinator Maggie O'Neill
Loleta has been a UCCE Master Gardener in San Bernardino County for over 25 years, and, as she says, “the rest is history.” One of the most interesting projects that Loleta participated in her early days as a UCCE Master Gardener was “YIMBY” otherwise known as the “Yes, in My Backyard” program that Janet Hartin, Area UCCE Horticulture Advisor, UCCE San Bernardino County Co-Director and Master Gardener Program Manager initiated with the support of several Master Gardeners including Loleta, who earned Master Composter status after completing additional training. These ‘doubly certified' Master Gardener/Master Composter volunteers mentored community members who were interested in backyard composting, even visiting their homes to get them started with their own composting projects. Due to safety concerns, the home visits were discontinued but the training in this area continues by many current Master Gardeners who share their extensive knowledge on soil health and composting with San Bernardino County gardeners.
Loleta also participated in a project with UCCE Master Gardeners Jackie Brooks, Robert Simpson, and other volunteers as part of a multidisciplinary research team that measured the impacts of gardening on 82 first and second-grade students at Norton Space and Aeronautical Academy, a charter school in an ethnically diverse neighborhood in San Bernardino. It was a team effort, with UCCE Master Gardener Anita Matlock donating the irrigation equipment for the project. Loleta's many years of experience as a schoolteacher and School Counselor were very helpful in guiding the students on planting vegetables and tending the garden. Some of the students came from gardening families, but many did not. Many of the children were very surprised that vegetables that came from the grocery store started out as tiny seeds! When the broccoli, greens, and peas matured, they loved harvesting and eating fresh produce right in the garden. During the summer, students, families and even some teachers and staff kept the garden weeded, watered, and properly cared for. The study found that students participating in planting and caring for the garden had greater levels of concentration and group cohesiveness compared to students participating in other group activities. These positive outcomes corroborate research from several other studies around the world linking enhanced mood, feelings of self-worth, enhanced cooperation with others, and even higher standardized test scores and grades to school gardening.
If you call the San Bernardino County UCCE Master Gardener phone helpline on Tuesdays from 9:00-11:00 AM, there is a very good chance that you will reach Loleta (Ann) Cruse. She thought it would be interesting to work on the helpline, so she gave it a try to see how she liked it. Lucky for callers, she liked it from the beginning and has been providing excellent research-based information to anyone who calls since! Loleta managed the helpline, which included developing a record-keeping system and recruiting Master Gardeners to address inquiries from gardeners throughout the county, for many years which has greatly contributed to making it the success that it is today. (More and more inquiries come directly into the e-helpline (email@example.com) since photos of garden woes can be attached.)
Loleta Hard at Work in the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener Helpline Office Providing a Caller with UC Research-Based Gardening Information
Loleta's most recent gardening project has been replacing her lawn with drought-tolerant mostly California native plants. She and Pete covered the lawn with cardboard, then added mulch on top of the cardboard in June and let it sit until November. After sitting under cardboard and organic mulch from June to November the grass died and they began putting in their mostly California native plants garden. They sunk unglazed terracotta flower pots about 18” away from each plant to serve as an olla. An olla is an old Spanish method of watering plants. Loleta thinks they probably may not have filled the ollas as often as should have. True to Loleta's spirit, challenges are opportunities for learning and everything turned out great with most of the plants now thriving. She is already planning ahead for her next gardening project which will be to plant drought-tolerant California native plants in a park strip with an existing large tree.
Loleta Preparing to Plant Her Drought-Tolerant Garden at Her Home
I was interested in learning more about Loleta's use of cardboard as a mulch in her lawn so I asked her how she learned that method. She told me that she attended talks given by Lisa Novick, Director of Outreach and K-12 Education for the Theodore Payne Foundation and learned about using cardboard as a mulch. As Loleta said, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear” and it was certainly true for Loleta in meeting Lisa.
Loleta's Drought-Tolerant Garden
Work of an Artist, Work of a Gardener.......Or Both?
Her love of gardening is interwoven with her many memories of travel to different places she has lived. Garden sights and scents are associated with her memories, each place a different gardening experience that she carried to the next place she and Pete were transferred to. When they lived in Japan, Loleta loved the beauty of the azaleas and scented camellias. When they returned to the United States from Japan, they were stationed in Sacramento. With the memory of the beautiful plants she saw in Japan still fresh in her mind, she planted a scented camellia. And four years later, when they moved onto the next place, the camellia was still thriving from Loleta's care.
To know Loleta is to know that she has a wonderful sense of humor and way of looking at the world. She told me that she learned the meaning of “grass roots” when she tried digging up Bermudagrass by back door to one of their homes. She also learned that lizards eat bugs, but there aren't enough lizards to eat all the bugs in the garden. While stationed in San Antonio she learned that it's really hard to grow plants in caliche soil which is a layer of soil cemented together by calcium carbonate that's almost like concrete. San Antonio was one of the few places that she was not successful in growing a lot of plants. However, as gardeners know, we learn as much from our mistakes as we do from our successes. And then there was Las Vegas! That was where she learned that even though it's blistering hot in the summer, it also freezes in the winter, creating some unique gardening challenges. She did have some success with roses in Las Vegas! The most painful lesson she learned, though, was if you ‘top' (an often preached sin in our Master Gardener class) beautiful 15 feet Yew tree down to 4 feet it will die . . . quickly.
I think all gardeners know the pain of losing a plant that you have lovingly cared for. Loleta said “The pain is even greater if you are the one who murdered the plant. However, you shouldn't give up on any plant until you have killed it at least 5 times.” I call that a gardener's loving persistence and Loleta's wonderful sense of humor! A yard in one of the first homes that Loleta and Pete bought was filled by the previous owner with a whole array of plants that were placed without much thought about their needs, mature size, or how they would look together. When Loleta and Pete looked at the house for the first time, the realtor asked, “Do you like gardening?” Loleta replied, “HA, of course!” As she shared with me, gardening is a puzzle to be solved and she has always liked solving puzzles. Even though gardening in that yard was a struggle with the array of mismatched plants, poor soil, the heat, and the bugs, Loleta never gave up trying to solve another gardening puzzle.
Her persistence and love of sharing what she has learned with others is one of the many virtues that make Loleta a Superstar Master Gardener! Loleta told me that in the gardening world, there are gardeners, and there are artists. And she said, “I'm a gardener”. Gardening can be considered both an art, concerned with arranging plants harmoniously in their surroundings, and as a science, encompassing the principles and techniques of plant cultivation. She sent me the following picture of the garden at her home. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Loleta's garden looks like a work of art backed by scientific gardening principles.
Loleta and Pete are life-long learning gardeners, regularly attending many gardening workshops and talks. They have attended talks at the East Valley Water District in Highland, the Waterwise Community Center at Chino Basin Water Conservation District, and a couple of weeks ago they attended a meeting of the Redlands Horticultural Improvement Society. They rarely miss a presentation on California Natives, and they always learn something new at each talk. Throughout her many years with the UCCE Master Gardener program, Loleta has participated in nearly every program activity, providing research-based knowledge to the public. She has shared her knowledge at myriad UCCE Master Gardener events including information tables, workshops and seminars. She has mentored numerous students and her fellow Master Gardeners in the joys of gardening.
Loleta sent the following photo to me with a message, “Not a great photo, but great photos of me are harder to find than unicorns.” I think you will agree that this is a great picture of Loleta looking happy in her garden. The UCCE Master Gardeners of San Bernardino County are thankful to Loleta for her many years of gardening knowledge that she so generously shares with us all, her persistence, patience, humility and wonderful sense of humor!
Loleta at Home in Her Drought-Tolerant Garden. I Think We've Found a Unicorn!