- 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!
- 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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!