- Author: Debbie LeDoux
Esther Martinez graduated from the UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) San Bernardino County Master Gardener program in 2019. In the short time since she graduated, she has taught adults and children how to grow food, how to sustainably garden to save water and attract pollinators, and even what plants are poisonous to dogs through her many volunteer activities focusing on the West End of the county.
She was excited to educate attendees in the Pumpkin Festival at the Chino Community Garden in October 2019. At this free workshop, participants enjoyed harvest-themed activities. They learned about sustainable gardening and were invited to decorate or carve pumpkins grown in the Garden's pumpkin patch. Esther helped participants make succulent gardens in pumpkin shells.
I was impressed with Esther's willingness to jump in and get things done. She has a fearlessness that is inspirational. When she first started volunteering at the Chino Community Garden, she saw a need to clean up the butterfly garden and did not hesitate to do it. The butterfly garden is now thriving with native plants, including two butterfly bushes that attract butterflies. Children visit the butterfly garden and learn through hands-on activities about gardening with pollinators. To prepare for a "Build A Butterfly Garden" workshop, Esther ordered Painted Lady butterfly eggs online and raised them at home.
Esther has a portable butterfly net enclosure she uses for raising butterflies at her home. She transports the butterfly enclosure to gardening workshops so that children can experience hands-on learning about butterflies. Esther has taken her butterfly enclosure to the Waterwise Community Center Seed Library in Montclair to share with visitors that come to get seeds for their own gardens.
She sees opportunities for using her gardening knowledge in unique ways. She presented the idea of having an information booth at a pet event with Healthy Chino, at Ayala Park, called “Bark Around the Park.” Both she and Roger answered pet owners' questions. They also provided them with printed information about plants that are poisonous to pets.
Esther has terrific organizational skills that she has used to coordinate UCCE Master Gardener events. She was in the midst of organizing a UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardeners West Valley get-together in May at the Chino Community Garden. She had received permission from the City of Chino to hold the get-together at the Chino Community Garden. The theme of the event was "A Beautiful Day in the Garden" in honor of Mister Rogers' "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood." Because of COVID-19 restrictions, she was not able to move forward with planning. Esther is looking forward to the time when UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardeners can once again hold gardening workshops at the Chino Community Garden and you can be sure she'll be taking a lead role! Through thick and thin, she continues to help maintain the Chino Community Garden, keeping it free of weeds and making sure the plants are watered.
She has known about the UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener program for a long time and was always interested in becoming certified. She finally realized her goal when she had more free time in 2019. She applied to the program after she attended a Water Wise workshop presented at Chino Basin Water Conservation Districts' Waterwise Community Center. She met Maggie O'Neill, UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener Program Coordinator and, after listening to her presentation on the Master Gardener program, decided "I'm going to just have to jump in and take a chance.”
Esther encourages anyone interested in helping county residents garden more successfully to apply to the Master Gardener program, which is taking applications beginning July 1 for the October 3, 2020 - March 6, 2021 program (completely online for the first time in its history!). For more information on the program and applying, please click here: https://cesanbernardino.ucanr.edu
In addition to gaining research-based sustainable gardening knowledge to share with the public, Master Gardeners meet people like Maggie O'Neill. Esther says that Maggie has been an incredible mentor to her. She has a good sense of humor and makes it fun to learn about gardening and horticulture.
Esther generously invited me to visit her garden and the Chino Community Garden. She humbly told me that her garden is like a "mom-and-pop garden, but it comes from the heart." I was delighted with the creativity Esther expressed in her garden. She has created themed areas in the garden that represent people and places that are meaningful to her. One area dedicated to her mother is decorated with pottery and mementos that Esther collected to remember her by. Another area is dedicated to her father-in-law. It includes items from his military career and a plaque acknowledging him as a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient. Some areas of her garden are whimsical and charming. Other areas are steeped in Native American culture that Esther is proud to be part of. Free in her artistic expression, Esther has created garden areas that are unique and meaningful.
Esther appreciates the importance of pollinators in gardens. She has created a Monarch butterfly garden habitat at her home. She received certification last year from the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) by agreeing to criteria set by NABA that demonstrate her commitment to creating and maintaining the habitat. The garden must have at least three different native caterpillar food plants, and at least three various native butterfly nectar sources. The use of pesticides is discouraged because they are harmful to butterflies. Esther has planted a lot of milkweed and other native plants in her garden to attract butterflies and create an environment where they can lay eggs.
Another one of Esther's gardening interests is creating topiaries. She developed a fascination with them when she visited Disneyland as a child. She even has a topiary section in her yard devoted to the "Three Bears." She has created several, including a large topiary of a horse in her front yard. She created an area she calls "my pig pen" that features topiaries of a mama pig and her two cute piglets. She made several of her topiaries by shaping screen cages in the shape of the desired topiary. She also has a few topiaries that she made freehand. While keeping the topiaries trimmed and maintained is time-consuming, it is a labor of love for Esther.
If Esther has an interest in learning something, she just does it! She decided soon after becoming a UCCE Master Gardener that she would enhance the knowledge she acquired in the Master Gardener classes. Esther wanted to learn about irrigation concepts to gain the skills to fix her own sprinklers and manage run-off in her yard. So, she went through the required training to become a Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper (QWEL). In addition to participating in 20 hours of education on local water supply, sustainable landscaping, soils, landscape water budgets, irrigation system components and maintenance, irrigation system audits, and scheduling and controller programming, Esther was required to demonstrate her ability to perform an irrigation system audit as well as pass the QWEL exam.
During the same time that she was attending the classes, Esther and her husband decided to design the front area of their yard with a dry stream bed. They put decomposed granite in the front yard, installed a trench and lined it with river rocks to create a watershed. The area now catches water that would have run off uncaptured into the street.
Esther has a long history of agriculture and gardening, starting when she was 5 years old. Growing up in Chino, Esther, along with her family, was always involved in agricultural activities. When she was younger and school was not in session, she spent many summers working in agriculture. Esther knows first-hand about the hard work that goes into agriculture. She has a lot of respect and empathy for the people who continue to work in the fields in the Central Valley and other California areas to provide us with food.
Esther likes to say that "Plants are like people. They are all unique." She has combined her creative side with her love of gardening in unique ways. She has an artist's sensibilities as well as a life-long knowledge base of agriculture and horticulture. I am pleased that I had the opportunity to get to know Esther, see her home garden, and visit the Chino Community Garden with her! She expanded my gardening knowledge and opened my eyes to new ways of thinking about gardening.
Esther felt honored to be featured as the July, 2020 UCCE San Bernardino County Spotlight Master Gardener. She very humbly told me that she was surprised to be chosen. UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardeners are thankful to Esther Martinez for her enthusiastic support, creativity, and extensive gardening knowledge!