- Author: Debbie LeDoux
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!