- Author: Melissa G. Womack
- Author: Marisa Coyne
In April, we celebrate National Volunteer Month, honoring all of the contributions that volunteers make in our communities. All month long, the UC Master Gardener Program featured stories of exceptional volunteers, or Gardeners with Heart, making a difference in California's community, school, demonstration, and research gardens. While the past program year presented many challenges to program delivery, the surge of interest in gardening has never been higher. The passion and support of UC Master Gardener volunteers have been essential in the program continuing to serve our mission.
This past year, with COVID-19 stay-at-home orders and limited safe activities, the UC Master Gardener Program saw a rush of gardeners looking for help and advice on starting a garden. Calls and e-mails poured into UC Master Gardener Program hotlines, Facebook groups, and websites. Today, we celebrate Gardeners with Heart, whose commitment to continuing program extension over the past year using new digital platforms and technology has helped the program stay connected to our communities.
Allen Buchinski – Santa Clara County
Allen Buchinski joined the UC Master Gardener Program in 2003 because of his love for gardening and its sense of community. “I joined the Master Gardener program in 2003 because of my interest in learning more about gardening and to become part of a like-minded community, looking ahead to the day I'd retire. I worked full time while also volunteering for thirteen years before retiring in 2016. I've continued (and stepped up) my UC Master Gardener activities since then,” says Allen.
Allen has played an instrumental role in the development and ongoing maintenance of the UC Master Gardener Program in Santa Clara County's website. He became the chair of the website team following his retirement in 2016 and took on the role of co-chair for the program's help desk. On the first Friday of each month since 2003, Allen has helped answer gardening questions from the public at the help desk. Since COVID-19 and the surge of interest in gardening, Allen helped the program quickly switch its help desk to be a remote, virtual space. “The help desk has been especially interesting during the past year because of the pandemic. We needed to adjust our processes to work from home as well as deal with a 50% increase in the number of questions. We answered more than 2,100 questions from March 2020 to February 2021!” says Allen.
Not only has Allen helped bring the program's help desk online, but he also coded an online storefront for the program's support group to sell seedlings and schedule pick-ups. “[Allen's] website know-how and swift action saved thousands of plants from the compost pile,” exclaims Katherine Uhde, program coordinator, “these sales bring in tens of thousands of dollars to our partner non-profit, Friends of Master Gardeners, used to support outreach and our demonstration garden Although both sales were limited to UC Master Gardeners, friends, and family last year, all of the plants were sold or donated to non-profit agencies throughout Santa Clara County. This would not have happened if it weren't for the quick work of Allen and his team. Because of their efforts, the demonstration gardens and the advisory board had funding in 2020-21.”
Michele Willer-Allred, Ventura County
“Social media has been a great tool, especially with promoting our virtual workshops and interacting with other Master Gardeners throughout the country. But there is so much more we want to do,” explains Michele, “We plan to start an e-mail newsletter; create educational gardening videos and virtual tours of local gardens; profile more of our amazing garden volunteers; and go outside our county and visit with other UC Master Gardener Programs. We also hope to increase our reach to a broader, more ethnically diverse audience, as well as younger gardeners in our community, since they are indeed our future!"
With all in-person events and limited activities due to COVID-19, Michele felt it was important to still communicate about all of the dedicated volunteers still making such an impact in the community. She developed a series of interviews with UC Master Gardeners to learn from them and share their advice with the public. With so many people starting “victory gardens” during quarantine, she also felt it was important to continue sharing gardening resources and science-based gardening information with the public.
Rita Evans - Fresno County
Since 1993, Rita Evans has been an active UC Master Gardener volunteer in Fresno County. In her 28 years with the program, she served many roles and shared her many talents and skills to serve the program's mission. “I am a born volunteer and the program gave me wings to serve, to stretch and grow. I have strong organizational skills and love team building,” says Rita, “the UC Master Gardener Program has allowed me to use those skills to create and serve in many leadership positions.”
When the pandemic hit and COVID-19 forced the closure of the UC Cooperative Extension Fresno County office and most volunteer activities, Rita immediately came up with a plan on how volunteers could stay connected and continue to earn hours. “Rita shared her idea on how we could offer a UC Master Gardener “refresher course” similar to the new training course for our current volunteers. She quickly began to gather a group of volunteers to transfer course classes online to a digital format,” says Denise Cuendett, program coordinator in Fresno County. UC Master Gardener volunteers immediately started pulling together tech teams and presenters and scheduled bi-weekly classes on Zoom.
“When the pandemic hit, our online refresher course was born. It is a 16-session 'refresher' using the UC Master Gardener Handbook with our own UC Master Gardener volunteers being the featured speakers. It is providing a path for volunteers to earn their required hours, to socialize virtually with a study buddy and to refresh their horticulture knowledge ... it's a win-win,” explains Rita.
After seeing the success of the Zoom classes, Rita was inspired to continue the county's annual volunteer awards program on Zoom last December. Rita is part of a team of volunteers that created a “party-in-a-bag” that included a dinner, mask and other small gifts to awardees. The creative planning provided a way to celebrate the volunteer impacts COVID-19-style, but still in a festive way.
Digital Superstars Team, Marin County
The UC Master Gardener Program in Marin County recently completed a huge renovation of its public website, marinmg.ucanr.edu. The new website launch was made possible by a team of more than 40 volunteers, who spent eight months to make sure the site was visually appealing, easy to read, and navigate. Three key members of the team were recently nominated by Nanette Londeree for their hard work and dedication to the project, Kathryn Parkinson, Roxanne Ansolabehere, and Linda Stiles.
“This past year, a group of us decided to transform and rebuild our organization's entire website. We started as a small group, which ultimately grew to nearly 60 volunteers. It became a focused and vigorous goal for all of us, and I felt lucky to have been involved in the endeavor. The result is a beautiful and well-organized website that richly serves our community,” shares Roxanne Ansolabehere.
Roxanne developed numerous digital organizational tools to layout the new website navigation, schedule writers and editors, track progress, and allow for submission and retrieval of documents and photos. These tools were vital to the success of the new website project.
Linda Stiles, a gifted graphic designer, helped make the project “sparkle.” Her knowledge of technology, incredible aesthetics, ability to visualize the final product, and generosity of time were elemental to the success of this project. Linda designed the overall look and feel of the website and built every page using the existing required platform, focusing on user appeal and ease of use for all devices. She developed nearly a hundred unique banners, chose photos that promoted diversity, and did it all with grace and wry humor.
About National Volunteer Month and Gardeners with Heart
Special appreciation to Nanette Londeree, UC Master Gardener volunteer leader in Marin County, Alexa Hendricks, program coordinator in Ventura County, Katherine Uhde, program coordinator in Santa Clara County, and Denise Cuendett, program coordinator in Fresno County, for sharing these stories./h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>
- Author: Marisa A Coyne
The UC Master Gardener Program is well known for its volunteers' prolific extension of home horticulture, sustainable landscaping, and pest management to California residents. At times behind the scenes and at other times front and center, UC Master Gardener Program Coordinators and lead volunteers work diligently to ensure that volunteer cohorts have the skills and resources they need to succeed.
Last month UC Master Gardener statewide staff, program coordinators, and volunteer leaders gathered for their annual coordinator meeting. This year the annual coordinator meeting included two packed days full of training, sharing, and enrichment centered on volunteer engagement.
Volunteer engagement is an approach to volunteer leadership that attempts to support volunteers throughout the volunteer lifecycle – from identification and selection through orientation and training to program recognition and evaluation. Presenters delivered informative presentations focusing on generation-informed approaches to volunteer engagement, best practices in adult and land-based learning, program evaluation, communication with government officials, and new resources.
The group re-convened bright and early the next day for a presentation by UC Davis Student Farm Associate Director, Carol Hillhouse. Drawing on her 30-year career in outdoor experiential learning with UC, Hillhouse outlined eight best practices for adult and land-based learning. “Adults come to education experiences with prior knowledge and with expectations,” said Hillhouse. “Successful volunteer engagement includes the acknowledgement and application of prior knowledge and an ability to meet adult learning goals.”
Next, Melissa Womack, Statewide Marketing and Communications Coordinator and Tamekia Wilkins, Statewide Evaluation Coordinator, led the group through an activity designed to help folks share program evaluation data using storytelling and data. As daily communication moves increasingly online, networks like Twitter and Facebook create opportunities for sharing impact with community members and community leaders.
A list of coordinators can be found the UC Master Gardener Program website. Note: Some counties do not have UCCE staff coordinators. In these cases, UCCE Advisors or County Directors are listed as the lead contact per UC ANR policy.
Thank you to all who attended and presented at this year's coordinator meeting!
- Author: Lauren Snowden
It may seem odd to see seventy-five people at a hotel conference center learning about insects and rats on vegetables, but not if you are a UC Master Gardener. The UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) in partnership with the UC Master Gardener Program just wrapped up the Vegetable Pests and Solutions train-the-trainer series. More than 340 UC Master Gardener volunteers from across the state took part in the regional trainings offered in Fresno, Orange, Placer, San Luis Obispo and Sonoma counties.
The advanced UC IPM training offered a hands-on, train-the-trainer experience that increased participants' knowledge of insect pests of vegetables, vegetable plant diseases and disorders, and vertebrate pests of gardens and homes. One of the highlights of the training was Human-Wildlife Interaction Advisor, Niamh Quinn, showing a taxidermy collection of vertebrate pests at the Orange and San Luis Obispo County workshops. Being able to handle and observe the different markings, colors and claws on certain animals makes future identification easier as participants learned the signs to look for when identifying vertebrate pest damage in the vegetable garden.
UC Master Gardener volunteers were lead through exercises that mimic questions commonly received from the public. Some of the questions had a photo, others just a sparse description that volunteers worked together to solve using online IPM resources and materials provided at the training. The exercises were designed to challenge and expose the learner to different types of scenarios and tools they can use in the future.
Outreach and Education
The UC Master Gardener Program's mission is to extend research-based information, by attending advanced trainings such as this, volunteers are even more prepared to contribute to the program's mission. With exposure and practice using new resources and materials training attendees have the tools and knowledge needed to educate the public on vegetable pests and solutions including scripted PowerPoints, activities, handouts, and vegetable pest identification card sets. One attendee reported “As a first year UC Master Gardener, this training helped me become more comfortable and more confident researching answers for pest management questions.”
At the conclusion of the training volunteers convened with their fellow county volunteers to talk about their plans to take new found knowledge back into their communities. Some of the great ideas generated were:
- offer seasonal pest problems workshops
- include a “Need Help Solving Pest Problems?” flier for all events
- add IPM tips to newsletters and social media
- integrate IPM into presentations as appropriate or relevant to topic
- add signage for damaged or diseased plants with IPM solutions in demonstration gardens
- share IPM toolkit at farmers markets and demo garden events
How We are Making a Difference
One portion of the agenda was focused on how the UC Master Gardener community is making a difference. With 6,000+ volunteers serving more than 517,000 Californians per year the impact of the UC Master Gardener volunteer effort is truly amazing. Through statewide program evaluation efforts the impact in sustainable landscaping, food gardening and community well-being is now being analyzed and reported in the programs annual report. Volunteers can see the impact they are having statewide and be proud of being part of a group that social changes they are seeing in their local communities.
As active volunteers and life-long learners UC Master Gardeners are a powerful educational tool and inspiration for others not only in the garden but in the volunteer community. Statewide educational offerings like UC IPM's train-the-trainer series help hone the diagnostics skills while building confidence in the subject matter.
The next statewide training opportunity for UC Master Gardener volunteers will be the 2020 UC Master Gardener Conference, Sept. 28 –Oct. 2, 2020 at the Granlibakken, Tahoe. The conference is the beginning planning stages and taking speaker and topic suggestions, click here to suggest a speaker or topic.
- Author: Donna Navarro Valadez
“Be very afraid…….Be deathly afraid,” of these very spooky garden inhabitants for Halloween!
When you think of Halloween, the first things that come to mind are ghosts, goblins, ghouls, and other spooky creatures. Did you know that spooky fungi and plants can also be lurking in your garden? Creepy fungi and plants exist, and are the perfect opportunity to put the scare into your landscape.
If you're trying to conjure up a terrifying garden or create a truly inspired spine-chilling floral display for Halloween, you may want to include one or two of these frightening garden dwellers. Read on at your own risk!
Bleeding tooth fungus or ‘devil's tooth'
Scientifically known as Hydellum peckii, bleeding tooth is a fungus. This fungus gets its name from the thick red fluid that oozes through tiny pores across the white cap, generating the appearance of blood. The red gooey sap is the result of guttation, a process that occurs in moist conditions where excess root pressure forces water out of the plant or fungus. This mushroom can be spotted in America's Pacific Northwest and in Europe. It is typically present among moss and pine needles in coniferous forests. Despite its ghastly appearance, the mushroom is not toxic, but also not recommended for consumption. Bleeding tooth fungus contains atromentin, a chemical which has effective antibacterial and anticoagulant properties like heparin (prevents formation of blood clots). Not only is the mushroom used medically, the ruby red like goo is also used in textiles to produce colorful pigments.
Scientifically known as Monotropa uniflora, this plant is a perennial wildflower in the blueberry family. The entire plant is translucent, often appearing almost “ghostly” white. The “ghostly” white droopy flowers of the plant resemble spooky white figures found in dark, chilling underground crypts. This plant is found throughout the United States in deep, shady, rich woods at low to moderate elevations. Ghost plant is parasitic; it feeds on other organisms. These flowering plants don't photosynthesize, meaning they don't need light to grow. In fact, the ghost plant can actually grow in the dark, making for a truly frightful night.
Scientifically known as Dionaea muscipula, Venus flytrap is a carnivorous plant. This particular plant may remind you of the famous movie Little Shop of Horrors. “Feed me, Seymour”, is a quote you may remember. The Venus flytrap is a predator in the plant world. It has several small, tooth-like structures that serve as a “mouth”. This “mouth” closes around unsuspecting insects that the plant has lured in. Once the insect is caught, the plant emits enzymes that slowly digests the bugs. What remains is a brittle figure of appendages and the exoskeleton of the insect. The nutrients extracted, specifically nitrogen, are then absorbed into the plant. This nitrogen assists in the plants' survival in unfriendly environments. This carnivorous plant is native to North America, mostly found in subtropical wetlands in North and South Carolina. Because of its “alien” like appearance, the Venus flytrap would make for a petrifying addition in any home.
Scientifically known as Mammillaria elongata ‘Cristata', this cactus is a popular houseplant or outdoor specimen plant (in warmer climates). This gruesome looking plant has unusual development patterns because when it grows it appears to look like a zombies favorite treat, the human brain. An interesting fact about this cactus is how the shape occurs. The brain cactus is a mutant form of a cactus that is supposed to grow straight finger-like formations. Cristata's mutation creates a crested appearance for the plant and cause the pads of the plant to twist. Brain cactus is native to Central Mexico, they grow in rocky outcroppings and between crevasses.
As you can see, fungi and plants do some pretty creepy things! They do anything from oozing blood-like fluid, growing in the dark, devouring unsuspecting insects, to looking like human brains. Whether or not Halloween costumes are your thing, there is still an opportunity to get your scare on this Halloween season. Conjuring up a display of any of these garden dwellers will definitely bring some spine chilling reactions.
Have a wonderful, safe, and spooky Halloween!
- Author: Marisa Coyne
At first glance, the Robert Sinclair Scott Vegetable Garden, tucked up against the banks of the Arroyo Corte Madera del Presidio creek in southern Marin County, looks like any tidy, well-maintained community garden. Inside the garden gate however, the diligent gardeners working amongst the spindly cosmos, inky delphinium, sturdy kale, and near-dry late season sunflowers, are all over the age of 75.
That's because Robert Sinclair Scott Vegetable Garden is located at The Redwoods Retirement Community, an independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing facility (including HUD Section 8 apartments), in downtown Mill Valley. The Redwoods is one of a growing number of facilities, in Marin County and throughout the state, designed for older adults and aimed at supporting Californians through the aging process.
According to state projections, in ten years, 21 percent of the California's adult population will be over the age of 65. As our state population ages, and as sites like The Redwoods demonstrate, Californians will need to build and sustain healthy living environments for our seniors. In Marin County, gardens are part of the plan.
On the morning of Sept. 17, UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) staff, academics, and UC Master Gardener volunteers gathered with Marin County Health and Human Services employees in San Rafael to tour four gardens located at adult residences throughout the region. Organized by UCCE Marin's School and Community Gardens Coordinator, Lauren Klein, the tour highlighted successful garden projects for older adults, while identifying challenges related to garden design and accessibility.
Mackey Terrace, an affordable housing site for seniors, is home to a garden of nine waist-high raised beds including one ADA-compliant bed accessible by wheelchair. Mackey Terrace gardeners adopt their own beds or choose to share beds with other residents, growing food and flowers of their choosing. During our visit, one resident selected a basketball-sized watermelon she jokingly named “the papa” of her plot, sliced it open and served each tour attendee a bright pink juicy slice. Another resident showed off her impressive bed of zinnias and cosmos. Still another noted that she inter-planted nopales (or cactus) with jade and pumpkin. Several of the Mackey Terrace residents are longtime gardeners with knowledge about plant care and soil. “Before I moved here, the thing I missed most was my garden … Now I grow what I want … as long as the gophers let me!” said one enthusiastic gardener.
At Golden Hinde, a Marin Housing Authority affordable housing site, tour attendees were led behind the recreation room to a small garden space, teeming with large not-quite-ripe tomatoes. Sarah, a resident leading the tour, shared that everything she knew about caring for plants came from fellow resident and gardener, Charlie. At this small site, UC Master Gardener volunteers dispense advice about saving lettuce seed and watering regimes for tomatoes - emphasizing that in gardening, as in life, there are many paths and learning is constant.
Bennett House, a Mercy Housing-run affordable housing facility, is home to the largest garden on the Marin tour. Nestled into a hillside in Fairfax, the Bennett House garden boasts pear, peach, and apple trees along with a dozen raised beds overflowing with nasturtium, tomatoes, and melons. Residents adopt their own beds, but also contribute seeds and labor to a community plot nearest the garden shed. Even outside of the garden, Bennett House has a strong focus on food access, serving as a drop-off point for organizations such as the Food Bank of San Francisco and Marin and ExtraFood.org. On food drop-off days, fruits gleaned from the on-site garden are available for residents to collect. During the tour, UCCE staff and volunteers, standing on tiptoes and on the corners of raised beds, harvested Bartlett pears.
The final stop of the tour, the Robert Sinclair Scott Vegetable Garden is a 20-year old community garden on the property of an older adult facility and adjacent to Audubon open space. Residents and community members are welcomed into the garden seven days a week. Garden Activities Coordinator, Kurt Ellison, and garden ambassadors and volunteers from the local community, support residents as they seed, weed, and harvest. Ellison has designed the garden and his activities to optimize inclusion of his aging residents. Garden instructions are posted daily, indicating what tasks need doing. Garden beds are labeled. Garden activities are advertised in large, easily legible fonts. Beds are spaced appropriately to allow wheelchair and walker access. The garden's most popular activity is its u-pick flower bed, where residents can create bouquets of seasonal flowers to bring back to their rooms or apartments.
While the project of garden accessibility for older adults in the state of California is still very much in progress, UCCE Marin's tour of adult residence gardens demonstrates that interest in home horticulture persists, even when home changes, and that with the proper support gardening can be an activity for any age.
To learn more about the UC Master Gardener Program in Marin County and UCCE Marin's work to support school and community gardens, visit: http://marinmg.ucanr.edu/Community_Service_Projects/Marin_Community_Gardens/.
The tour was followed by the Marin Food Policy Council—a monthly meeting of food systems stakeholders working to support policies that expand equitable access to local and healthy food through community and school gardens, urban agriculture, and other means.
The tour was funded by a collaborative grant through the Marin Community Foundation to improve healthy eating and active living for older adults in Marin County. The tour built on UCCE Marin's ongoing work to support the sharing of best practices across community gardens, elevate public awareness of the benefits of community gardening, and expand municipal policies that are supportive of community gardens. As part of her program, Klein has also created an interactive map of community gardens in Marin County available here and published a booklet featuring garden highlights, A Garden for Everyone: Tales of Marin's Community Gardens.
Big appreciation to all of the staff and residents of Mackey Terrace, Golden Hinde, Bennet House, and The Redwoods for opening up their gardens and for sharing their harvest. Gratitude to UCCE Marin staff and academics including School and Community Gardens Program Coordinator, Lauren Klein, Food Systems Advisor, Julia Van Soelen Kim, and Communications Specialist, Bonnie Nielsen for organizing the event. Special appreciation to two tour attendees, UC Master Gardener Program of Marin County volunteers, Sandy T. Parry and Barbara Searles, for sharing their garden knowledge and connecting residents to UC horticulture resources.