Above: The gardens at Schoolhouse #18 in Marshall, a FCMG project. Photo by Franklin Garcia
Appreciating the contributions of the Master Gardeners of Fauquier and Rappahannock Counties
By Natalie Ortiz and Jessica Lesefka | Photos by Franklin Garcia
Our local Master Gardeners bring a wealth of knowledge to our community and put a lot of time and effort into local projects such as the Rady Park Arboretum and Schoolhouse #18 gardens in Marshall. They are also enthusiastic about teaching others about sustainable gardening. What does it take to become a Master Gardener?
This month, we had a chance to talk with Tim Ohlwiler, horticulture extension agent in the Fauquier County Extension Office, and two local Master Gardeners, Janet Nixdorf and Mary McGee, about their Master Gardening experiences. We believe it’s important that we highlight the hard-working volunteers who give so much time and efforts to helping our community.
What is an Extension Master Gardener?
Tim: Extension Master Gardeners are volunteer educators in community. They share horticulture information with youth and adults to improve their lives around environmental stewardship, food production, and improve communities through social impacts. Our mission is to educate Fauquier and Rappahannock County residents about safe, effective and sustainable garden management practices.
What are the requirements for becoming a Master Gardener?
Tim: Becoming a Extension Master Gardener begins with 50 hours of classroom education. It provides training in many topics including botany, pruning, pest management, soils, insects, and various types of plants. After completion of this course, interns than complete 50 hours of hands-on training through volunteer activities available in our community.
Can you tell me a little bit about your personal experience becoming a Master Gardener?
Janet: No experience necessary; just a willingness to learn and volunteer your time. Personally, I had just retired and had always dabbled in gardening when I had the time. I really wanted to learn more about it, and the Master Gardener program provided the intensive training and experience necessary. Once a person has gone through the training, there are many opportunities available to volunteer in the community (please see the various FCMGA brochures that list the various projects we are working on). The program is set up so that you can initially try a number of the projects until you find one – or more – that suit you.
What is the connection between Master Gardeners and Virginia Tech and Virginia State University?
Tim: Master Gardeners are volunteers with Virginia Cooperative Extension, which is the outreach program of Virginia Tech and Virginia State University to share research based information. The goal is to help residents of Virginia improve their lives.
What is your favorite part about serving as an Extension Master Gardener?
Janet: Not only do I enjoy learning and growing, but the social and professional contacts are really helpful. Whenever I have a gardening questions, I know I can find someone who can and will help me! There is a lot of sharing of plants as well.
How do you serve and educate in the community?
Janet: I have a background in education, and have been able to put those skills to use in teaching people about gardening. I have given several workshops to the public and to other Master Gardeners on gardening topics. We also have opportunities to provide gardening information through the Farmers Market and various community fairs where we set up booths (such as the Home & Garden Show, the Fourth of July Celebration at the WARF, and the Remington Fair).
Mary: I work with the marketing committee and design pamphlets, rack cards, posters, and bulletin boards that advertise our work and class schedules. At Rady Park, I also design pamphlets and rack cards to help educate people about the arboretum, and I update the educational website we have developed for the park.
Tell me about a project you enjoy volunteering with.
Janet: I’ve participated in a number of projects. I have been president and now am past president on our Master Gardeners Association Board; I work with the herb garden at Schoolhouse #18 in Marshall; I am on the Marketing Committee where we work to make information available on gardening issues and upcoming articles in the local press; and I am currently the Speakers Bureau Program Manager where local organizations can request a speaker on gardening topics.
Mary: I have been a co-project leader (with Winny Buursink) of the Rady Park Arboretum since 2014. I became involved with this project because I live near Rady Park and visit it often. It has been an eye-opening experience to learn about trees and shrubs in a public setting and has challenged me to use what skills I have to develop a website for the Rady Park Arboretum, try my hand at landscape design for new beds, and learn and help teach the public about tree identification, proper location, and care.
What advice do you have for people who want to start gardening?
Janet: Think about your objectives: are you focused on landscaping or on vegetable gardens? Either way, look at gardening magazines, learn online, and go to any workshops that are available. (FCMGA Master Gardeners run many workshops from spring through early fall. Also, nurseries like Merrifield run workshops that are free or low cost.) Feel free to go to local nurseries and ask questions!
You can have real highs and lows when gardening! I learn from the “lows,” and many of my experiments have provided some real successes. It’s important to realize that there are many factors that contribute to the success or failure in the garden (e.g., weather!). It’s important not to get discouraged by the failures.
What about Container Gardening?
Janet: I have an extensive container plant garden on my deck every year (in addition to regular vegetable gardens). I plant vegetables, flowers, and herbs in containers. Many people think they have to have a dedicated area in their yard for a garden, but there can be beautiful container gardens on decks, and even balconies. They require a little more watering, but I get compliments every year. And it’s great to just step out on the deck to clip a few herbs for dinner. It’s easier for pest control as well – I’ve only ever found one caterpillar on a container plant! And I guess I’m lucky – so far, no deer have ventured onto my deck!
We’ve been hearing about the importance of incorporating native plants into landscaping. Can you please explain the benefits?
Janet: Bees are perhaps the most well-known pollinators in landscaping – without them, we are endangering our whole agricultural ecosystem. There are many other insects, however, that also pollinate plants. Thankfully, many homeowners and farmers are becoming aware of the dangers of unrestricted insecticides. Native plants thrive in these naturalistic insecticide-free environments. Because they are native, they are attuned to the environment they are planted in and are often naturally resistant to many of the pests we see in mixed gardens. Native plants also provide a habitat for insects and wildlife.
Mary: At the Arboretum, we try to showcase native plants so that homeowners can learn to use them as alternatives for overused non-native plants that do not support the insects and birds that are native to our area. A good example of a non-native would be the thorny Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) which is commonly found in local landscape plantings and has proven to be invasive. As a possible substitution, Native Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) is a similar plant that is not invasive, supports habitat for local wildlife and pollinators, and it is thornless.
How can I become an Extension Master Gardener?
Tim: We do a Master Gardener volunteer training once a year. The 50 hour training starts in January and runs one day each week for 16 weeks. Classes on soils, insects, botany, plant diseases, etc. are taught by a variety of instructors from Extension and the horticulture industry. Information on the training and how to become involved in the Extension Master Gardener program can be found on the local Master Gardener website, www.fc-mg.org or by calling Tim Ohlwiler at 540.341.7950 x 3.
Fauquier/Rappahannock County Master Gardeners Community Service Projects
Help Desk at the Warrenton Farmers Market on Saturday Mornings
Public Lecture Series on Gardening and Horticulture
Green Grass Project
The Arboretum at Rady Park
Gardens at the Schoolhouse #18 in Marshall
Educational Programs for Students of Fauquier and Rappahannock
Native Plant and Vegetable Garden at the Fauquier Extension Office
Remington Community Garden
Horticulture Therapy for Seniors at Overlook
Rappahannock Creeks and Critters