A silver lining of the pandemic
For those who love to garden, a silver lining of the COVID pandemic was a surge of interest in growing plants and more leisure time to do it.
But at the same time, the Jackson County Master Gardener Association, with a mission to “teach the art and science of gardening in the Rogue Valley,” had to curtail its in-person education activities. So JCMGA, under the auspices of Oregon State University Extension Service, looked for new ways to reach its audience.
The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute offered the perfect opportunity to teach about gardening online. So, when I was asked to present a class for OLLI about vegetable growing, using JCMGA’s “Garden Guide Year-Round & Month by Month” as a textbook, how could I say no?
Reading through the “Garden Guide,” however, I realized there was a problem. As volunteers for OSU, all teaching by Master Gardeners is research-based. Although I was confident about many subjects, I didn’t have a deep knowledge of others. Perhaps I could invite guest speakers? Searching through names, the perfect solution appeared. John Kobal is another Master Gardener whose expertise is in subjects that complement my own. He said yes to my invitation to co-teach the class.
We went through the “Garden Guide” and divided the subjects according to what we each knew best. He would show how to build raised beds, I would show how to sow seeds. He would explain how to make compost, I would explain how to read a seed catalog. He would create PowerPoint presentations, I would transplant seedlings live on Zoom. This was going to be fun.
Now it was time to make our proposal to OLLI. We were directed to an online form with instructions for describing the course and what qualified us to teach it. I mentally saluted those who developed the proposal form, which worked without a hitch.
As first-time instructors, we were given superb support. OLLI had a detailed written guide to teaching with Zoom, followed by an online demonstration, with a chance to ask questions. In another session we learned how to prepare our class; how to contact students; and what information to send them. We were assigned two liaisons for technology and for general matters, each replying promptly to emails with positive feedback.
Once class started, our students were engaged and enthusiastic. Some were experienced gardeners, and some were novices, but all said they were learning new things, which cheered us as instructors.
We tried not to repeat what was in the “Garden Guide” but supplemented it with specific advice from our own years of experience. For example, where the guide has a few basic drawings of raised beds, John’s PowerPoints showed many possible designs, and he gave advice about choices in wood and hardware.
Where the guide simply says to use traps and barriers to keep out pests, I held up examples and said this one works well for voles and this one for gophers.
Students asked great questions in class and emailed us with more. We answered when we could, but sometimes referred them to the OSU Plant Clinic (a terrific resource for any gardener with a plant problem). We added one more week of class to cover extra topics, honored students’ requests to see photos of our gardens, and had them show us what they accomplished in theirs.
OLLI encouraged us to teach another class in the fall. I’m happy to say that John Kobal and a Master Gardener colleague, Susan Koenig, will present “Ornamental Gardening in the Rogue Valley,” an eight-week series for anyone looking to create a new landscape or renovate an existing one. (I may put in a guest appearance about perennials.) The text this time will be JCMGA’s “Garden Guide for the Rogue Valley - Ornamental Trees and Shrubs.”
Meanwhile, over the summer there are many ways to learn about gardening through JCMGA and OSU.
Take a free video tour of a dozen native plant gardens in the Rogue Valley by going to the JCMGA website (jacksoncountymga.org) and clicking on “Native Plants Garden Tour.”
Also learn where to buy native plants or how to create habitat for birds even in cities. Or click on “Events and Classes” at the top of the homepage and then on “Community Education Classes” on the dropdown menu to find live and recorded webinars on timely subjects like water-wise gardening and fire-wise landscaping.
For even more in-depth learning about all things garden, consider becoming a Master Gardener. The program will start up again in early 2022. Click on “Garden for Life” for contact information for Erika Szonntag, Jackson County’s Master Gardener coordinator, who directs the program.
To anyone wanting to share knowledge of a favorite subject, gardening or otherwise, and wondering whether OLLI is the way to do it, I say, “Go for it.” Although the course proposal period for OLLI’s fall term has closed, proposals for winter term can be submitted from Aug. 1-31.
Ronnie Budge’s first garden was a window box over a fire escape in New York City. She started growing vegetables when she moved to the Rogue Valley 50 years ago. Her efforts could most charitably be called “mixed” until after she became a Master Gardener, class of 2011, following her retirement from 20 years serving as the director of the Jackson County library.