Meet the Garden Squad is a way to get better acquainted with some of our CSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers.
If you ask Renata Hahn to describe herself, she’ll say simply, “I’m a gardener.” But how many gardeners do you know who have been confronted by a Secret Service agent or scolded by a former first lady?
All that happened when Renata was one of the gardeners working at the retirement home of President Gerald Ford in Beaver Creek, Colo.
“The place was crawling with Secret Service and I was quietly walking around the house one day when I surprised a Secret Service agent and he pulled his gun on me,” she said.
“All I had was a dandelion digger and pruners in my hands, then we laughed about it.”
She also had a memorable encounter when former First Lady Betty Ford criticized her for cutting back dead daffodil foliage too soon. (It wasn’t too soon, Renata noted.)
Renata is a CSU-Extension Master Gardener for Denver County. She’s one of the few Denver natives, having grown up in the Washington Park area before it became Washington Park. She remembers playing in the street because there wasn’t much traffic then. She also recalls her parents making her help in the garden. “I did not like it,” she said.
She left Denver and spent time in Vail and then moved to Alaska before returning to Colorado about 15 years ago. That’s when she started her small landscaping company called Ladyscapes.
“I don’t do irrigation or hardscapes. I just like to do the pretty things” of gardening. Some of that includes planting annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees. Lately she’s encouraged her clients to include more fruit trees and edible gardens.
Her own landscape serves as inspiration, especially because she grows lesser known plants that are good for you. Some of her plantings include honeyberries, blueberries (grown in a buried pot of peat moss), goji berries, aronia berries, borage and a rosemary plant that she’s successfully overwintered for about 10 years.
That’s in addition to garlic, edamame, kale, potatoes, cape gooseberries, and raspberries planted in a 15-gallon buried container to keep canes from spreading.
Her approach to gardening is to “let things go and see what happens.” If it’s her yard, she might pull up a plant that’s not performing; if it’s a client’s landscape, she gives them whatever they want, although she tries to point them in the right direction.
In addition to being a gardener, Renata is a beekeeper, and she tried something else this year: raising Monarch and Black Swallowtail butterflies in a separate enclosure in her house.
“They complete the life cycle in one month and become butterflies in the house and then I release them outside. It’s super fun and easy and really quiet,” she said.
Becoming a Master Gardener
In 2005 Renata attended the CSU-Extension Master Gardener class and became a Certified Gardener.
“In taking the classes I found out how much I loved it and the program,” she said. With a little more work she was able to switch to become a Master Gardener.
Although she said she feels “very lucky and insanely proud” of being a Master Gardener, she was uncomfortable in the role during her first few years.
To gain more confidence in her skills, she’d stand at the CSU Extension-Master Gardener table at farmers markets, listen to questions from the public and grab the big green notebook to research the answers right on the spot.
Renata also credits three experienced Master Gardeners, Carol Earle, Carol Amy and Jeanne Najar, for helping guide and support her during those early years.
She repays that help by volunteering to be a mentor for those Master Gardener apprentices who are just getting started. Renata said one of the best things about being a mentor is getting to take the classes again – plus she has the chance to get to know and bond with the mentees.
“I’ve been lucky to be a mentor five or six times, and I still keep in touch with all the apprentices,” she said.
Because she understands the 2020 class of Master Gardener apprentices may feel disconnected because of social distancing, she’s offering to help anyone who needs it.
“I’d like apprentices to know that if they want to call me, I’ll try to help if I can. I want people to feel included.”
To get in touch with Renata, login to the Colorado Master Gardener Volunteer Management System (VMS) and look for her name and contact information listed on the Member Roster.
By Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005