Category Archives: Volunteers

Meet the Garden Squad—New Master Gardeners part 2

Meet the Garden Squad is a way to get better acquainted with some of our CSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers.

Here’s your chance to meet and greet the new crop of Denver Master Gardeners from the Class of 2020. Class members were invited to introduce themselves by answering one of 10 questions to help us get to know them. Please welcome them to the Garden Squad!

Kimberly Bischoff had no trouble deciding which world-renowned garden she’d like to visit. “The Gardens I would like to visit again (and again) is Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia. I loved every minute of my 4 hour stroll through the tulips!”

Alan Moores selected his favorite gardening quote by American novelist, gardener and garden writer Jamaica Kincaid: Nature abhors a garden. Alan says, “It gives me some perspective on my role, and that of the food I grow for my table, as ‘introduced’ species in this world, especially on the Front Range.

Jessica Harvey (shown with her husband Richard) says her favorite dish to prepare every summer “is a fairly easy one that utilizes multiple things I love growing—a pesto, tomato and cream cheese sandwich!”

Thanks to our new Master Gardeners for their photos and gardening insights. 

By Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

Meet the Garden Squad—New Master Gardeners part 1

Meet the Garden Squad is a way to get better acquainted with some of our CSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers.

Here’s your chance to meet and greet the new crop of Denver Master Gardeners from the Class of 2020. Class members were invited to introduce themselves by answering one of 10 questions to help us get to know them. Please welcome them to the Garden Squad!

Rhianna Kirk finds exceptional joy from being close to nature. She shares her favorite gardening quote:
“Gardening… cheaper than therapy AND you get tomatoes.”

Aleka Mayr credits three role models for inspiring her to plant and grow. “Both my grandmothers and my mother have been my inspiration, and have shown me planting and growing can happen in an urban apartment, a rural farm, and even a vacant lot in the middle of Manhattan.”

Dudley Clark misses being able to grow rhododendrons in his Colorado landscape. “I have lived in New Hampshire, Connecticut and Virginia where they grow like weeds….year round greenery, wonderful flowers in a range of colors from white to deep purple and not much maintenance…remove spent flowers to encourage growth. Every few years I pay an outlandish price for a ‘rhodie’ at a Colorado nursery, plant it in a shady location, watch it struggle through our scorching heat and plummeting temperatures and finally succumb to the edict wrong plant, wrong place.”

Ashley Hooten (shown with husband Michael) says her favorite summer-time recipe is a “simple and easy Caprese salad with homegrown tomatoes and fresh basil! So delicious and fresh!”

Thanks to our new Master Gardeners for their photos and gardening insights. Watch for Meet the Garden Squad–New Master Gardeners part 2 later this week!

By Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener Volunteer since 2005

Meet the Garden Squad—Connie Rayor

Meet the Garden Squad is a way to get better acquainted with some of our CSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers.

Meet Connie Rayor

Connie Rayor is a CSU-Denver Master Gardener Emeritus who still volunteers for the Habitat for Humanity outreach program. (photo provided by Connie Rayor)

Connie Rayor thinks she’s been a CSU-Denver Master Gardener for 26 years, but who’s counting when you’re having so much fun?

Fun seems to be Connie’s watchword when it comes to being a Master Gardener. She’s been involved in just about every outreach project since she began volunteering years ago. In fact, some of the programs weren’t on the Master Gardener radar until Connie got involved.

“Oh, the early days were great,” she said.

Xeriscape may be a well-established method of landscaping now, but in the 1980s it was a new idea. Tasked with finding what xeriscaping was all about, she thoroughly researched the process so it could be put into practice as part of the Master Gardener program.

Connie was also instrumental in setting up the first Master Gardener information booth at the Cherry Creek Farmers Market.

“We had lots of customers coming up to talk to us and they were delighted to see us there. We didn’t have all the materials they do now, but we did have some materials. That was a fun gig, let me tell you.”

Another enjoyable project was being on the Garden Line 9 television show in the early years, she said. The Master Gardeners group would go in on Saturday mornings and be on camera as people called in with their gardening questions.

She said it was “great fun” to field questions on the fly. “We wouldn’t know what they were going to ask.”

But of all the projects she’s been involved in, starting the Habitat for Humanity outreach program is the one that’s closest to her heart. Early on she had taken a tour of some of the homes in the Habitat program and was surprised to see such pitiful landscaping.

“There were these miserable little junipers there, and I asked about the plants. It wasn’t anything I did with thought, I just asked if they’d like some help with them.”

During the first several years, Master Gardeners supervised on planting days, helping direct how to properly place and space plants in the landscape. But now Master Gardener volunteers teach landscape maintenance classes to new Habitat for Humanity homeowners. Connie developed the original landscape maintenance manual that’s been updated over the years.

At a time when she could kick back and relax as a Master Gardener Emeritus, Connie’s still involved in teaching the landscape maintenance classes about three times a year. Together with Master Gardener volunteers Marti Holmes and Beth McCoy, the team teaches how to care for trees, plants, lawns and how to deal with insect pests among other topics.

“It’s been glorious working together with them,” Connie said. “It’s really been the highlight of  being a Master Gardener. It’s my very favorite long-term project because it provides a real service.”

Connie recommends that Master Gardener apprentices get involved in a project or task they’re really interested in, instead of just putting in their hours. “It will make you a better Master Gardener and create a lot of satisfaction,” she said.

Connie’s love of gardening started as a kid helping her mom in the vegetable garden at their west Denver home. Her lifelong love affair with gardening really took off after she retired as a Denver Public Schools teacher.

After retiring, she followed her husband Harold into the Master Gardener program, but then he dropped out. He had retired earlier and joined because he knew how much she liked to garden.

While she’s unable to do much gardening these days, two of her three daughters and her grandson, Daniel, still carry on the tradition.

“He lives in Boston and was showing off the seedlings he planted in the community garden,” Connie said. “He’s taken a Master Urban Gardener class, but he still calls me for gardening advice.”

By Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

Vegetable Growing Tips for Beginning Gardeners

New to vegetable gardening? We’re here to help!

A group of experienced CSU-Denver Master Gardeners answered the call to help new vegetable gardeners plant and grow their first gardens. These tips cover most of the basics for the best chance of success growing fruits, vegetables and herbs this season.

Their advice covers how to get your garden started, what to plant, when to plant, where to plant, how to care for your garden and a primer on growing tomatoes.

John Ashworth

John H. Ashworth, Master Gardener since 2014, shares his thoughts on various veggies that do well in Colorado vegetable gardens:

Radishes are the ideal crop to start with, especially if you get your kids involved. Radishes emerge very quickly, even in cold soil, and are ready for eating in 30 days or less.

Carrots can do well here, but can struggle if you have heavy clay soil in your garden. Before you plant in clay soil, mix in a healthy dose of play sand and mix in well. This will allow the carrot roots to grow down without extensive use of a garden fork for cultivating. Plant the shorter, stubbier carrot varieties, Nantes and half Danvers, if you have heavy soil.

Basil seeds can be started indoors under lights or in a sunny window, but  DO NOT plant them outside too soon!  Wait until early to mid-June. Basil grows well in containers — I plant ten basil plants in a large pot and get enough to make pesto all summer long. Be aware that Japanese beetles love basil, so pick the beetles off the plants early each morning.

Tomatoes are heavy feeders and like rich soil. Add compost and fertilizer (either well-rotted steer manure or a balanced chemical fertilizer) to the planting hole. Fertilize every few weeks. Because our climate is dry and lacks humidity, some tomato varieties, like large beefsteak tomatoes, tend to split open prematurely. Instead, try Sungold cherry tomatoes, Early Boy or Early Girl varieties, or any of the heirloom varieties such as Brandywine,  or the Eastern European varieties such as Black Krim or Polish paste tomatoes.

John’s final piece of advice: Above all, have fun!

Mary Carnegie, Master Gardener since 2002, is also the Garden Leader for the Denver Urban Gardens (DUG) Park Hill School garden. Her top three tips for new gardeners are concise and to the point:

1. Be willing to get your hands dirty; stick your finger in the soil to see if plants need water.

2. Know the “safe” planting dates; don’t plant too early. (CSU Extension’s Vegetable Planting Guide can help with planting dates.)

3. Learn as much as you can about watering and mulching. (CSU Extension’s Watering Guide and Mulches for Home Grounds are two good resources.)

Rikki Hanson

Rikki Hanson, Master Gardener since 2014, says something that stuck with her as a beginning gardener is that “Colorado gardeners do it for the challenge. Lucky for me, I like a challenge.” To meet that challenge, she advises to start small.

1. Start with a few veggies that you enjoy eating. Have a mix of things that grow quickly and slowly, that way you can enjoy the fruits of your labor sooner while you wait for the big-ticket items. Radishes and lettuces are great fast-rewards foods.

2. Make a plan for watering: early in the morning or after 6 pm. This is especially important when you have seeds and seedlings. We have a very dry climate that lends itself nicely to mulch.

3. Find the joy in your own plot of Earth. Vegetable gardening is something to be enjoyed and to help you destress!

Jill Fielder

Jill Fielder, Master Gardener since 2012, is happy to share her trio of tips:

Tip 1:  Many vegetable plants need sunlight to grow sturdy and strong. Planting  sun-worshiping  vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and eggplants in less than full sun (about 6-8 hours of sun) sets one up for heartbreak. Tomato plants aren’t going to be vigorous and productive in 3 or 4 hours of sun no matter how much you will it. If you don’t have adequate sun in your space, choose plants that will thrive in partial sun (3-5 hours) such as lettuces, chard, spinach, scallions, kale, beets, Asian greens and radishes. In Colorado basil, thyme, chives, mint, oregano and parsley grow beautifully with just morning sun.

Tip 2:  Find a place for bunching onions or scallions (also called Welch onions, spring onions and green onions). These onions are super easy, speedy and fun. They can be grown from seed or slender starts from the nursery. Choose the customary white variety or scoop up the pretty deep red ones if you can find them. Plant in mid spring and you can eat the greens during the summer (snipped into eggs, stir fries and salads) and harvest the whole onion plants in the fall. Left in the garden, they’ll usually overwinter.

Tip 3:  Start seeds for ruffled, loose leaf lettuces outdoors early, even if there will likely still be frosts and maybe snow. Lettuce seedlings are remarkably tough. Depending on the lettuce variety, leaves can be ready in 40-55 days. Don’t let your precious garden space go unused in the spring!

Elizabeth Gundlach Neufeld

Elizabeth Gundlach Neufeld, long-time gardener and Master Gardener since 2017, reveals her 8 tips for tomato growing. These are the key points she wishes she would’ve known years ago when it comes to planting tomato seedlings:

1. Choose seedlings that are strong and relatively straight.

2. Harden off all seedlings for a good week after purchasing. “Hardening Off” means leaving them outside, in a sheltered location, with little exposure to the elements. Be sure to water the seedlings to keep moist before planting.

3. When ready, plant tomatoes in a trench. Cut off all the leaves and small branches EXCEPT for the top 2 inches. Plant the rest sideways in the trench. Those fuzzy little hairs on the stem will become roots! Planting the tomatoes more-or-less horizontally will produce greater numbers of roots and lead to a stronger plant.

4. Here’s the hard part. For the subsequent 3 weeks, remove ALL the flowers. Doing this allows the plant to spend its energy producing a strong root system. I sometimes compare this to humans in the following way: Although, say, young teenagers may be physically possible to bear children, they are not ready to. Similarly, the tomato plant needs to mature in the ground before producing tomatoes.

5. Pinch off all ‘suckers’ in indeterminate varieties. Suckers appear in the crotches of the tomato branches and can harm the overall plant by weakening the main stem.

6. Stake or cage the plants! Because you’ve trench-planted and picked the blossoms, the main stock will be thick and able to support many more tomatoes.

7. Water tomatoes ONLY at the bottom at soil level, trying not to wet any leaves. Keep only moderately moist. They will likely not need watering every day.

8. Enjoy the harvest!

A big thank you to John, Mary, Rikki, Jill and Elizabeth for generously sharing their hard-won secrets to vegetable-growing success.

Of course, Master Gardeners are available to answer specific questions through the Denver Master Gardener Helpline at 720-913-5278 or email denvermg @ colostate.edu. Also, please take a minute to review the list of Free CSU Extension Spring Gardening webinars and our new Grow & Give program.

By Jodi Torpey, Master Gardener since 2005
Photos provided by each gardener

Meet the Garden Squad—Gardening Help at the Denver Botanic Gardens

Meet the Garden Squad is a way to get better acquainted with some of our CSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers.

Meet the Gardening Help Volunteers

The CSU Extension Master Gardeners usually pick up the gardening helpline at the Denver Botanic Gardens or answer questions when people walk-in the door. Even though buildings at DBG are closed for now, gardeners can still get their gardening questions answered by Gardening Help from Colorado Master Gardeners at Denver Botanic Gardens, only remotely.

The interest in gardening has soared ever since people have had to hunker down at home and find ways to keep busy. First-time gardeners will likely have questions on how to get started, what to plant now, what can grow in containers, and much more.

Even gardeners with some experience have questions, too. All gardening questions can be emailed to gardeninghelp@botanicgardens.org and a CMG, working remotely, will reply by email.

Gardening Help volunteers include: Back row, left to right: Jan Fahs, Jan Davis, Ken Zwenger, Mark Zammuto, Gordon Carruth, Fran Hogan
Middle row: Lynne Conroy, Harriet Palmer Willis, Kathleen Schroeder, Leona Berger, Cindy Hanna, Mary Adams, Nancy Downs
Kneeling: Dee Becker, Charlotte Aycrigg, Jan Moran
Not pictured: Mary Carnegie, Linda Hanna, Maggie Haskett, April Montgomery, Ann Moore, Kathy Roth, Amy White

Gardening Help is a project of the CSU Extension-Denver Master Gardeners at the DBG. Volunteers provide reliable and research-based information to thousands of home gardeners each year.

Volunteers commit to at least one year in the role, with a minimum of six shifts spread across the year. The commitment starts early in the year with an orientation and training from Nancy Downs, project coordinator.

Many volunteers are GH regulars and they return to the project every year. In addition to being an active CMG, they have to satisfy DBG volunteer requirements, too. That means they’re a member of the DBG and enrolled there as a volunteer.

Some of the key characteristics of GH volunteers are good research, plant identification and diagnostic skills. Because the project is located at DBG, volunteers need to keep on top of what’s blooming at the DBG by season, so they can answer common questions that might pop up.

Photo provided by Nancy Downs

Text by Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

Meet the Garden Squad’s Nancy Downs

Meet the Garden Squad is a way to get better acquainted with some of our CSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers.

Meet Nancy Downs

Horticulture is the thread that connects the stepping stones in the career path of Nancy Downs. She became a CSU Extension-Denver Master Gardener in 1993, and since 2005 she’s been the project coordinator of Gardening Help (GH) from Colorado Master Gardeners at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

A year-round volunteer commitment, GH provides research-based information to thousands of home gardeners by phone, email and those who drop by. In 2019 the GH team of 20 volunteers answered over 2300 questions.

It’s the thrill of the possibility of new discoveries that helps drive Nancy’s passion in botany and plant identification.

“Plant ID is endlessly fascinating,” she said. “It’s fascinating to bump into mystery plants and try to make the correct identification. It makes a huge difference in management recommendations.”

Nancy is a Native Plant Master, but said there’s always something new to learn. She also enjoys teaching woody plant and native plant identification.

In 2019 Nancy’s garden received special recognition from the Colorado Native Plant Society. Blonde Ambition Blue Grama grass provides a golden backdrop. (Image by Nancy Downs)

In 2019 her Park Hill garden received a gold certification from the Colorado Native Plant Society (CoNPS).  The Certified Native Plant Garden recognition is meant to increase awareness of native plants and how they help provide “habitat for Colorado Native Plants and native wildlife,” according to the CoNPS website.

Nancy said she considers her garden a laboratory for experimenting with plants. The garden is about 30 years old and has gone through a number of phases as her taste and interests have evolved.

“At one point I felt I needed an all-white garden, but now it’s a big mish-mash. I’ve tried to mix natives into an existing older neighborhood with shade trees,” she explained.

The front garden includes Foxtail Lilies, white-blooming shrub rose and sunflowers. (Image by Nancy Downs)

Nancy said she’s drawn to the texture and architectural interest of her landscape plants instead of flowers. A list of her favorites includes Gambel oak, rabbitbrush, Arctostaphylos, ornamental grasses, buffalograss, junipers, yucca and, of course, much more.

Her interest in plants took root when working for the Boulder Parks and Recreation Department while an undergraduate at the University of Colorado. She was part of the team responsible for planting and tending the gardens at Central Park

After graduating with a degree in International Affairs, she worked in Washington, D.C., as press secretary for then-Congresswoman Pat Schroeder. When she returned to Colorado, she earned a law degree from the University of Denver and spent a few years working in Denver’s District Attorney’s office.

Nancy said she finally circled back to her first love of horticulture while working with Denver Botanic Gardens, Hudson Gardens, Denver Water Xeriscape clinics and Aurora Water Conservation Design clinics.

She even had her own design business, Nancy Downs Garden Design, for over 20 years specializing in residential design in Denver’s older neighborhoods.

In addition to coordinating Gardening Help as a Denver Master Gardener, she’s involved in other volunteer projects.

“A favorite recent project was the 2018 Botanical Survey of the High Line Canal carried out by Dr. Chrissy Alba from DBG’s Research and Conservation Department for the High Line Canal Conservancy,” she said.

The combination of yellow Mountain Goldenbanner and Dwarf purple iris is stunning when in full bloom. (Image by Nancy Downs)

Nancy encourages other Master Gardeners to continue working on their plant identification skills. She said an understanding of botanical Latin is important when trying to identify whether a plant is native or not.

Her hope is that more gardeners will want to add native plants to their landscapes and can start by asking nurseries to increase their availability.

Gardening Help Contact Information

To reach the Gardening Help from Colorado Master Gardeners at the Denver Botanic Gardens call 720-865-3575 or email gardeninghelp@botanicgardens.org. GH is staffed April-October on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays (noon-4:00 p.m.); November-March on Tuesdays (noon-4:00 p.m.)

By Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

Meet the Garden Squad’s Kim Douglas

Meet the Garden Squad is a way to get better acquainted with some of our CSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers.

Meet Kim Douglas

Denver Master Gardener Kim Douglas enjoys a day in Crested Butte.

If anyone is cut out to be a Denver Master Gardener, it’s Kim Douglas. She’s as passionate about learning as she is about sharing what she’s learned.

This comes naturally to Kim, a retired English as a Second Language teacher and a current Library Program Associate on staff at Denver Public Library.

Her part-time work at the library includes programming that ranges from helping people learn how to use their smartphones and tablets to hands-on work with sewing and embroidery.

“I’m on my third chapter,” she said. “I’m excited about getting and giving training.”

One of the library programs she’s involved with is called Plaza. This special program is designed to meet the needs of immigrant, refugee, and asylee populations. Kim helps participants learn and practice English, prepares them to take their citizenship test, and lends a hand to children with arts and crafts projects.

“It’s very rewarding and a wonderful experience to help people in a way where they really need help,” she said.

Kim became a Master Gardener apprentice in 2018, something she always wanted to do and the first thing she did when she retired from teaching.

Fourth of July fireworks in Kim’s garden.

Part of the attraction was gaining a sense of accomplishment by taking her gardening hobby to the next level.

“I knew I’d get a lot of information about gardening and get a good grasp of the science behind gardening in Colorado, even though I had been doing it for years,” she explained.

One of her big “aha” moments was when she learned about soil compaction and how important it is to not work in wet soil, something she used to do on weekends when she was working fulltime.

Kim’s advice to Master Gardener apprentices is to take advantage of all the information and experience within the organization. “Be active, be involved, go to meetings and special events, get to know people.”

She’s taken her own advice to heart. At last season’s DMG plant sale she designed a better system to standardize the plant signage. From her experience the previous year, she realized signs could be more descriptive to help customers find exactly what they wanted.

‘Queen of the Night’ tulips add stunning color to Kim’s garden.

Kim said she also enjoys volunteering at the Master Gardener booth at the Farmers Market and helping with the Plant Select plants at the Denver Botanic Gardens annual plant sale.

“It’s fun, interesting and I develop a relationship with those plants,” she said. “I guess it’s just lust—plant lust—that makes me say, ‘I must have that plant’ like the ruby muhly ornamental grass I saw there.”

Her garden is filled to the brim with those love-at-first-sight plants. Part of the front yard is xeriscaped with native and low-water plants displayed in a big swath.

“In my garden I strive for an explosion of colors like gems and fireworks.” One of her favorite displays is a combination of plants that is in full flower around the Fourth of July.

It includes dark red daylilies planted with white Shasta daisies and highlighted with sea holly (Eryngium). She said the “funky, spiky” sea holly plants produce striking purple-blue flowers that look like small glowing thistles.

It’ easy to see why’Black Nigra’ hollyhocks attract attention.

When it comes to the gem colors, she selects plants that have such rich and vibrant flowers that passersby have to slow down or stop to appreciate them.

Some of the show-stopper plants include ‘Dark Magician Girl’ daylilies, ‘Ebony Dream’ iris, ‘Black Nigra’ hollyhocks, and ‘Queen of the Night’ tulips.

In the backyard vegetable garden she plants tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, and tomatillos – “everything to make a nice salsa” – plus eggplants and potatoes.

Kim said she’ll be combining her passions for teaching and gardening this season. She’s on the schedule to present programs on propagating plants and raised bed gardening at several library branches this spring.

Images provides by Kim Douglas

Text by Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

CSU Onion Trial is Food Pantry Windfall

Image provided by Cindy Schoepp, Calvary Chapel Food Pantry

Hundreds of pounds of field-fresh onions made it to Brighton’s Calvary Chapel Food Pantry through a combination of opportunity, targeted schmoozing and good timing.

The onion donation came by way of CSU Extension’s Northern Colorado Onion Variety Trial in Adams County.

The onion trial helps farmers find the best onion varieties to plant and grow in Northern Colorado. Seed producers provide their onion seeds for the trial and Sakata Farms hosts the trials by donating space in its fields and caring for the onions.

The trial program started in the mid-1970s, according to Eric Hammond, CSU Extension Agent in Adams County. The onion varieties are evaluated for their pest resistance, yield and storage ability. This year’s trial included 39 different onion cultivars.

The annual research update meeting in September provided the opportunity for the onion donation. Linda Young, executive director of Brighton Shares the Harvest, attended the meeting to learn more about the onion trial and those involved in the research.

She said Thad Gourd presented a program about the trial’s onion seeds and explained how they used a 3-D printer to improve the efficiency of an old onion planter to space and plant the seeds.

Before the program adjourned to the field tour of the research plots, Linda cornered Eric to find out what happens to the onions after the trial is completed.

“I mentioned that Brighton Shares the Harvest would be very interested in having any onions they didn’t need,” she said.

Eric was unsure there would be onions to donate, but he surprised her in early October with an offer of several hundred pounds of onions. The only catch — they had to be moved quickly, by October 11.

Linda immediately called Cindy Schoepp, director at the Calvary Chapel Food Pantry, for an ASAP onion pick up. The onions were gathered and ready for the October 14 pantry distribution.

“The timing was perfect, as the pantry is only open twice a month,” Linda said.

Brighton Shares the Harvest is a nonprofit organization that works year-round to make sure “Everybody has access to affordable, fresh, healthy, locally grown food.”

In addition to accepting donations of fresh produce, the organization makes it easy to donate money through its affiliations with Botanical Interests seed orders and King Soopers Community Rewards Program.

By Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

Meet the Garden Squad’s Katie Dunker

Meet the Garden Squad is a way to get better acquainted with some of our CSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers – and staff members, too.

Meet Katie Dunker

Katie Dunker is the CSU Extension Statewide Coordinator for the Colorado Master Gardener Program. (Photo provided by K. Dunker)

Katie Dunker will always remember the day she became the Colorado Master Gardener Statewide Coordinator. That’s because it happened on April Fool’s Day.

She stepped into the statewide role after serving as CSU Extension’s Master Gardener coordinator in Douglas County. Katie, 37, is an alum of CSU where she received her graduate degree and met her husband Eric. Her undergraduate degree is from Oregon State University.

With experience in higher education administration and a background in public health, she hit the ground running in her new position. “A lot of my job is connecting the dots between the counties and the state,” she said.

She spends her days juggling tasks such as helping a new Master Gardener coordinator get settled in, updating Master Gardeners on the Emerald Ash Borer’s movements, coordinating continuing education programs using Zoom software, updating the statewide website and promoting the CMG program at every opportunity.

In this Q&A, Katie shares advice for apprentices, her biggest gardening fail and what she hopes for Colorado Master Gardeners in the future:

What do you enjoy most about your job?

“I really love my job and feel honored to serve programs across the state. The best part is learning about the awesome work that’s going on in counties and sharing those with a statewide audience.

One of the most exciting programs is in Garfield County where the local CSU Extension agent, Abi Saeed, received a grant to do a summer gardening series at a local apartment complex. Instead of having people come to the program, she brought the bilingual program to a diverse, multigenerational group of 300 participants on Friday nights. The coolest thing is they took a nonfunctioning swimming pool and turned it into a community garden that became the centerpiece for the apartment complex.”

What’s your philosophy or approach to your work?

“I keep in mind that relationships are key. I remember one of my professors at Oregon State saying, relationships are people who care, talking about things that matter.

What advice would you give to an apprentice Master Gardener?

“Apprentices are drinking by a fire hose. There’s a lot of information to take in that first year so I’d say ‘jump in with both feet’. You don’t have to be an expert if you understand the process for using horticulture to empower people and connect them to good information.”

What’s the biggest gardening fail you’ve had?

“When we lived in Highlands Ranch and had a newly landscaped house, I was just starting to get into gardening. I had come from Oregon, so I planted hydrangeas in the flower box in front of the house. I’d trim them way back every winter and then mulch them. They had great foliage, but they never bloomed. I’d have done it differently had I known what I know now. I still don’t know what color those flowers were.”

Where do you get your energy?

“I’m really an internally motivated and driven person. I’m motivated by making sure to move CSU Extension to be more accessible, the Master Gardener program specifically. I want us to be more nimble, more progressive and to get our name out there more. It makes me sad when people haven’t heard about Master Gardeners – we’ve been around 40 years! We don’t want to be a best kept secret.”

What’s your favorite way to have fun?

“I love being outside and I love being with my kids and family, so anytime I can combine those two is the best, like skiing or hiking. We have two elementary-age boys and a one-year-old girl.”

How do your kids like to spend time with you?

“Playing the card game Skip-Bo; going to the neighborhood ice cream shop, and watching football on TV.”

Are you an early bird or a night owl?

“An early bird for sure. I love to get up between 5:00 and 6:00 to see the sunrise. I love the quiet mornings while the kids are asleep, have a cup of coffee and maybe wander around in the garden.”

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“Whether it’s work life or personal life, whatever you’re going through it’s just a season – good or bad.”

What do you envision for Colorado Master Gardeners in the future?

“I would love to see the Colorado Master Gardener program as a really fun group, willing to put ourselves out there for diverse community groups, from nursing  homes to office buildings, and partnering with different organizations so we’re more in the fabric of a community rather than just a resource for a community. When I picture Colorado Master Gardeners as a person, I see a gritty gardener who loves people and plants.”

By Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

Meet the Farmers Market Garden Squad

Meet the Garden Squad is a way to get better acquainted with some of our CSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers.

Meet Carol Earle and Margot Thompson

Carol Earle (left) and Margot Thompson are the engines that keep the farmers market Master Gardener outreach project on track.

More than 1300 inquisitive gardeners stop by the Ask a Master Gardener tent every summer at the Cherry Creek and City Park Esplanade farmers markets. Some ask timely questions about pests like Japanese beetles and others just like to chat about their gardens.

Colorado Fresh Markets generously donates the valuable space at each farmers market, and Master Gardeners help the market by gathering customer demographic information.

With every interaction there’s a CSU Extension Denver Master Gardener ready to offer advice, hand out resources or lend a sympathetic gardening ear. Because Ask a Master Gardener starts in May and runs through October, hundreds of volunteer openings need filling. Those volunteers also need a tent, banners, table, reference books, CSU Extension fact sheets, brochures, bookmarks and other materials.

While the Ask a Master Gardener effort runs smoothly now, it wasn’t always that way. When it started in the mid-1990s, scheduling was difficult and staffing was inconsistent. At one point the farmers market organization wasn’t sure it wanted to continue the collaboration.

That was before Carol Earle got involved and helped reorganize the farmers market volunteer project in 2002.

“In those days scheduling was all done manually, on the phone and by hand,” Carol explained. “Master Gardeners could check for a volunteer opening and then call a scheduler to get on a shift. It worked that way for years,” she said.

While scheduling for the farmers market is more efficient now, the need for someone to handle the behind-the-scenes work continues. Carol makes sure there are enough handouts and supplies for the markets, ensures there are enough volunteers to staff the markets, and helps transport equipment when needed.

She also fills in and works the market when there aren’t enough volunteers, like over Labor Day weekend. She spends more hours volunteering for the market than she tracks each summer.

“Carol has been volunteering for the farmers market for about 20 years and is trying to get out of it, but keeps getting sucked back in!” said Merrill Kingsbury, Master Gardener program assistant.

Carol agrees. “We don’t pay to be there, so I want to make sure we keep up our end of the bargain,” she said. “Now we’re a draw and people look for us at the market. I feel invested in making sure it runs right and we keep our obligation. We now have a reputation to uphold.”

She said she’s able to devote her time and energy to the market because she skips taking vacations in the summer.

“A lot of times I felt I should let someone else have a chance at doing it,” she said. “But I hated to leave the office in a lurch. I can’t cut and run now,” she joked.

“The advantage of volunteering at the farmers market is you learn a lot there, it reinforces what you learn in class, and you learn how to talk with people, answer questions and direct them to resources.”

In addition to her farmers market volunteer commitment, Carol has helped create and maintain vegetable and therapy gardens at the Denver Children’s Home.

She began her Master Gardener training in 1999 when one of her neighbors recruited her, but she was unsure she’d be accepted because of limited gardening experience as an adult. However, when she was 5 or 6 she had worked with her sister to weed their grandfather’s strawberry patch with a little hoe he made specially for them.

It wasn’t until she retired from her marketing job with a mining company that she bloomed as a gardener. Her neighbor helped her learn how to grow native shrubs and perennial flowers. This season she’s growing a ratatouille vegetable garden in a shared plot at the Denver Botanic Gardens Community Garden.

“I love the market, I like working with Master Gardeners, and I like getting to know the apprentices,” she said.

Even though she loves volunteering for the farmers market, she’s ready to let others learn to love it, too.

Last season Margot Thompson offered to lend Carol a hand and took over coordinating the Wednesday markets at Cherry Creek. The two work closely together to make sure materials are in place and the schedule is staffed with the right combination of Master Gardeners and apprentices.

“I like exchanging ideas with other Master Gardeners, getting suggestions from the apprentices and answering different questions every week,” Margot said.

Gardening is in her DNA and she’s been at most of her life. She’s able to answer questions based on her Master Gardener training and her own gardening experience, especially when those questions are about Japanese beetles.

“I remember being 4 years old and picking Japanese beetles off of plants in my parents’ garden in Massachusetts,” she said. “I got paid one penny for every beetle I picked.”

Margot used to have a big vegetable garden at her home in southeast Denver, but the trees have taken over and now it’s mostly a shade garden. She still plants and grows in containers wherever she can find some sun. She also finds time to volunteer at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

Margot started as a Master Gardener in 1998 after retiring from a career as a physical therapist. Besides the farmers market, some of her early volunteer assignments included helping with the Habitat for Humanity program and starting community gardens at the Marian Plaza senior apartments.

“We were trying to make sure the residents had fresh vegetables to cook with,” she said. Denver Urban Gardens helped create the garden plots and volunteers worked to buy hoses to help with irrigation, among other tasks. It was a big project, she said.

Margot thinks volunteering at the farmers market “is a great way to share information and for people to give us information we can use, too. We can always learn something.”

She said her favorite time to volunteer at the market is early in spring. That’s when she can give balcony gardeners ideas for growing vegetables in containers. She also likes to help the new-to-Denver transplants who stop at the Master Gardener tent to ask, “How do you garden here?”

Image and text by Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005