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 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