Tag Archives: Garden Squad

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

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

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 Garden Squad

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

Meet Mark Zammuto

Retirement seems to agree with Mark Zammuto. Gardening, biking, hiking and volunteering keep this “recovering attorney” busy. Mark spent about 25 years working as an attorney in the public sector, including the Colorado Attorney General’s office.

Mark Zammuto and Charlotte Aycrigg are active CSU Extension Master Gardeners in Denver. (Photo courtesy of Mark Zammuto)

His work kept him from doing many of the things he always wanted to do, like becoming a CSU Extension Master Gardener. In 2009 his schedule finally opened up to allow time to attend classes and commit to being a volunteer.

He’s taken that commitment to heart. Many of his volunteer hours are spent organizing the plantings at the Harvard Gulch vegetable demonstration garden. For the last several years, he’s worked at the City Park Greenhouse starting seeds and tending more than 450 vegetable plants before they’re moved to the demonstration garden at the end of each May.

That’s when other Denver Master Gardeners and volunteers from Outdoor Colorado and Grow Local Colorado gather to complete a mass planting in the vegetable bed located at the corner of E. Iliff Ave. and S. Emerson St.

About 1000 pounds of produce are harvested each year and donated to the food pantry at the Community Ministry of Southwest Denver, as well as other food banks in southwest and central Denver.

Mark’s interest in growing plants dates to when he planted little gardens as a kid growing up in Illinois. He had older relatives there that gardened, too, but he credits one of his grandfathers as an exceptional garden inspiration.

“He had an incredible green thumb,” Mark said. “He lived in California and when I’d go out in summers to visit, I’d see him graft trees and other things like that. He was an Italian immigrant and grew all kinds of fruit trees, avocados, lemons, plums and many traditional Italian foods like squash, tomatoes, basil and eggplants.”

A path leads through the many plantings in Mark and Charlotte’s garden. (Photo courtesy of Mark Zammuto)

Mark and his wife Charlotte Aycrigg, who’s also a Denver Master Gardener, have a big vegetable garden, a water-wise perennial garden and whatever else will grow in their yard that’s steadily getting shadier. To make up for that, they have a plot in the Denver Botanic Gardens Community Garden at Congress Park.

When he’s not out hiking and biking with his wife, Mark volunteers with the Botanic Gardens answering questions at the Help Desk, working with the Plant Select division for the DBG plant sale and volunteering at the Steppe Garden.

Interacting with other Master Gardeners is what Mark enjoys most about being a Master Gardener. “They’re all pretty nice people,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot because there’s so much cumulative knowledge.”

If he had to offer advice for other gardeners, he’d say to concentrate on planting the right plant in the right place. That advice is especially important when it comes to the long-term consequences of planting trees, he said.

“Before we did the Master Gardener training, we were novice gardeners when it came to planting trees. Looking back, I would’ve made better tree choices but we didn’t know and nurseries were selling trees not suited to this environment.”

If he had it to do over, he said he’d take time to do the research and study what kind of trees to plant for the best results.

By Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

Meet the DMG Squad

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

Meet Newton Linebaugh

Technically speaking Newton Linebaugh isn’t a CSU Extension Master Gardener apprentice anymore, but he’s not sure when he’ll stop feeling like one. While he completed his apprentice training in 2018, he understands that learning about gardening never stops, no matter where he puts down roots.

Newton Linebaugh signed up for CSU Extension Master Gardener training in 2018. (photo provided by Newton Linebaugh)

Newton moved to Colorado from Florida in the spring of 2017. He agrees that gardening here is more challenging, but he thinks it’s also more rewarding.

“The things we grow as houseplants here, grow into tall trees in Florida,” he said. Tampa Bay and Miami are subtropical and tropical climates that offer special challenges, too. Gardeners there have to cope with moist soil, high humidity and insects like mosquitoes and flying cockroaches.

Florida gardeners face growing challenges with moist soil, humidity and flying cockroaches. (photo provided by Newton Linebaugh)

Newton was a Master Gardener in Florida until 2015. That’s when he retired as director of payroll and benefits for the New York Yankees. The job he held for about 18 years meant he had the responsibility for managing many companies, multiple unions and thousands of employees.

“My partner and I had a business plan for retirement and everything fell into place in a few days,” he said. They moved to Colorado because it was the top choice when they compared it to other parts of the country.

Even though he’s been a gardener for more than 50 years, he signed up for CSU Extension’s Master Gardener program to learn how to garden in a different climate with different kinds of plants.

“When you become a master gardener, you embark on a lifelong learning adventure with plants,” he said. “You’ll be amazed at what works and what doesn’t, and shocked at what you think you know is wrong.”

During his time as a Colorado Master Gardener, Newton has already enjoyed volunteering at the Cherry Creek Farmers market and running the cash register at the annual plant sale.

His earliest gardening experience was helping his grandmother in her Pennsylvania garden. When he was 19 he moved to Florida and had to relearn how to garden there.

While his Florida gardening is decidedly different from planting in Denver, he’s familiar with working in heavy clay from his Pennsylvania days. He also recalls how spring storms there knocked plants down, but then they’d spring back up.

His garden plan for this year is grow some of the plants that don’t thrive in Florida, like peonies. He’s also using this season as a test to see how the sun falls on his yard in Congress Park before creating a garden plan for next year.

As a long-time gardener, he’s developed a practical philosophy about gardening. He believes some plants have to grow on their own to see if they survive the environment he provides for them. If not, he plants something else.

“Always plant a garden and plan that it’s going to change because every day is different. Then adapt to that,” he said. “Everything changes and you have to flow with that.”

By Jodi Torpey
Colorado Master Gardener volunteer since 2005