Whether gardening is done to harvest fresh and healthy food, create an environmentally friendly area or to build a beautiful landscape, it can be a rewarding, year-round activity in the Pacific Northwest. Whatever the motivation may be, Clatsop County Master Gardener Association engages local gardeners to learn about their craft and to help the community.

clatsop master gardener
Deb Vanasse has enjoyed gardening for over thirty years. She shares her passion by volunteering with Clatsop County Master Gardener Association. Photo courtesy: Deb Vanasse

“Clatsop County Master Gardener Association (CCMGA) builds awareness of gardening in a region where gardening is fun and productive. By promoting sustainable practices, it helps ensure that future generations will enjoy gardening as much as we do today. My grandchildren love visiting Grandma’s garden. One of the first things they want to do when they visit is run out to pick strawberries and look for ladybugs,” member Deb Vanasse explains.

Vanasse and Janet Darcher are members of the Association, but they each had different reasons for joining. “I moved to the North Coast after 36 years in Alaska, where gardening was a challenge due to the extreme temperatures and short growing season. I wanted to learn right from the start how to garden in new conditions. As it turned out, we bought a newly constructed home, so the landscaping help was important,” Vanasse said.

Adds Darcher, “I have always made attempts at gardening and have had some successes and some failures. My husband and I have over 25 acres of property on the Naselle River in Naselle, Washington that we have attempted to maintain and improve with native vegetation. Upon retiring two years ago I made a commitment to focus on my priorities — to learn more about gardening and restoration. I started by signing up for classes in January of 2016, knowing I had to put in 60 hours of volunteer work to be certified, and never realizing how valuable those 60 hours would be.”

clatsop master gardener
CCMGA manages a variety of projects, including an annual plant sale. Photo courtesy: Clatsop County Master Gardener Association

To become full members of the Association, a set of Master Gardener classes are required, followed by 60 volunteer hours during the first year. Volunteer hours and continuing education hours are required each year after that.

For many people, going back to class to learn about plants and soils may sound intimidating. Vanasse and Darcher both found the experience to be rewarding. Darcher shares, “I have learned so much from CCMGA. The class set a foundation, and I found the information very valuable. And I think the relationships were of most importance. The expertise my fellow students had really motivated me to learn, and they were so supportive. The members of CCMGA are so open and sharing, and it helps to keep me focused. My experiences before joining CCMGA were often frustrating, but now I have a community that I can call on and get help. I realize that I wasn’t always wrong and I can be of assistance.”

Vanasse adds, “I had a small 4-H garden as a child growing up in the Midwest, and I tried growing a few vegetables in Alaska with the help of a greenhouse. The classes were very informative, and I met some great people as a trainee.”

Sixty hours of volunteering averages out to five hours a month over twelve months. It is impressive that many volunteers go over 60 hours each year. The Association offers a variety of projects to help reach those hours. Darcher and Vanasse are involved with many of the Association’s projects. Darcher is involved with the Spring Garden Seminar, Winterizing Your Garden, helping out at plant clinics at local markets, volunteering at the demonstration garden at the county fairgrounds and is a board member for the Association. Vanasse handles social media for the Association and is on the planning team for Seed to Supper. These are just some of the projects that the Association takes on.

clatsop master gardener
Janet Darcher uses what she learned in Master Gardener classes and put it to use on her property. Photo courtesy: Janet Darcher

This may sound like a lot to handle, but Vanasse and Darcher think that it is worth it. Vanasse admits, “I love working outside in the garden, so it feels good to be able to do something for the community that dovetails with my passion for growing things. It’s fun to let people know that when you’re gardening, you’re always learning.” Darcher adds, “I thought I would learn effective gardening skills, but I have gotten so much more. It has been a great experience, and I look forward to my continued work with CCMGA.”

The Association provides gardening expertise and education specific to Clatsop County. “A major role (of the Association) is education, and I think that our coordinator, Linda Jones, is doing an amazing job not only of educating new students, but of finding opportunities for veterans to expand their skills. She works with partners in the community to offer programs of value to Clatsop County. Our membership has longevity and they motivate us newer members to seek out opportunities so we, too, can offer effective and sustainable projects,” Darcher explains.

Master Gardener classes for 2018 will be held starting in January from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Thursdays and 9:00 a.m. to noon on Saturdays from January 11 through March 22. More information about the classes can be found here.

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