July 3, 2022

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San Diego County Master Gardeners find ways around the pandemic

Since its inception, the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Program of San Diego County has built its reputation of working in conjunction with the university to share with our community the best practices for gardening. Our science-based information covered all aspects of horticulture and agriculture and was made freely available to the public.

Whether holding large events in the spring and fall, bringing gardening joy to the residents of memory care facilities or sharing the rewards of growing your own vegetables with incarcerated youth, the Master Gardener Program of San Diego County has always looked for new audiences and new challenges.

The restrictions placed on all of us by the coronavirus pandemic, however, have had a particular impact on an organization that thrived on in-person activities. Rather than retreat to our backyard plots, our members have found ways to marshal their creativity to modify our community outreach efforts to match the realities of living safely under COVID-19 restrictions.

Free hotline help

When coronavirus precautions closed the UCCE Master Gardener offices, it shuttered our computer stations used for the popular garden question-and-answer service, The Hotline. See the article : Body pulled from Lake Murray. In addition, our Ask-A-Master Gardener booths, staffed by experts and seen throughout the county — most prominently at the San Diego County Fair — lost access to equipment and public resources.

In-person assistance was out, but dedicated master gardeners created an entirely new and improved hybrid: “Hotline From Home.” Now, UCCE Master Gardener experts are available to answer gardening questions every day of the week. Looking for a way to expand their reach, the Hotline All-Stars now include each month’s most common queries in our monthly e-newsletter, “Dig It!” The efforts are designed to ensure that everyone has easy access to helpful tips for healthy, robust gardening.

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‘Reminiscence Gardening’

Before the pandemic, the UCCE Master Gardener Reminiscence Gardening Program brought tabletop activities to individuals living with dementia and their caregivers. When memory care communities were forced to close their doors to volunteers, including the Reminiscence Gardening Program, UCCE Master Gardeners mobilized to help keep their gardening partners busy during isolation.

The program leaders pivoted to create a set of tabletop gardening instructions that any caregiver could use to provide a stimulating hands-on, plant-rich sensory experience, enjoying the varied color, scent and texture of plants. Step-by-step instructions and a list of necessary materials for Reminiscence Gardening were made available in English and Spanish on the updated UCCE Master Gardener Program website under “Let’s Grow Together San Diego: Stay at Home Gardening Resources.” Information found on the site helps guide caregivers to facilitate garden activities, which include growing microgreens, creating a garden-in-a-pot and planting succulents in a shallow tray.

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Birdhouses and gourd houses

One of the most recognizable displays found at every UCCE Master Gardener Program event is the large collection of handmade birdhouses and gourd houses. Each backyard aviary home is uniquely designed specifically for the species of birds that populate San Diego County. To see also : Law enforcement probe threats against Newsom, his businesses. This required that the master gardeners gather items to construct and decorate each birdhouse and colorfully paint the gourd houses.

A gourd birdhouse, hand-painted by master gardeners. These are being made available through notices on Facebook.

A gourd birdhouse, hand-painted by master gardeners. Normally available for purchase at public events, these are being made available through notices on Facebook and then delivered to the buyer’s home.

(Kim Kelso / UCCE Master Gardener)

Those activities have paused, and the cancellation of big, open-to-the public events in 2020 has left a large inventory. Not dissuaded, these clever master gardeners have devised a way to make their beautiful, earth-friendly products available to the bird-loving public: They list the available inventory on Facebook and, once an item has been purchased, safely deliver it to the new owner’s front yard or driveway. Social distancing rules are observed.

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Virtual spring seminar: ‘Learn, Plant, Grow’

Battling the restrictions imposed because of the pandemic dampened our big event efforts in 2020. See the article : Police, Communities, and Relationships During COVID-19. Spring seminars, plant sales and garden tours had previously allowed the program to reach out to large crowds with our message of the best science-based gardening practices.

Undaunted and ready to go to work again, our event chairs looked to spring 2021 as a chance to burst out of our imposed inactivity. They have created a very special virtual Spring Seminar, titled “Learn, Plant, Grow,” which will be presented the week of March 20-28. Participants who register will be given 24-hour access to 13 online presentations and three do-it-yourself workshops. Even the popular Master Gardener Marketplace will be open for purchasing garden-related items, including the handcrafted birdhouses. All presentations will be prerecorded and can be viewed multiple times. Each is available for viewing on demand.

“Learn, Plant, Grow” workshops will cover areas as wide-ranging as “Creating California Natives Seed Bombs,” “Glass and Wire Garden Art Creations,” and “Growing and Cooking With Herbs.” Presentations will focus on the needs of San Diego gardeners with topics such as rose care, container gardening, landscape plants for difficult locations, and citrus care.

Registration for “Learn, Plant, Grow” opened Feb. 1 and will remain open through March 28. We invite all gardeners or those interested in becoming gardeners to attend and take advantage of the expertise offered by the 350 members of the UCCE Master Gardener Program of San Diego County.

Gardening advice and activities

Experts with the University of California Master Gardener Program in San Diego County are still finding ways to inspire and instruct during coronavirus restrictions — with a hotline, activity kits, a vast library of resources, and an upcoming virtual Spring Seminar in March.

Master Gardeners Hotline From Home
Phone: (858) 822-6910

Let’s Grow Together San Diego
Stay At Home Gardening Resource

  • Reminiscence Gardening: tabletop garden-in-a-pot, growing microgreens, succulent dish garden, sensory exploration
  • Beginning Vegetable Gardening
  • Adult coloring book
  • Pest notes
  • How-to videos
  • Youth activities

Virtual Spring Seminar
What: “Learn, Plant, Grow”
When: March 20-28
Information and registration:

Harrelson has been a UCCE Master Gardener since 2012 and is its vice president of communications.

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