Many factors make the garden and the gardener

By Mary Fran McClure
WSU Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener

garden plaque amidst the flowers
“As the garden grows, so does the gardener,” is the apt description on this plaque set among elfin thyme in the landscape of WSU Master Gardener columnist Mary Fran McClure. The plaque was given to her some 30 years ago by dear friends in Corvallis, Oregon. – Provided photo/WSU Master Gardeners
Mary Fran McClure
Mary Fran McClure – WSU Extension Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener – photo by Don Seabrook, Wenatchee World

It’s interesting that three Master Gardener columnists — Bonnie Orr, Julie Banken and I — all refer to our rural upbringing as a major factor in our philosophy on gardening. No doubt that says something about appreciation of nature and the outdoors.

My rural upbringing is one of three factors I attribute to my gardening philosophy. Growing up on a ranch where we grew most of our food had a huge impact on me. My mother raised vegetables and fruit in a big garden; it was quite a disaster the few times cattle or pigs got through the gate and trampled it. Our hands and lips turned purple during blackberry season. Wild blackberries were a problem in overtaking pastureland but going out and picking berries for pies and jam was a whole different matter.

Three mature fig trees provided fruit and great climbing perches for my brother and me as youngsters.

All in all, growing up on a ranch taught me responsibility, cooperation and respect for plants and animals.

Becoming a Master Gardener 39 years ago is the second factor that further inspired my love of gardening. Joining a group of like-minded folks with great ideas has been a valuable experience, as well as educational. It furthered my avoidance of spraying, as I only use herbicides aimed at dandelions, poison oak and puncturevine. I thank the birds for searching out aphids and other damaging insects.

Young, energetic and ambitious — those qualities are almost a lifetime away for those of us with arthritis and limited energy. It doesn’t mean gardening is less important, just that we must be selective in what we grow in a less than perfect landscape. That leads to the third factor in my gardening philosophy: the ever-changing ability to garden due to age.

Our perception of what’s important in the garden and landscape changes as we age. In my younger years, it was great fun trying new plants, hearing about new introductions and trying them. Now in my 80s, it’s time to simplify gardening.

There are plenty of plants that are easy care yet have year-around interest. For shrubs, that means red- and yellow-twig dogwoods, elderberries, golden and red flowering currants. They do best with an occasional removal of older stems, but otherwise fare well by themselves.

For perennials, I admire sedums, both the taller ones such as S. ‘Autumn Joy’ and the ground hugging types of many colors. All take low water and minimal care. Lavender, penstemons, shade-loving hostas and gloriosa daisies are more of my favorites, as I’m willing to deadhead the daisies. Landscape roses on their own rootstocks are also quite trouble-free.

Raised beds make gardening practical for us older gardeners. Strawberries, tomatoes and some herbs are my go-to plants. Except for the strawberry bed, every year I edge the beds with low, easy-care marigolds around the inside of the planters for color. It brightens them up. Yes, there’s the chore of deadheading marigolds, but it’s easy and relaxing when I can sit on the edge of the bed while trimming spent blossoms. I save seeds year after year; in fact, I will share seed packets at a Third Saturday in the Garden at the Community Education Garden this spring.

There’s a reason gardening is one of America’s most popular hobbies. In addition to visual beauty and good exercise, it encompasses all our other senses as well — the tasty food we grow, pleasure of touch, appreciating the sound of birds and buzzing bees, and the heady fragrances of roses, lilacs and so many other plants.

A very satisfying hobby, this gardening is! Hope you agree.

A WSU Chelan and Douglas County Master Gardener column appears weekly in The Wenatchee World. To learn more, visit or call (509) 667-6540.