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Colet Allen

The Class of 2023 – The Bounce Back Class

By Beet 2023 06 June

At JCMGA, 2023 has seen the Master Gardeners jumping back into what is beginning to feel almost normal. Several things have come together and created the look and feel of former excellence once again.  The open vacancy for our OSU Coordinator was filled in January with Grace Florjancic. She is a quick study, and we are so happy to have her energy, enthusiasm, and knowledgeable leadership helping to put JCMGA back in line as one of the best Master Gardener Chapters in the state of Oregon. Welcome Grace!

Jane Moyer and a group of JCMGA mentors helped to organize the 2023 Master Gardener Program, with a 14-week class every Wednesday afternoon beginning in January.  Students learned from a 22-chapter text, online modules and in person instruction. They also teamed up with other classmates to create presentations on many Plant Families. They researched their subjects, created online presentations, and presented their findings to approximately 75 people in attendance. Hopefully, each student will pass on their learned knowledge to a broader community in the Rogue Valley.

The Master Gardener Class of 2023 is a promising lot. They started out 55 strong and at this writing the class has only lost two of its original members. There is a large age range represented. Kemper Rose was in utero during the first 2 months of class. Her mother Kendyl Berkowitz was in the early stages of labor during Sunday’s Practicum before Kemper Rose was born later the following day on March 13th, 2023.

Kendyl provided the following interesting facts about Kemper’s name, “Less than 100 people in the world are named Kemper every year. And her name means ‘farmer’. Her middle name is Rose, partly because we have grandmothers with that name but also because I am Bette Midler’s biggest fan EVER.” This was a family affair. Kemper’s Grandfather Jory was also taking the class, along with Kendyl and Kemper Rose. Dad and husband Michael was busy supporting the family and helping to keep Oregonians safe as a supervisor for Oregon State Police Dispatch.  I am sure dad was doing some double duty helping to keep Kemper’s 2-year-old brother happy with mom going to class and keeping up with her job as Executive Director for Rebuilding Together Rogue Valley. This is a nonprofit that uses donations and grant funding to supply low-income disabled homeowners with home modifications to keep them safe at home for as long as possible. Kendyl, on behalf of Rebuilding Together, has also provided a generous grant for JCMGA’s use for improving access to the demonstration gardens.

This class brings many skills and talents to JCMGA. They have signed up for several roles that were vacant after Covid took its toll over the past two challenging years. They have learned new skills and gardening techniques that they can use for the rest of their lives and will hopefully spread this newfound information to our Southern Oregon communities. They have also made new friends.

One of the traits that I witnessed during the Practicum was how our group, mostly strangers, became a well-oiled machine. Once they were taught where things were located, the processes they would use during practicum and the jobs that needed to be done, they worked together. There were no slackers in this group. They volunteered readily, helped one another, buddied up to be more efficient and offered suggestions.  They learned from each other as well as our two knowledgeable and supportive Mentors. It was a joyful way to spend three hours, continuing to learn new skills, volunteering for a wonderful organization and being surrounded by growing plants.

Book Report – Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and The Teaching of Plants

By Beet 2023 05 May

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and The Teaching of Plants

By Robin Wall Kimmerer

Last July, at the OSU OMGA Joy of Gardening Conference, in Corvallis, OR the Program listed Dr. Samantha Chisolm Hatfield as one of the Keynote speakers with a presentation titled What is TEK? I had no idea. I had never heard of the term TEK. After listening to her for an hour, I not only understood what it meant but my soul soared to learn that this was a subject being taken seriously at the university level.

The definition of TEK is: Traditional Ecological Knowledge.  Once I leaned the definition, I instantly thought of the Three Sisters, a gardening method many non-Native Americans have learned, practiced, and passed down without acknowledging where the idea came from. My farming grandparents used this approach in Oklahoma when I was a child.

There was several veteran Master Gardeners at my table and after Dr. Hatfield’s talk, I asked where I could find more information like she had discussed? One of them mentioned Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

After reading the first chapter, I convinced my online book club to make this a selection that I would facilitate. Only 7 people attended that month, but our discussion went 30 minutes overtime.  That was the first time in my experience with this club that happened.  I ask how many in the class had heard of TEK. Only two of us had.

This is a book about indigenous wisdom and also the struggle to have non-Native Americans take seriously indigenous wisdom’s keen observations with intent to learn and understand. The book is poetic and scientific, and introduces us to Native American folk lore – all in one magical read. Each chapter leaves you with a lesson that we can incorporate in our own knowledge base, not only as Master Gardeners but as good stewards of the land and a citizen of this planet.

Our OSU 2023 class had to watch many online modules on growing vegetables.  There was one slide about the Three Sisters. That one slide is a beginning.  I look forward to many more methods to learn about and to “acknowledge” those ancient care takers for their contributions.

An engaging and delightful read, both beautifully written and scientific! WOW, what a combination.


  1. Kimmerer is a Professor of Botany and an enrolled Citizen of the Potawatomi Nation.
  2. There was an endorsement by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, who said, “she takes us on a journey that is every bit as mythic as it is scientific, as scared as it is historical, as clever as it is wise.”
  3. Jane Goodall, author of Seeds of Hope states, “Robin Wall Kimmerer shows how the factual, objective approach of science can be enriched by the ancient knowledge of the indigenous people. It is the way that she captures beauty that I love most – the images of giant cedars and wild strawberries, a forest in the rain and a meadow of fragrant sweetgrass will stay with you long after you have the last page.”

I agree with these two excellent authors completely.

Unsung Heroes – Viki Ashford

By Beet 2023 04 April

Colet Allen and Contributor Janie Burcart


Meet Viki Ashford. Viki took a Master Gardener class back in 2005, when there was no practicum component. Being a perfectionist, Viki is now taking the Practicum, as it’s available for the first time since the pandemic. Viki exemplifies the mission of the Jackson County Master Gardener (JCMG) program with her passion for education and volunteerism, and her reluctance to be regarded as an unsung hero!

She has long worked in the plant clinic, a facet of the JCMG program that is most visible and useful to the community.  She reports: “I’m always learning something new.”  Viki explained that sometimes she feels that she learns more from the clients than they do from her – particularly when they challenge her with a question to which she doesn’t know the answer!  “Many gardeners think we know everything in the plant clinic. NOT so! Sometimes we have to search out answers, too.”  She added: “We are very committed to not rushing to closure for an answer to a question.  We pride ourselves on doing step-by-step documented research from educational and scientific sources.”  Viki is a strong advocate for natives and points out how we can reduce irrigation by planting natives.

In addition to the plant clinic, Viki is involved in other gardening projects in the community. She has been an active member of the Ashland Garden Club since 2005 and chairs its Heirloom Garden committee. The Heirloom Garden is a collection of gardens at North Mountain Park in Ashland, dating from the late 1800s, that are designed, planted and maintained by Viki and her committee members.

Viki also volunteers in the beautiful garden at Celia’s House, a 12-room hospice home in Medford with a garden that dates to the early 20th century. A variety of owners has led to a lack of cohesion in the garden design, something that Viki is transforming by careful promotion of native plants. “I feel a great sense of accomplishment after I have spent a morning there gardening, knowing it’s a pleasant and serene space for the residents.”  This work is much appreciated by the hospice staff and residents, as described by Dwight Wilson, Executive Director of Celia’s House: “We are blessed to have the benefit of a volunteer group of individuals to maintain our 2-acre grounds. Under the guidance of our Master Gardeners, the volunteers plant, weed, update, and maintain one of the most beautiful locations in the Rogue Valley. The efforts of this group not only maintain a beautiful setting for those we care for, but they are also assisting us in moving to more sustainable plantings and maintenance. The love and support of our Master Gardener community has been invaluable in that we could not replicate it without their efforts.”

Viki Ashford is a true volunteer: she labors outside the limelight, spreads joy and pleasure with her service and expects nothing in return except the satisfaction of a job well done.  Thank you, Viki, a deserving Unsung Hero.