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Colet Allen

Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest

By Beet 2024 02 February

Written by Suzanne Simard

Recommended by Colet Allen


This book is a memoir of Suzanne Simard’s 30+ year journey through scientific research to find the Mother Tree.  The book reads like fiction with great story telling, humor and a childlike love and curiosity about her surroundings.  Suzanne’s upbringing in an extended, loving family of loggers, farmers, and ranchers in the northern forests of British Columbia, Canada put her on a lifelong journey through scientific research. She not only loves the trees – they are her passion.

She says that at 7 years old she watched her grandfather dig out the side of their outhouse to rescue their dog, Jiggs, who had fallen in and could not get out. This was the first time she remembered questions forming as the shovels of soil lifted up various layers from the forest floor. As she ran her fingers through handfuls of roots and other organic materials, she wondered what was all this different stuff. There were different colors, textures and masses of stringy material. What was its purpose?

What I loved about this book:

  1. How her family’s way of life in the forest informed so much of who she was and what she loved, and also helped prepare her for her life’s work – even if she didn’t know it at the time.
  2. How she framed and explained her questions and then set up experiments to determine if what she thought was happening was indeed happening. Her descriptions were magical, lyrical, and lovely. I could smell the forest as I listened to the audio version of her book read by her. (You can download the audio book from the Jackson County Library.)
  3. That she gave credit to those who came before her, such as grandparents and indigenous people. Their intentioned observation and spiritual beliefs about the natural world led and guided some of Suzanne’s ideas as she developed her scientific inquiries.
  4. Her bravery and stick-with-it-ness in the face of criticism from governmental agency personnel, corporate-motivated greedy foresters and less enlightened colleagues who could not, or did not, want to understand or even consider her ideas.
  5. That she made discovery after discovery until there was no way that her research could be refuted.
  6. How her research and discoveries, along with those of others, are slowly changing destructive logging practices, such as clear cutting. Seeing these ignorant and destructive practices slowly change gives me and others hope that nature is more about collaboration rather than competition. Hopefully we can help our forests to help us – and we can save ourselves.


Suzzane Simard: How Trees Talk to Each Other/TED Talks: I recommend this talk. You will see who she is, enjoy her delightful sense of humor and get a sense of the book in about 18 minutes.

Finding the Mother Tree was published May 4, 2021 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

“Unsheltered” by Barbara Kingsolver — A Book Recommendation

By Beet 2023 12 December

Now that I have learned how to access library audiobooks and download them to my phone, I am listening to a couple more books a month while driving in my car. Learning this process and getting it into my aging brain was on my 2023 goals list.  With the help of our Jackson County Library System, I have mastered this new skill that our young people take for granted, as we older folks did with a landline at their age.

In the past, I bought audio books (very expensive) and played them on my device in my car and at home. In 2021, I purchased a new Outback and, only after getting home realized it did not have a CD player. I was devastated, as I had close to 200 audiobooks in my home library.  At about the same time my home CD player died. Was the Universe trying to tell me something? So, I donated all of my audio books to the library, took the tax write off and moved on.

Now that I’m downloading library audiobooks to my phone, I am once again getting more books under my belt. Interestingly, one of the first books that I listened to was “Unsheltered” by Barbara Kingsolver.

Every book of Kingsolver’s that I have read (which is most of them) always brings surprise and delight. Her insights into family dynamics, social justice, science verses religion and so much more always give me a new perspective that I had not expected when I chose the book to read. “Unsheltered” is no different. One fascinating character in the story was Mary Treat, who is a real person and known for her work in botany and entomology. In the 1830’s. Mary corresponded with Charles Darwin, which adds some interesting discussions about Darwin’s work and ideas. As a lover of plants and the science around plants, this was one of the aspects of this book that I found most delicious.

This is a fascinating and complex read on many levels. I have spent many enjoyable reflective moments on various elements of the book since finishing it. The website below gives a fuller synopsis of the novel. Maybe one of these days as we are working in the gardens at SOREC we can have a lively discussion about “Unsheltered” by Barbara Kingsolver.

What Is Going On in the Herb Demo Garden?

By Beet 2023 10 October

By Colet Allen and Herb Garden Team

At the end of 2023 Practicum, Jory Kaplan and I became Co-GEMs of the Herb Demo Garden to rescue it from its sad state of overgrowth with oregano. We had others who wanted to join us, so a team was built. Shirley Wentworth, the previous Herb Garden GEM, generously helped us with identification of what was left after the oregano invasion, even though she was struggling with a major shoulder issue. She gave us her notebooks and lots of historical information on the garden. She still comes occasionally to check on our progress and we are grateful for each visit.

There is a big rose bush in the middle of the garden and the team discussed its future. Due to limited space, our plan was to remove it eventually. Joanne Mitani researched with her Rosarian friends and let us know this should be a keeper. It is a Black Cherry rose from Jackson & Perkins, patented in 2006. There is a 20-year patent on it, so we have until 2026 before that patent expires and we can propagate the rose. It is not a climber and should only be about 3’ tall. We are pruning it back to its expected size and will determine what to do with it next year. Thanks, Joanne, for the research and education on this beautiful and happy thriving rose.

Our concepts and guiding ideas are:

  • To consider labor and aging backs by making the garden as maintenance free as possible.
  • To make it truly a demonstration garden, show several different gardening techniques that will support growing herbs. The various ideas were barrels, a rock garden, a terraced container area, raised beds, and inground planting for larger and taller plants. It was not our goal to make a traditional Herb Garden but something providing more educational opportunities.
  • To incorporate art into the garden. We hope our efforts will be a positive visual addition to the Entry Garden for the front of SOREC.
  • To base the refurbishing effort on team decisions and collaborative work.
  • To bring in friends and relatives who want to work in the garden to join us.

We have been able to address our main ideas and goals. So far, we have received a donation of four wine barrels that we are preparing for Cultural Kitchen Gardens – Mexican, Indian/Middle Eastern/African, indigenous (potentially) and teas. Over time we may rotate the plants in the barrels as we discover different cultural herbs that will grow in our region.

We may use metal stock watering tanks rather than building raised beds. We received an offer of a donation of two tanks that we felt would accommodate our needs. We will paint and decorate these tanks and make them more appealing to the eye.

The container terraced area will be addressed later in the year, and we have a donation for materials and the potential for an individual to help construct that phase of the project.

Finally, Grace connected us with a Community Collaborative Citizen Science group called Oregon Season Tracker.  She has installed a sanctioned rain gauge in the Herb Garden and will be monitoring and reporting the information gathered. This puts us on the map with a nation-wide effort. There are other Citizen Science projects and, for some of them, Master Gardeners can earn hours with these organizations. If you are interested talk to Grace.

Rain gauge on the right.

We are developing a list of seeds to grow next spring. We will be looking for donations if you have some available. The babies that we captured from the original herb garden and the Practicum donations were placed in the nursery and have mostly done very well. Now that the weather is cooler and rains are in our future, we transferred those to the garden and they will be transplanted in their permanent locations in the next few weeks.

In addition to our two-legged friends, we are delighted to see pollinators, frogs and small black lizards enjoying the garden.

We are grateful (Thank YOU) for those who have volunteered and hope that their experiences inspire others to give us a try.

Specifically, thanks to everyone who worked to get the donation of the wine barrels, especially Nicole, Brian, Marie, Monette, Mark Hoffmeister and Padigan’s Winery. Mark and Monette also prepared the barrels so that they could be used for planting. It takes a village. Also, the stock tanks to be used as raised beds were donated my Jory Kaplan and Marie Carbone. These donations are greatly appreciated and have put us ahead of our expected refurbishing time schedule. The major items remaining will be plants and seeds.

I have also been told that there is a large pile of rocks on site under the cherry tree. Now I must locate that cherry tree. It will be a lot easier to pick them up in wheelbarrows on site and wheel them to our garden. The Rock Garden will be our fall and winter project and will hopefully be ready for planting next spring.



OMGA Joy of Gardening Conference

By Beet 2023 08 August

I was lucky to attend this year’s Oregon State University Extension Service Joy of Gardening Conference, two days of research-based classes on edibles, ornamentals and pollinators. It was held in Corvallis, OR on July 7 and 8. The conference was well organized and had excellent presenters. I learned a great deal about gardening that can be applied to my personal garden as well as Jackson County Master Gardener Association projects, training and gardens.

In addition to attending, I volunteered to help new attendees staying in the dorms to get their room keys, building passes, and directions to registration, etc. I also wrote a process to provide guidance to participants and the planning committee, and submitted it to the planning committee for use in 2024. Volunteering gave me insights and great appreciation for how hard the Joy of Gardening planning committee works and the value they bring to the Master Gardeners of Oregon. Thank you, Oregon Master Gardener Association.

The conference was excellent and every presentation provided new information to help Master Gardeners deal with current issues. I learned lessons that will be passed back to the Joy of Gardening planning group, and can also be applied to projects here at JCMGA. There were two outstanding Keynote speakers:

Tom Kaye on Coping with Climate was informative, had a good sense of humor and summarized recent research on how plants respond to changing climate. We hope he accepts our invitation to present at the 2024 Winter Dreams/Summer Gardens (WD/SG).

Dr. Melathopoulos is affectionately called “the Bee Guy”. He spoke at last year’s WD/SG and is scheduled again this fall. We hope he will update us on the fabulous Citizen Science efforts of Josephine County Master Gardeners, especially their findings about rare bees. Josephine County Master Gardeners will continue collecting data on rare bees in spite of their county commissioners’ defunding decisions. OSU is helping. This is great news.

The Joy of Gardening Conference is also a place to connect with groups to make a difference. I took a class on “Citizen Science”, an approach in which volunteers help conduct scientific research. Master Gardeners may be able to earn volunteer hours and provide a valuable service as they gather data, and it doesn’t take much effort! Please contact Grace Florjancic with any questions.

Grace and I participated in a round table discussion where we learned that most chapters are looking for ways to increase participation, retention and expand volunteers and membership. Grace and I discussed our efforts with creating Friends of the Gardens. The round table was an opportunity for different chapters to compare their issues and problem-solve. I think it should be included every year.

I was so thrilled to see how well JCMGA is doing as a chapter. We had the greatest number of people mentioned for awards. Lynn Kunstman was awarded the Master Gardener of the Year at the state level. She so deserves this recognition.  Thank you, Lynn, and congratulations. You go, girl!

OMGA raises scholarship money, via a raffle, to help people attend the Joy of Gardening Conference. This year, their Send a Friend project provided five people across Oregon the opportunity to attend. Next year, JCMGA could look into a similar fundraising effort. Perhaps it could be a reward for one of our Friends of the Garden or an outstanding student in the 2024 class.

In closing, I would like to mention another lovely activity at this year’s Joy of Gardening. Attendees visited the Polk County Inspirational Garden. We were met upon entering the garden by a Master Gardener and given refreshments, learned some history and took an informative stroll through this reclaimed area. I will let you learn about this beautiful space, its creation and development on your own virtual visit.

The Inspirational Garden has an acronym with an interesting history. FIG stands for Friends In the Garden. This beautiful place is managed and maintained by the Master Gardeners of Polk County and Friends, who are all volunteers. Brooke, the interim State MG, helped get the friends part of this in place as it was known that Master Gardeners alone could not do this on their own. Thank you to Brooke for helping to make that happen. This is a good example for us all. Many chapters have a claim to fame. It would be nice if these outstanding works were shared with OMGA and OMGA could advertise to all what Master Gardeners are doing throughout the state.

Attending the OMGA Joy of Gardening Conference was inspirational and provided me with many learnings to pass on to others. I encourage everyone to attend when they can.

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.