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Mastering the art of Southern gardening

To listen to Sharon Litwin’s interview with Master Gardener Richard Jensen on WWNO- FM, click here.
It may be a little cool out for the next several days. But, New Orleans being New Orleans, it probably won’t last. And that means the pansies and petunias will continue to flourish, the camellias will continue to bloom.

Folk whose gardening acumen (like mine) ranks in the zero to minus-one range tend to be totally in awe of those whose thumbs are green. But, in the plant pecking order, even those whose thumbs are green bow down before the truly elite: the Master Gardeners.

There are only 200 of them in the New Orleans area. They are a passionate group who not only subject themselves to the many, many hours of instruction required to become Master Gardeners, but they also fulfill additional hours of required volunteer duties in a number of public gardens in our area.

People like Montana native and avid gardener Richard Jensen, having landed in the sub-tropical climate of the Crescent City, want to know more about what will or won’t grow here. They are happy to work hard and acquire as much knowledge as they can in order to qualify as a Master Gardener.

“It’s a pretty intensive 40 to 50 hours of training,” Rich says. “So you have to be committed to the whole idea, because in the following year each Master Gardner is required to do 40 hours of community service as well.”

Master Gardener Rich Jensen

For Rich, that meant some really happy time working in City Park’s Botanical Garden. Others have chosen to spend their volunteer hours working in gardens as varied as the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum in the French Quarter, the Hollygrove Farmers Market or Audubon Park’s Butterfly Garden.

So is all this effort really worth it?

“Oh yes,” Rich says. “Not only do you meet people from all walks of life who have the same interest you do, you also learn so much about botany, soils, weeds, pesticides, vegetables and herbs and organic gardening.”

Rich, knowing that a flower-killer like me can use as much help as possible, left me with one wonderful tidbit of information, something he said he learned while studying to be a Master Gardener. Having explained to him that my Darwinian approach to gardening was affirmed by the fact that most of my potted plants ended up in the great window box in the sky whenever I left town even for a few days, Rich told me about soil polymers.

Don’t yawn. These fabulous little rock-salt-looking crystals, when mixed with potting soil, act as plant protectors when fools like me forget to water their pots. Plant roots grow through these polymer crystals into the soil. They trap and retain their dose of water, for days, in fact. So now, at least, my plants have a fighting chance at survival.

Now, I’ll never be a Master Gardener, that’s for sure. But those interested in more information about the program can obtain it at Go to the feature section and link to Master Gardeners.

Sharon Litwin is president of NolaVie.


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