Yes, master gardeners have green thumbs and gorgeous, bountiful gardens. But did you know that they give back to the community through volunteer commitments such as teaching classes, answering questions about home horticulture and spearheading community gardens? Meet four Woodbury master gardeners whose love of gardening helps others in our city and beyond.
Master Gardener since 2010
Growing up in California, Ellie Anderson had her own little garden she puttered with. By the time she and her husband Glen moved to Minnesota in 1999, she still had that love for nature, but found that everything she touched seemed to die. “We bought a house with almost an acre yard, so I went to a landscape workshop at City Hall,” Anderson says. “Wonderful people were talking about perennials, natives, grasses—all strange terms to me. As I walked out, I saw a ‘You Can Be a Master Gardener’ brochure; it spoke to me!”
Anderson spent that summer researching the program and looking at gardens, and started with the University of Minnesota Extension program in January. “You learn absolutely everything you could imagine from some wonderful gardening gurus,” she says.
Anderson points out that the master gardener program is truly for the community, with each master gardener required to put in volunteer hours every year. “I did over 80 hours my first year; it was easy to rack up hours and fun,” she says. Her newfound gardening knowledge has also been “an inspiration to fix my mistakes. I had just put in a catnip garden under a black maple after raising it up with extra soil, only to find out I was probably going to kill my tree; you should never raise the soil level around a tree. So I removed the plants, shoveled out all the soil and replanted.”
(Left) Anderson's keyhole garden reaps lush vegetables. (Right) Ellie Anderson at home in her yard.
The beautiful landscape of Anderson’s yard now features an entry garden on either side of the driveway, a vegetable bed, an herb garden, a small rock garden, a butterfly garden and a shade garden inside a fenced-in dog area. Your eye also goes to two unique raised areas: keyhole gardens which produce a bounty of vegetables including carrots, radishes, chard, kale, beans, lettuce and peppers.
“A keyhole garden is a raised bed with a central compost area; they are popular in Third World countries,” Anderson says. “You fill the center halfway with soil and add grass clippings, leaves and anything vegetative such as banana peels, keeping it watered. The compost permeates the garden, giving your plants lots of nutrients.”
Master Gardener Activities
“I recently planted 150 seeds for plants for our big fundraiser, the Master Gardener Plant Sale, Anderson says. “I also enjoy the public contact at the Ask a Master Gardener tables, talking to people one-on-one about things like turf grass, Japanese beetles, emerald ash borers and what’s going on with their tomatoes. Lack of pollination is a hot topic now; I’m learning a lot about what our pollinators need.”
Anderson’s Gardening Tip
“Colorful annuals can be expensive to buy every year. It’s cheaper to start the seeds indoors, using a good quality seed-starting mix. Place under lights and keep them evenly moist. It also helps to have a heating mat underneath to warm the soil. Gradually harden them off before transplanting them outdoors after all danger of frost is past.”
Master Gardener since 2006
Retired from 3M (sales and marketing)
After Tom Nelson’s retirement, he took a long, hard look at his yard in the Royal Oaks neighborhood. “We have a large lot which I spent a lot of time mowing; I began wondering what else we could do,” Nelson says. “I realized I needed to know more about gardening and landscaping.”
Following completion of the master gardener program, Nelson took on his first project: installing a rain garden on each side of his lot. “We had low spots there between houses which made for a natural place for a rain garden,” he says. “I put in native plants which have long, straight roots; every year a third of the roots die, which allows water to go straight down. The longer you have a rain garden, the better it works.”
Nelson’s yard includes a variety of hosta (which he divides and gives away) as well as perennials such as roses and peonies, “stuff that gets busy and is showy,” he says. “We’ve also planted small trees such as pagoda dogwoods as opposed to oak and ash trees. They’ll grow and be nice in just six years or so.”
(Left) Fresh cut flowers from Nelson's garden. (Right) Nelson's yard features a majestic hosta garden.
Master Gardener Activities
When Nelson worked at 3M, he was involved in lots of sales meetings. “I like groups and presentations, so I present to garden clubs and other groups on various gardening topics,” he says. “I’ve also volunteered at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center and science museum. I have met so many really neat, dedicated people who are master gardeners.”
Nelson’s Gardening Tip
“When considering putting in a garden or landscape area, take a hose and lay it out in the shape and location you’re considering. Walk by that and live with it for a while to visualize how it will look in your yard before you start digging.”
Master gardener since 2009
Former orchestral musician and music educator, and elementary educator
Margaret Rowland was bit by the gardening bug when she and her husband bought their first (and current) house in Woodbury 11 years ago. “When we moved in, there were two small gardens and foundation plantings around the house,” Rowland says. “I quickly dug up sod and over the course of the next 10 years, put in nine perennial beds and a circular vegetable garden where the previous owner had an above-ground swimming pool.”
Rowland’s passion for gardening and her desire to become a good steward and advocate for the environment led her to the master gardener program. “I have learned much about crop rotation, soil science and vegetable diseases,” she says. “I’ve also learned about growing in our zone and for the many different conditions in our yard. Most recently, I am striving to create perennial gardens that are pollinator-friendly; it’s been a delight to see the growth in bird, toad and beneficial insect populations in our yard.”
Master Gardener Activities
“I have worked on the vegetable garden at the Washington County Fairgrounds since 2009, given educational talks on vegetable gardening and assisted with a Habitat for Humanity planting,” Rowland says. “I also serve at garden tours and Ask a Master Gardener booths.”
Rowland’s Gardening Tip
“Use organic growing practices to produce the most healthful vegetables possible. I use 1) crop rotation and good weed management to avoid the spread of disease; 2) intensive planting—planting close together in clusters rather than rows—to minimize soil erosion and reduce watering and weeding; and 3) integrated pest management. I do not spray any pesticides; if any insects become problematic, I pick them off by hand.”
Master gardener since 2010
Born and raised on a family farm, Theresa McCormick has always possessed a strong interest in gardening. “It’s fun to see something come to life and nurture it through the summer months,” she says. “I love knowing how healthy vegetables and fruits from the garden are, and love continuous blooms from the spring crocus to the dahlias and roses which hang out until summer’s end.”
McCormick has gardened in many places, and the master gardener program has taught her to look at soil, water moisture and the amount of sunlight. “My gardens in Edina had fertile, moist soil and more shade; we’ve lived in Woodbury for 16 years where we have clay soil,” she says. “I’ve learned the right place for the right plant.”
After maintaining 13 gardens in her Wedgewood home, McCormick now gardens at her Bailey’s Arbor villa where she and her husband moved in 2005, enjoying a bounty of perennials and blooming shrubs as well as tomatoes and an herb garden. “Our garden isn’t totally complete, and of course each spring you see what comes back and you start over from there.”
Master Gardener Activities
“Ask a Master Gardener is my biggest volunteer activity,” McCormick says. “We answer yard and garden-related questions of every type imaginable at events such as Ask a Master Gardener at Valley Creek Mall, landscape workshops and the Washington County Fair. Master gardeners also supervise demonstration gardens throughout the county.”
McCormick’s Gardening Tip
“My husband and I try to create a low-maintenance landscape by selecting perennials and shrubs which are drought and pest resistant. For continuous bloom, we incorporate annuals.”
A caterpillar in Ellie Anderson's butterfly garden.
What Makes a Master Gardener?
- Selection by your local county program for a master gardener internship.
- Completion of the extension master gardener course offered each January–April through the University of Minnesota: at the St. Paul campus during even years, and at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum during odd years.
- Fifty hours of volunteer service the first year as interns, 25 hours annually thereafter.
- Five to 12 hours of continuing education annually (depending on county).
- Attendance at master gardener meetings in county of residence.
Washington County Master Gardener Plant Sale
10 a.m.–3 p.m.
Washington County Fairgrounds
Ask a Master Gardener at Woodbury Farmers’ Market
Most Sundays in June–August