Hidden on a residential street near French Hospital Medical Center is a testimonial to the power of dedicated volunteerism. The Master Gardeners of SLO County have created with their own hands and hard work a 3/4-acre Demonstration Garden on county property.
Funds for the project were raised by the volunteers through plant sales, events and donations. The official name of the garden is the “Garden of the Seven Sisters” in reference to the chain of volcanic peaks, two of which are visible from the garden.
According to their website, the Master Gardeners “were organized in California in 1979 to help answer questions from home gardeners that, as populations grew, could not be handled by the County Extension Advisor alone.”
The San Luis Obispo chapter, begun in 1996, has 115 Master Gardeners who have gone through a fivemonth training program with UC horticulture experts and volunteer a certain amount of time in community education and outreach. Each year they acquire 12 hours of continuing education and are “coached by the local farm advisor.”
The driving force behind the Demonstration Garden was Master Gardener Thorv Hessulund of Arroyo Grande. In June 2005, Hessulund took on the Demonstration Garden project, which had been sitting on the shelf since 2003. With the encouragement of Mary Bianchi, UC Extension Horticulture Farm Advisor and a committee of other Master Gardeners, he began research in 2006 on permits water meters, fencing and fundraising for the project
Funding and permit issues slowed up progress during 2007, and it was not until October 2008 that the permit process was completed. Landscape architect Scott Dowland volunteered to create a landscape plan while Hessulund acquired bids for fencing. After securing a generous donation by an area rancher for the cost of the fence, it was finally installed in April of 2009. A groundbreaking ceremony on June 11, 2009 celebrated the beginning the garden construction.
Volunteers then donned their gardening gloves pitched in with gopher pa trols and work parties to clear the weeds, and install irrigation using donated equipment. The Civilian Conservation Corps constructed paths to connect the plots and funds were raised for two storage sheds for the volunteers.
In order to create the different garden habitats, Master Gardeners were asked to submit a theme and plan for their specific area, which was reviewed by a plant selection committee.
The gardeners selected then formed a team to do the work of planting and tending the garden throughout the year. The results of those individual commitments are 14 welltended and unique garden spaces, each showcasing practical solutions for the home garden.
For example, a lowimpact water retention project by Cindy Horney uses a slight slope on the property, while the kitchen garden displays various types of raised beds. The fruit and nut orchard now has 39 productive trees, thanks to the work of Charles Davis.
The latest addition is a fire-safe landscape with an inviting stone patio constructed by member Clif Swanson. The colorful sunshine school demo garden created by Cindy Muther is used for outdoor teacher education followed up with school site visits.
Besides teacher education and the telephone helpline, Master Gardeners present workshops for the public at 10 a.m. on the third Saturday of each month at the Demonstration Garden. Each workshop explores a topic of interest to area gardeners, as well as gives locals an opportunity to stroll through the grounds. Attractive signs designate each habitat, and every plant is labeled, much to the delight of the information-hungry visitor.
A Master Gardener for 10 years, volunteer Rayleen Wight said, “What I love most about being a Master Gardener is that I keep learning through researching the questions I receive on the helpline and at the booth at the Farmers Markets. Master Gardeners is all about information and education.”
If the Master Gardeners on your local helpline do not know the answer to your question, Wight said, they will call UC Davis and speak with an expert and call you back. That’s indeed dedicated volunteerism at its best!