Year you became a Master Gardener: 2013
What is your background, and how did you get started gardening?
Growing up in St. Louis, my family spent weekends at my grandparent’s farm, where my brothers and I would play in the woods and fish in the pond. I love the outdoors and spent summers growing up at a YMCA camp in the Ozarks, as a camp counselor and later as specialty camp director. I have worked travel camps with such expeditions as climbing Mt. Rainier and whitewater rafting, and was a canoe guide in the Boundary Waters in Northern Minnesota. I always have enjoyed the outdoors, and now gardening has become a new focus.
What is your gardening specialty and why?
I love berries! I love discovering wild patches of berries and creating jams and jellies. It is relaxing for me to be outside for hours in the quiet, gathering berries. After making small batches of jams for friends and family, I was fortunate enough to connect with Ethereal Confections in Woodstock, and my business, Sunshine In A Jar, was born. I utilize local fruit from McHenry County and the Midwest. While I still pick wild berries, I also work with local farmers in the area. Who would have guessed McHenry County was such a fruit mecca? I now am growing veggies for a pepper jam and herbs in my garden to enhance the fruit flavors of my jams.
What’s in your garden? Tell us a bit about it.
My garden usually has green peppers, jalapenos, rhubarb, cilantro, basil, tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchinis. Fruit crops are raspberries, black raspberries, thornless blackberries, and, recently, I have added grapes and hops. I also have a shade garden and a community garden I share with my next-door neighbor.
What motivated you to become a Master Gardener? What projects do you volunteer for within the organization?
A good friend was signing up for the University of Illinois Extension class and encouraged me to do the same. I have learned so much and realize there is so much more to learn. The class instructors, speakers, field trips and continuing education opportunities are incredible. We are so lucky to have this organization through the University of Illinois-Champaign.
I loved volunteering at the fairgrounds, teaching grade schoolers about the monarch butterflies. Otherwise I volunteer at Gardenfest, Gardenwalk and the Farm Stroll. There are so many opportunities and fun people to meet, the time always flies.
What tips do you have for someone who is just getting started, either with their own garden or in training to become a Master Gardener?
My advice in starting a garden is that location and soil are very important. And to have fun with it! If something doesn’t work out in one spot, it might do better in another. Gardening can be forgiving. Each year, we get to try all over again for a healthier more abundant crop. Nothing tastes better than something fresh from your own garden!
• The McHenry County Extension Master Gardeners are volunteers sponsored by University of Illinois Extension. Their mission is to share unbiased, reliable, research-based information with home landscapers and gardeners, as well as to encourage people to enjoy gardening and vegetable growing. For information, contact the McHenry County Master Gardeners at 815-338-3737 or web.extension.illinois.edu/lm.