Barefoot gardener cherishes Albany childhood memories

Judi DeBord grew up in Albany Oregon. After some time away, she has returned to join her local OSU Extension Master Gardener program. She  gardens in neighborhoods where she spent girlhood days climbing street trees. Judi shared her story in November 2018.

A group of people gazes up at a large walnut tree in Albany Oregon.
Judi DeBord (in red) returns to a tree of her girlhood adventures as part of a Master Gardener educational tour.

My hometown is Albany, Oregon. I was born and raised here, and graduated from South Albany High School in a year that will remain unspecified.

One of my earliest memories of gardening are of a pussy willow bush that grew outside my bedroom window. Every spring, my friends and I would pick several branches of the fuzzy-ness and make things out of them. My mother had to deal with the fuzz floating everywhere for days. We grew tomatoes and had apple, pear and plum trees in the back yard. Summer and fall were busy with making apple sauce and making plum, pear and apple leather in the dehydrator. We enjoyed our fruits all winter long.

One of my favorite childhood memories is of climbing the beautiful, old trees in and around downtown Albany. My cousins lived “in town”, and when I spent the night at their house, we’d go off for most of the day, exploring. We climbed any tree we thought we could climb without getting caught or needing help to get back down! Sometimes it was a contest to see who would climb the highest. We also came to know every inch of Bryant Park, scouting for tadpoles, guppies, frogs or any other creature we could catch and fit into our cup or box. Of course, my aunt made us relinquish all captives before we came in the house, unless we managed to sneak into the basement before she saw us!

I grew up outside of town, with open fields all around our house. In mid-summer, the grass and scrub bushes grew taller than we were. We built forts in the grass, forged trails, rode bicycles, picked seed heads to wear, and played until my mother called to us and ordered us in for dinner.

One aspect of gardening I enjoy today is the smell and feel of good soil. I don’t know many people who garden barefoot as much as I do; maybe it’s from all those summers running around barefoot as a child. As soon as it seems warm enough outside, which for me is usually sometime in April, I’ll be out in the garden, with gloves on my hands but shoes on the sideline. Once in a while I’ll pay a small price – a splinter or thistle in my foot – but it always seems worth it.   Maybe someday I’ll invent a ‘tactile gardening sock’ for other barefoot gardeners like me.

Being a Master Gardener volunteer has been on my goal list for a long time. The Master Gardener program offers volunteers an opportunity to learn from nationally recognized experts from all around our state, which is just amazing. I’ve enjoyed volunteering many times before, mostly focusing on educational activities. Having access to resources to help others grow some of their own food, or grow beautiful ornamentals is fun and very fulfilling, even when things don’t go according to plan!

Join Master Gardeners in Linn County Oregon, or take a FREE short gardening class with us! Learn more HERE.

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