Lifetime Master Gardener Paula Lupcho has served over 6,000 hours as a volunteer and was named Benton County Master Gardener of the Year in 2011. She has held many positions on the board of the Benton County Master Gardener Association and has mentored numerous Master Gardener trainees. Paula shared her story in winter of 2019.
I am a native Californian and grew up in Newport Beach, California. Because we lived on an island in the harbor, I learned how to swim about the same time I learned how to walk. My dad had two passions—deep sea fishing and gardening. My sister got the fishing gene and I got the gardening gene. She hated gardening and I hated fishing that was helped along by persistent seasickness. My mother’s parents were also gardeners/farmers. They had fruit trees, berry bushes, and vegetable beds. It was a double dose of an inherited gardening imperative.
My earliest memories of gardening aren’t really memories but experiences that were captured in home movies. As a toddler, my sister and I were let loose into the yard with nothing but our undies when my father was out working in the garden. He grew great big tomatoes. We got to run, play, and get thoroughly dirty. When he watered, we were thoroughly muddy. All was put right by a nice bath that Mom had waiting. I think that sunk into my own parenting mentality because I always thought my boys had a good day at school if the came home dirty.
Currently, my husband and I live in Benton County just west of Philomath. This is the second home we have built and the second garden that I have established from bare dirt. We started work on the garden in 2008. The only plants on the property were native oaks and hawthorns, and conifers like Doug fir and Grand Fir from an old Christmas tree farm. It is amazing to me to see pictures of the house before it was finished with absolutely nothing in the ground. Today, pictures show a complete garden with fully mature trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals. It took lots of hard work, but it is deeply rewarding to see it all come to fruition.
In each place that I have lived, I have been exposed to a wide variety of plants as in Southern California, which is a subtropical zone, to the Sierra Nevada alpine zone. The Pacific Northwest offered another huge palette of plants and most of them were unfamiliar to me. During my Master Gardener training, I was is a state of buzzing confusion as people rattled off names of PNW plants that I had never heard of. Over time, most of these plants now seem like old friends. But, wherever I live, I will always have at least 1 rose (with the exception of the Sierras). A rose is my connection to my mother, grandmother, and aunts. They all grew roses. It is one of my favorite memories of my grandmother’s home. Standard roses lined the front walk, and there was a large rose garden in the back. All of them were fragrant. I think Mr. Lincoln is my favorite. It has everything a rose should have; it is a gorgeous velvety red color and has the most wonderful fragrance. It’s perfect.
I suppose I am quite judgmental about plants. I have strong opinions about what a plant should or should not be. Shrubs and trees must have good shape and a strong silhouette—nothing floppy is allowed. Plants that are too exuberant and cause too much work to keep them in check are removed. No yellow or orange flowers are permitted—ever. Golden foliage is okay. I love annuals. The riot of color that they add to the summer garden makes me happy. These rules have happened over time as I have matured as a gardener as I have found my gardening comfort zone.
Just after we moved to Oregon, I learned about the Master Gardener program. I attended one of the lunchtime lectures conducted by MG volunteers. It was the right time of year to submit an application to join the program. I was accepted and so lucky to be in a great class of trainees. Being a part of the gardening community was like finding my way home. I have loved every minute of being a Master Gardener. Giving back to the community through public service is the core of the program and is personally rewarding. But, I have gotten back so much more than I have given. My real gardening education has happened over time as I continue to stay active and learn from fellow gardeners, most of whom are far better gardeners than I am. And, I have made lifelong friends along the way.
Do you share Paula’s enthusiasm for ornamentals? Find research-based resources for growing your best flowers, shrubs and trees with OSU Extension.