Putting down roots in the Brownsville community

Melissa Selby joined the OSU Extension Master Gardeners of Linn County in 2016. She lives in rural Linn County and is settling in as a small farmer, gardener, and part-time daylily hybridizer. Melissa shares tips for success with houseplants and sweet stories of growing up in a ‘gardening wonderland’. She shared her story in Fall 2019.

What is your hometown?

My hometown is Brownsville, Oregon.  My family and I have just purchased our own little farm in between Brownsville and Sweet Home and today was our last day of moving out of our rental, which was in town.  It has been a crazy few months and most of my personal effects are plants!  Although I am not originally from Brownsville, it is certainly where my heart is and am content in forgetting that I have ever lived anywhere else!

Describe your early gardening experiences.

My mom always maintained a large vegetable garden when I was young.  We spent weekends and after school hours there, watering and eating.  We would just take a knife, potato peeler and the salt and pepper out with us and eat and work.  The chickens would be let out to scratch around too.  My brother and I would entertain ourselves climbing a giant Oleander at the front of the garden which was also right by the street so we could quietly spy any unsuspecting neighbors who may be walking by.  We were also in 4-H and had a large barn of rabbits next to the garden, providing much mulch we had to shovel! One of our favorite things to do in the afternoons when we went to tend the rabbits was eat the pulp out of the cherry tomatoes and throw the skins at each other, boy would my mom be upset when we came in with all of those stains on our school clothes!  My mom was also no stranger to landscaping our yard, providing me with a wonderland to play in with My Little Ponies and my imaginary friend (who treated me nicer than my big brother!).  I owe my early love of gardens to my mom and all her hard work, now we share many fun conversations but these days I usually know what plant she’s talking about!  

What is your current garden like?

At our home that we sold when we moved to Brownsville I had been gardening for five years.  When we moved I spent months beforehand potting up precious things I wanted to take with me.  It took a whole vehicle and trailer combo to bring my loot (not including houseplants).  A large amount of it stayed in the pots where I have struggled to keep it alive through three summers.  More tender things were planted at the rental and I took splits from them to bring to my new place.  I have beautified many a rental house in my life using this method!  Even though it was hard work, it makes me happy to know that I have spread many flower friends around Earth this way.  I can’t wait to get started on my (hopefully) last garden and get these friends into the ground.  

I would consider my 60+ houseplants as part of my current garden.  Those I usually struggle to keep happy all winter until I take them outside for the summer, where they flourish.  Right when they are at their finest, I have to drag them in (hopefully) before a frost and then they slowly decline until I can get them outside again.  I used to find myself saying that I wasn’t good with houseplants, until a few years ago I realized that I have a few that are roughly 25 years old, so I guess I’m not that bad.   

Describe one plant that you grow which reminds you of home .

In my garden wonderland of a childhood front yard there was a silk tree (Albizia julibrissin).  When I was very young, it lived in a location where my mom did not want it.  She attempted to dig it out but when the shovel proved unsuccessful, my dad hooked up the truck and chain and dragged it out to the burn pile.  A few months later, there was the stump, sprouting in the burn pile.  My gardening mom, who (like most of us gardeners) has a soft spot for all things growing, decided that if it wanted to live so bad, she would put it in the front yard.  It was small while I was small, I even broke a branch trying to climb it too soon and was too afraid to tell my mom, but that die-hard healed up and lived there until I was in my 20’s.  It was massive, so massive in fact that it overshadowed much of the street and the solar panels on the opposite side of the roof.  That’s when my dad, who is more of a ‘cement it and paint it green’ kinda gardener, chopped it down for good.  Nevertheless, a few years ago, I was at my dad’s and potted something up with his native soil and wouldn’t you know, up sprouted a silk tree from a dormant seed in that soil.  As I have inherited a soft spot for all things growing, I now have a potted silk tree that I just may find a spot for on my new farm. 

What’s a favorite garden memory—a sound, sensation, smell or taste associated with a favorite garden in your life? 

The other thing that I plan on planting in my new garden that reminds me of that front yard wonderland is Lantana.  I spent countless hours catching butterflies from those plants and now as soon as I smell their distinct aroma, it takes me right back.  What’s funny to me about that yard is, as I got bigger, it got smaller.  My dad eventually removed everything living and filled it with rock, and the actual square footage is probably no more than 70 but my mom sure knew what to do with a small space to make it infinite for me.    

What does being a Master Gardener volunteer mean to you?

Being a Master Gardener means that not only do I get to help others have a more enjoyable and successful garden, but the learning opportunities are endless. I also get to surround myself with other fellow gardeners, which is great fun.  I enjoy giving to my community and Master Gardening allows me to do that and do it in a way that I love.     

What’s one thing people might be surprised to know about you and your garden?

Fall of 2018 I purchased around 1000 daylily seedlings from someone who was hybridizing but giving it up to move out of the country.  This summer about one third of them bloomed and my husband and I tried our hand at pollinating them, resulting in a large amount of new seeds to start and I am excited to see what we came up with.  It’s hard to be patient though, since it can be multiple seasons before you see results!  

You can help grow knowledge, gardens and communities. Applications for the 2020 Volunteer Program are open until December 3rd.  Learn more and join us.

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