Starting from scratch and constantly learning

Master gardener trainee Allison Socha joined the Master Gardener Program of Linn & Benton County in 2020. Allison and her classmates adapted to the many challenges of 2020 by finding new ways to connect with gardeners and build community online.

Photo courtesy of Allison Socha

Tell us about your hometown.

I grew up in the Bay Area in Union City, CA. As a child in the 80’s and 90’s Union City was known as the Gladiolus capital of the world. However, like many places in the Bay Area, vast swatches of farmland were soon replaced with houses, houses, and more houses. As I became an adult, I realized that life in the crowded suburbs was not for me, and was especially not somewhere I wanted to raise my children. About two years ago, my husband and I got the idea to “move to the woods” and in June 2019 we were able to make that dream come true when we bought our house in Philomath. My hope is that this house in the woods will provide the perfect green backdrop for my 4-year-old daughter’s imaginative play for years to come. 

What’s a favorite garden memory? 

When my daughter was about a year old we started our first vegetable garden in our Bay Area home. We lived in a very hot part of the Bay Area that tomatoes loved. That first summer our cherry tomato plants exploded with fruit in the middle of the summer. I gave my daughter one of the sungolds with no expectation that she would like it, being that she was only a year old. To my surprise she absolutely adored it. She begged for more and more, and almost every tomato on the plant ended up in her stomach. She still loves tomatoes to this day, we can’t keep them in our house long. I will always grow tomatoes just to watch her enjoy them so much. Over the years, her love of veggies has grown, and she will scarf down peas and zucchini too. But nothing compares to her first love of tomatoes. 

Tell us about your current garden.

We moved to our two acre lot in Philomath just over a year ago. Most of our land is Douglas Firs on a steep hillside, but we have one flat spot perfect for a vegetable garden, although it doesn’t get quite as much sun as I would hope for. In January of this year we were able to get the spot cleared and built some raised beds surrounded by a 7 foot deer fence (because country deer jump higher than city deer). After the pandemic hit, I was so happy to have a space to grow our own little “victory garden”. I definitely still have a lot to learn about gardening in this Pacific Northwest. But I am happy with what we were able to produce this year. We had success with peas, strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes, and broccoli. 

Orange California poppies in a beautifully overgrown garden.
Eschscholzia californica, or California poppy. Photo by Madeleine Maguire on Unsplash

Describe a plant that reminds you of home.

Growing up in the Bay Area we spent many days hiking in the hills. My parents both love

California native plants and taught me to identify them as we meandered the trails. Of course, one of my favorite seasons was in Spring when the California Poppies would turn the hills a brilliant orange. When I was a little older, my parents ripped out their front lawn and filled in the space with native plants. It wasn’t long before the poppies took over, and every late March and early April their garden would explode with poppies. I saw a singular California Poppy come up in my garden here in Philomath this Summer, and it immediately transported me back to my parents’ garden, hiking the hills, and home.  

Why did you become a Master Gardener volunteer?

I decided to become a Master Gardener because I was new to Oregon and the Corvallis area and I wanted to expand my personal community while also learning about gardening techniques in the Pacific Northwest. When my family and I moved to Oregon we didn’t have any connections in this area, so we were basically starting from scratch. I thought that the Master Gardener program would be the best way for me to dive deeper into one of my interests while at the same time meeting new people who had similar interests as me. As I learned more about the program, I also realized how fulfilling it would be to already build a foundation of giving back to the community so soon after moving to a new place. I hope to be an example to my daughter in the importance of volunteering. 

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

People might be surprised to learn that I had very limited gardening experience and knowledge before I joined the Master Gardener program. You don’t actually need to have a lot of knowledge to start out with, just an interest and drive to learn more and give back to your community. I have learned so much this last year through my classes and hands-on activities but I know I have so much more to learn. Some of the most inspirational Master Gardeners I have met so far make it clear that they too are constantly learning and don’t have all the answers. One thing that surprised me the most about this program was that it is more important to know how to find the answers to gardening questions than to know the answers off the top of your head. 

Learn more about citizen science in the garden and how garden researchers work in this post.

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