A rose is my connection to my mother

Paula Lupcho in her garden on a sunny winter day in 2019.

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.

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.

Millersburg gardener shares produce to connect with neighbors

Jesse Garcia joined the OSU Extension Master Gardener Program of Linn County in 2018. Jesse balances a full time career with volunteering and gardening. Raised in Oklahoma by a family of gardeners, he is now at work on creating a garden where he now resides in Linn County. Jesse shared his story in October of 2018.

Man in sunglasses greeting visitors at a garden tour.
Master Gardener volunteer Jesse Garcia greets visitors at Through the Garden Gate in 2018.

Elizabeth Records – OSU Extension: What can you share about an early gardening experience?

Jesse Garcia: My earliest gardening experience would be when I was very young, early grade school age in my hometown of El Reno, Oklahoma. I would go into the garden with my mother. I often asked her questions about the different types of plants, such as tomato, watermelon, and peppers. My mother displayed lots of patience in answering my questions. I truly believe this early experience is what directed my curiosity in gardening that I continue to this day.

ER: Tell us about your current garden – who, what, when and where?

JG: I currently do not have a home garden. I moved to Oregon in December, 2016 and recently bought a house in Millersburg (July, 2018). I am still in the process of landscaping our yard, which is a work in progress. I do plan to continue my home garden. I will put into practice the knowledge/training that I learned from the OSU Extension Office’s Master Garden program. In the past, I grew a vegetable garden for many years in Oklahoma. My garden consisted of many varieties of tomatoes, potatoes, onions, green beans, snow peas, squash, kale, spinach, lettuce, and peppers.

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

JG: Growing tomatoes has always reminded me of the times that I spent in the garden with my mother. But my father also influenced my gardening habits. Many years ago, he gave me some Amaryllis belladonna bulbs (also known as “Naked Ladies”) from the family flower garden to transplant in my own garden in Oklahoma. At the time, I only focused on vegetable gardening. “Naked ladies” are now included in my gardening. I hope that I will have some success with them in my future garden even though the growing conditions in Oregon are not similar.

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

JG: As a very young boy, I was asked to deliver vegetables from the family garden to our neighbors. To this day, I do continue taking vegetables from my home garden, door to door. I do this as a way of getting to know my neighbors.

ER: What does being a Master Gardener volunteer mean to you?

JG: I talked with volunteers at the Master Garden booth (Corvallis Farmer’s Market, July 2017) they encouraged me to apply to the volunteer program, even though I currently work full time. I am so glad that I took the time to complete the application and was accepted into the program. I was able to attend all training sessions and to complete my required volunteer hours for the program.

The class has provided me a very good foundation for gardening in the Pacific Northwest. The Master Garden volunteer experience has been a very rewarding experience. I continue to build upon my gardening network with some of the local fruit growers. I enjoy meeting new people at the Master Garden volunteer events.

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

JG: I would have to say my culinary interests. I often try new recipes on the grill and I have become somewhat experienced in smoking meat such as ribs, chicken, brisket and everyone’s favorite (do not laugh) bologna. Yes, in Oklahoma the true pit masters like to include smoked bologna with their finest cuisine.

Did you know that numerous Master Gardener volunteers balance work and volunteering? Learn more about joining us in Linn or Benton Counties.

Planting gardening ideas

Neighborhood Planters Kiosks help build thriving communities


A young woman and a dog check out a Neighborhood Planters Kiosk
Community members get gardening ideas from a Neighborhood Planters Kiosk.

Neighborhood Planters Kiosks (NPKs) look a bit like Little Free Libraries, but instead of sharing books, they offer seasonally relevant, research-based gardening tips. NPK is a collaboration of OSU Extension Benton County Master Gardeners, the Corvallis Evening Garden Club, the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition, and the City of Corvallis Civic Beauty and Urban Forestry Group. OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers Christina Clark and Kathleen Rochester contributed to this story. Learn more at the NPK blog.

Elizabeth Records – OSU Extension:  For someone who has never seen an NPK before, describe what it looks like and where it might be found.

Neighborhood Planter Kiosk team: NPKs (Neighborhood Planters’ Kiosks –a word play on the NPK composition of fertilizer) are bright painted wooden boxes. They are mounted on posts in volunteers’ yards where they can be seen from the street. They can be found in parks, community gardens, and front yards all over Corvallis.

ER: Who is the intended audience for NPKs?

NPK: Our intended audience is anyone who is interested in or might become interested in gardening, sustainable living, and enjoying our outdoor spaces.

ER: What are some sources of inspiration for this project?

NPK: We’d like to build community and share the love of gardening. We’re continuing to try to reach a greater audience with research-based information. Some of the misinformation out there  can lead to discouragement, wasted time and money, or negative effects on our environment.

Gardening is such a fun, healthy, vital part of our lives that we’d like to encourage others to also benefit. We also believe that growing our own food is one of the healthiest things we can do for ourselves, our loved ones, and our planet. Sustainability is never more fun than when we learn to grow something for ourselves!

ER: How do NPKs help fulfill the mission of OSU Extension Service?

NPK: We plant gardening ideas to help build thriving communities! While OSU Extension supports a variety of programs, we focus on gardening education and related community events. Much of the information we share starts with tips from OSU Extension’s monthly gardening calendar. Then our writers add photos and resources to engage our readers. Links on our blog connect them with additional Extension articles that help them get more in depth.

We provide another way to link Extension and all its expertise and knowledge with anyone on the street or in front of a computer. We hope to engage people that may not know how much free, but valuable research-based information could be at their fingertips.

ER: Is there a story that stands out to you about someone interacting with NPK kiosks or blog posts?

NPK: We’ve had views from all over the world. We had one email come in from Victoria in Omaha, Nebraska. She was part of a group trying to start a similar program in their neighborhood; trying to find funding and figure out how to build the kiosks. It was great fun to share our enthusiasm and many building tips and photos.

Have you visited a Neighborhood Planter Kiosk for garden information or inspiration? Share your story with elizabeth.records(at)oregonstate.edu and we’ll post it in future updates. Check out the NPK blog anytime.



Vet returns to local roots after gardening worldwide

Woman in her 50s-60s, wearing pink top in outdoor setting.
OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer Debbie Lauer.

Meet Master Gardener volunteer Debbie Lauer. A native Oregonian, Debbie has gardened worldwide during her upbringing in a military family and during her own military service. Debbie has volunteered over 4,000 hours as a Master Gardener volunteer since 2001 and has been an Oregon State University Extension Service Master Gardener volunteer since 2006. We spoke in June 2018.



OSU Extension: Tell us about an early gardening experience.

Debbie Lauer: My dad would always plant petunias and it was my job to pick off the dead flowers. I used to hate it because they were so sticky. If you look in my garden today, you will find very few petunias – I am done with it. Dad also was in the army and planted a garden everywhere we travelled. We had gardens in Alabama, Kentucky and Texas. Also in Panama, where we grew pineapple.

I come from farming families. My grandfather was a dairy farmer by what is now the Albany airport…. Mother’s dad was a Shedd grass seed farmer. Both sides of the family had flower and vegetable gardens, so it is ingrained all the way through.

OSU: I recall that you also had a military career. Where have you had gardens?

DL: In Germany where I was stationed…we had balcony tomatoes. I would plant tulip bulbs where the landlord would let you. I also gardened in Texas …the standard little window boxes would melt by noon so I figured I’d better join Master Gardeners and learn what would grow there. I had gardens in Alaska, that’s where I really got into it. Up here (back home in Oregon) I have been challenged by the breadth of the plants you can grow.

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

DL: My “favorite or most memorable” moment came when I was in middle school, then it was called junior high.  My dad was in Viet Nam, we were living on Colorado Lake Drive. We went out to my Grandparents farm in Shedd.  We were walking through the vegetable garden and my mom pulled a carrot from the ground took it to the water faucet and rinsed the dirt off and broke off a piece of it and gave it to me to taste it.  I had never eaten anything harvested so soon before and I will never forget the earthy smell or the wonderful taste of that warm carrot.

Another memorable moment came the second year after my MG class in Oregon. Don (my husband) pulled out his first potato, a huge one, from the dirt. From the look on his face I knew in that instant he had just become a vegetable gardener for life.

OSU: What does being a Master Gardener volunteer mean to you?

DL: Being a Master Gardener is about sharing gardening with other people. I have learned so much since I first became a MG in TX in 2001. The longer I volunteer the more I enjoy sharing my experiences in the garden and helping other people come to appreciate the joys and understand the challenges of gardening.