The Snohomish County Master Gardener Foundation is holding its summer garden tours this month and for the first time ever, Sultan has earned a place on the map.
Veteran Master Gardener Kay George was able to earn Sultan a spot on the tour by showcasing her own garden at her home on Skywall Drive. A total of ten Master Gardener gardens will be featured on this year’s tour, which takes place over three separate Saturdays.
The tour will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, July 12, and participants are encouraged to purchase tour booklets from the foundation that serve as a guide to each of the gardens on the tour.
Other areas included along with Sultan on July 12 will be Snohomish and Bothell.
George earned her Veteran Master Gardener status through the Washington State University Extension Master Gardener program in 2009. She explained that the program offered her an incredible opportunity to learn the different aspects of gardening, particularly when it comes to growing food.
“Prior to that I had a black thumb,” said George.
George, who has lived in Sultan for over 16 years, applied for the tour position last year, and was awarded the honor. The summer tour program is part of a fundraising initiative to support the Master Gardener program and the various outreach activities that they perform throughout the year. Volunteerism is a Master Gardener fundamental and all Master Gardeners are required to perform public service and participate in ongoing community education.
George’s sun garden features a bi-level design element which provides additional texture to the landscape and aesthetically compliments the garden’s natural background. Just beyond the garden the Wallace River meanders by, heading southwest for a brief stretch until it joins up with the Skykomish.
George attributes her success at having secured an official position on the Master Gardner’s tour directly to the natural beauty of the area.
“My garden is not that exotic and the things in it are not that hard to grow, or they wouldn’t be in my garden,” said George. “It’s just because of the backdrop… Mother Nature just carries the show, and that’s why we live here.”
“I feel so honored that they picked me,” she continued.
George’s garden features a mixture of edible and ornamental plants, and includes a grape arbor. Also, new to her gardening repertoire this year is her container garden. One unique aspect in her design is the fact that George doesn’t choose her permanent plants based on the appearance of their flowers, but rather makes her decisions based on the appearance of the leaves and what the plants look like without their blossoms.
“I focus more on the shape and the color of the leaves,” said George. “Because you have the leaves almost all year round on the plants, but the flowers are only here for a designated period of time.”
George stated that when designing her garden she enjoyed incorporating plants with leaves of contrasting shapes and different shades of green, plus plants which have leaves that feature interesting variegations.
“I enjoy that so much better than worrying about flowers,” she continued.
Above all else, George is passionate about growing organic, edible plants and utilizing non-traditional ingredients from her garden in her recipes. Along with being a Veteran Master Gardner, George, a professional chef, is also a self-professed “foodie.” She is currently growing grapes, squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, chives and rhubarb; and also grows Spanish lavender as well as German thyme which she incorporates into her dishes.
She stated that being a “foodie” and a Master Gardener can be a dangerous combination.
“A lot of the things I grow, I grow specifically for dishes that I love,” said George. “Like my rhubarb. I love rhubarb pie.”
“The things I do eat, I make sure they’re all organic,” she continued.
She enjoys experimenting with flavors and her specialty dishes include things like lavender sour cream pound cake and rose ice cream. This year, she is looking forward to trying her hand at preparing squash blossoms, a trendy food item which has become popular on competitive cooking shows.
During the tour she will highlight her grape arbor that she constructed out of cedar from Port Orford, Ore. because of its indisputable reputation for being an exceptionally strong and long-lasting cedar. The grapes themselves come from award-winning grape-grower Lon Rombough who, prior to his death in 2012, authored a book and created a video that teaches his pruning methods.
George stated that grape vines generally take a certain number of years before they really become productive.
“They typically will only produce from the fourth year forward,” said George. “This is the fourth year for my grapes. I think this will be a bumper crop.”
For George, gardening is a constantly evolving process and an endless opportunity for her to learn new things.
“I feel like I practice gardening as somebody would practice law or medicine,” said George. “Because you never know it all. You just practice at it all the time and you get a little better, and you get a little more knowledgeable, but you never know it all.”
“Every year I try and learn a new technique that helps me grow food in some way,” continued George. “This year it’s container gardening.”
Container gardening is a feasible option for those who wish to grow plants but have limited yard space, as the containers can be kept on decks and patios. George also did some experimentation and implemented a very low-cost method for keeping the containers infused with moisture. She is looking forward to sharing her methodology with her fellow Master Gardeners on the tour.
The Snohomish County Master Gardner Foundation is a partnership between the WSU Master Gardener Extension program and Snohomish County. The idea is to support the WSU program while also spreading awareness about sustainable gardening, as well as giving back to the community by supporting community gardens and also sharing knowledge and expertise via different workshops held throughout the county.
In addition to helping to support the training of new Master Gardeners, the foundation seeks to hold diagnostic clinics where anyone can come and get assistance on any gardening issue they may be experiencing. The foundation also provides demonstration gardens, a lecture series and many other different outreach events.
The WSU Master Gardener Extension program was developed in the early 1970s, and has flourished ever since. Ed Hume, the well-known local gardening guru, was an honorary trainee during the program’s initial trial clinic in 1972. The program, which officially began in 1973, was deemed a success and has since grown and adapted to incorporate newly-discovered information and modern techniques.
The goals of the program are to teach individuals sustainable gardening practices and principles, to address impactful environmental topics such as water quality protection and conservation, to help gardeners identify and safely reduce invasive species, and most importantly, to increase public awareness of the value of food production. The program also seeks to enhance individual lifestyles through gardening as Master Gardeners are able to go out into the community and share their knowledge with others.
George finds that teaching people how to grow their own food is one of the most meaningful aspects of being a Master Gardener. This is one of the ways that Master Gardeners give back to their communities. The foundation’s demonstration gardens also provide produce which can be donated to local food banks.
To George, in addition to being productive, gardening can also be quite therapeutic.
“I enjoy working in my garden very much,” said George. “You can just get out there and forget the world.”
For additional information on how to support the Master Gardener Foundation, please visit their website at: http://www.snomgf.org/. Information on where to purchase garden tour booklets can be found on the website or by calling (425) 357-6010. The exact location of garden tour gardens can be found in the tour guides.
George loves the beauty surrounding her Sultan home at 1304 Skywall Dr. There will be a donation box in place for visitors who wish to support the Foundation.
“I feel like I have a modest little house with a million-dollar view,” she said.