When I moved to Fairfield, eleven years ago from California, I thought one of the signs of being a good gardener, was the ability to successfully grow all sorts of exotic and non-native plants. So, the first six years, I cultivated a variety of plants, including many varieties from California, and delighted in discovering and planting the unusual.
But then everything change. I was lucky enough to go through the Master Gardener program at the Bartlett Arboretum and Gardens in Stamford. Going through the program changed the way I looked at gardening, and not only gave me a true appreciation for the impact that home gardeners have on the environment, but also taught me the importance of native plants and the very important habitats they support.
Over the last four years, I have taken what I have learned and am transitioning my yard into a mainly native landscape. First, I worked on restoring a vernal pool in my backyard. Then, I started the process of transition my lawn to more native species. The lawn is mowed with reel mowers with the help of MowGreen.US. With guidance from my friends at Ganim's Nursery, I switched from Miracle Grow and other traditional fertilizers to organic fertilizers like Plant-tone. And now have many native perennials and shrubs like wild geranium, New England aster, bayberry and mountain laurel. The lawn and perennials require minimal water, the native species bring many birds into the yard, and I have eliminated the need for pesticides and chemical fertilizers. The yard is low maintenance and supports native habitats. What I love most about transitioning the garden is that in those shady places, where it was always difficult to get plants to grow, native ferns and grasses have started to establish themselves and happily exist.
Although it requires patience, change in perspective, and some hard work, it has been well worth the effort.
Washington State University, started the Master Gardener program in 1972 as a response to overwhelming requests for horticulture information. The specialized program was developed with a two-part training program, including classes and required volunteer community outreach hours. That standard remains and today every state has a Master Gardener program. Typically, there is a registration fee to cover the cost of educational materials, about 40-60 hours of volunteer service and class instruction in a wide range of horticulture and related areas including entomology, soil, vegetables, woody landscape plants, integrated pest management, plant pathology, organic gardening and more. In most states, training is offered in several county extension offices in the fall and winter months. After completion of the classes, students become Master Gardener interns. After a final exam and completion of the volunteer outreach service commitment in their community, interns become Master Gardeners.