From Conservationist to Gardener

Growing up, my grandparents were known for having green thumbs, I, however, was not. No matter how easy a plant was to care for, it was destined for the compost bin. I was always fascinated by my grandmother’s window full of cactus and succulents, and we all enjoyed the fresh vegetables, strawberries, and cherries straight from the back yard. But my own gardening adventures were not so fruitful.

I loved science and I loved the outdoors, but gardening and botany were definitely not in my wheelhouse. I didn't have much patience for keying out plants, or memorizing Latin names. But I loved spending time in the woods and by the streams. Most of my trail adventures involved long runs or hikes. Always moving fast, no time to slow down and identify trees. But slowly over the past 10 years or so something changed.

It likely started with a "bird hike" in Bedford Reservation with Fred Losi. I came to learn about birds and spend some time in the forest, but instead I also learned about the trees and wildflowers. Then a few years ago I became a Tree Steward and learned about how to properly plant and care for urban trees, just in time to plant my first personal tree in the backyard. I had planted plenty of trees as a Watershed Volunteer for the Cleveland Metroparks, but planting an urban tree in your own yard is a different experience.

Still in my landscape gardens or my home, it was a whole other story. Woe to the orchid or violet that made it's way into my house. And woe to the native plants that I'd optimistically bring home for a Nature Center sale to plant in the beds that came with the house.

Then came Master Rain Gardeners. At the Ohio Stormwater Conference a few years ago I saw a presentation by Susan Bryan called "How to Get 400 Rain Gardens in The Ground Without Lifting a Shovel." What ensued was a journey in train the trainer that had me building my own rain garden and working with local conservation agencies to bring the Master Rain Gardener program to Northeast Ohio. Now I have gone from someone who couldn't tell you the common name of more than a handful of plants, to a person who finds herself referring to plants by their Latin name in grant applications.

The Master Rain Gardener program is really designed for gardeners and bringing them into the stormwater solution world, but for me, the opposite occurred. I went from someone encouraging better practices because she cares about the environment, to someone who looks for places in her landscape to bring home native plants. Someone who pours over plant catalogs and spends time looking at other gardens while walking the dog. I'm definitely no landscape architect, but the Master Rain Gardener program has introduced me to so many wonderful gardeners who share their tips and tricks, and wonder of wonders, my rain garden is flourishing and soon I will be that gardener who has to separate and share her plants with others.

Rain gardens aren't for everyone, most conservationists don't have a rain garden. Gardeners are often the first ones to build rain gardens, and I am proud to finally call myself one of them.

Whether you consider yourself a gardener, or you are interested in how your yard can help with drainage issues, consider the Master Rain Gardener Program. This Earth Day and Arbor Day consider adding some native plants or a native tree to your yard. Even if you have a black thumb like me, native plants can overcome, because they are conditioned to our soils and our weather. For more native plant and rain garden resources visit our programs page.

Happy Earth Week!

Blog Author: Elizabeth Hiser, Euclid Creek Watershed Program Manager

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