Loudoun Project Helps Property Owners Plan Smart Landscapes

Loudoun County Master Gardeners’ My Backyard program offers local property owners the chance for help planning a landscape that will conserve natural resources, save time and money, and reduce runoff to local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay.

“The self directed program involves 10 basic principles and a number of ‘yard actions’ that homeowners can take to conserve natural resources and make sure we’re preserving our landscape for the future,” says Barb Bailey, a Loudoun County Master Gardener who helped develop the program.

These 10 principles serve as a guide for building a smart landscape. Homeowners can choose to implement just a few actions, or they can choose to pursue certification as a Watershed Partner by undertaking actions related to all 10 principles and completing a My Backyard scorecard.

“Some principles, like ‘right plant right place’ actually help save homeowners time and money because they won’t have to replace a tree or shrub that was planted in an inappropriate location,” says Bailey.

Other principles help property owners take steps to directly reduce stormwater runoff, fertilize lawns responsibly, and recycle yard waste.

“The program is self directed, so interested community members can go to our website and select topics that are important to them, like maintaining healthy soil or reducing runoff to see information and steps they can take to improve their landscape,” says Bailey. For additional guidance, homeowners can call in to the Loudoun County Master Gardener help desk or send emails to a special My Backyard help account.

Homeowners interested in achieving “Watershed Partner” status will need to complete tasks equivalent to 36 points on the My Backyard scorecard and submit the card for certification by Loudoun Master Gardeners. In addition to receiving a special certificate, Watershed Partners are also eligible to purchase a yard flag advertising their achievement.

Now nearing its one year anniversary, Bailey and a team of Master Gardeners, along with Jim Hilleary, Loudoun ANR agent, developed the program after seeing similar efforts in other states.

“We thought it was a great idea and we were able to transform it to focus more on natural resources conservation and incorporate more of an education component for homeowners,” says Bailey.

“So far people have responded to the program in a very positive way,” says Hilleary. “The program’s focus on water quality helps people feel a sense of ownership and being a stakeholder in the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay.”

watershed partner sign

Meeting Loudoun’s Unique Needs

The My Backyard program was designed with Loudoun County’s unique needs and very diverse population in mind.

“In Loudoun, we have two categorically different population demographics: the residents who live in rural, Western Loudoun and the residents who live in densely populated Eastern Loudoun,” says Hilleary. “We’re trying to meet the learning needs of all the residents and figure out issues common to farmers in the western half of the county and homeowners in the eastern part. The My Backyard program allows us to develop programming relevant to both communities.”

“For our contemporaries in gateway counties, this is a great program for reaching dual audiences with the same inputs,” says Hilleary. “The same concepts that apply for homeowners fertilizing lawns work for farmers practicing good pasture management.”

Bailey adds that knowing your audience is very important when developing this type of program.

“You need to understand what residents want and need. [A program like this] needs to meet what people are asking for,” she says. Elements like the Watershed Partner yard flag were designed to appeal to Loudoun residents.

In addition to catering to Loudoun’s unique audiences, the My Backyard program is also consistent with the county government’s goal of improving water quality.

“We’re striving to make our program relevant and nest both with Virginia Cooperative Extension and the vision and values communicated by our county board of supervisors,” says Hilleary. “Our board of supervisors values natural resources conservation and water quality. The My Backyard program allows us to support county residents, our local government, and Virginia Cooperative Extension.”

By listening to the local audience and the needs of Loudoun county government, the My Backyard program fills a valuable niche as it helps property owners learn to conserve natural resources and improve water quality for the future.

two master gardeners stand in garden

Planting Seeds of Hope

By: Gabrielle Sanderson

On October 5, 2018, an Extension Master Gardener from Green Spring Gardens had the opportunity to spread the word about therapeutic gardening by presenting at the American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA) in Denver, Colorado. Kathleen Wellington was able to incorporate her background of being a licensed counselor and her passion for horticultural therapy into a presentation that demonstrates the Extension Master Gardeners’ work with the Healing Gardens at the Woodburn Crisis Care Center. Not only has Kathleen helped to expand on the integration of therapeutic gardening with the Woodburn staff, but she has facilitated an interest in therapeutic gardening among other Extension Master Gardeners.

garden with bird bath and group of master gardeners

Master Gardeners work in the garden

To begin, the Woodburn Crisis Care Center is not a hospital but a place for individuals to check into for a two-week period in order to receive help during a crisis. Ruth Janet, a member of the Woodburn Crisis Care Center, states that during their process of developing gardening lesson plans for the staff to use with clients they realized that they were missing the aspect of horticultural therapy. “Thanks to Kathleen and her expertise, we now have a month-to-month written program that incorporates gardening “to do” along with lesson plans on therapy that Woodburn staff can easily initiate.”

Kathleen worked hand-in-hand with the counseling staff at the crisis center in order to help open their eyes to the benefits of gardening. Pamela Smith, the Community Horticulture Supervisor at Green Spring Gardens, says that “with so many individuals and families now dealing with crisis situations, providing a respite through gardening is a wonderful way to help them find solace and possible hope for the future.”

a master gardener tends a wooded path

A Master Gardener tends a wooded path

Kathleen’s presentation at the AHTA Conference was called “Planting Seeds of Hope: Therapeutic Gardening in a Crisis Stabilization Program,” and she discussed how Extension Master Gardener Volunteers collaborated with clinical staff in implementing and sustaining the therapeutic gardening program in the adult crisis stabilization center. Kathleen has been able to present at the conference a couple times before, but she was excited and honored to receive monetary support from the Green Spring Gardens and the Fairfax extension service for her recent presentation. During the conference she received feedback from various people in the audience that they were interested with the idea of replicating the work that the EMGs did with the crisis care center into their own programs. One lady approached her at the conference explaining that she is “really excited to hear from another person with a vision to merge horticulture therapy with mental health work.” With guidance from Kathleen, several of the Extension Master Gardeners have earned their Health Department volunteer training so that they can work directly with clients, and Smith states that Kathleen is continuing to “introduce them to different forms of therapeutic gardening,” through presentations in Fairfax County.

While Kathleen’s presentation has made a significant impact on other Extension Master Gardeners around the state, the EMGs’ work at the Woodburn Crisis Care Center continues to make a lasting impact on the Fairfax community. “We have already received requests from a senior living facility for a sensory garden for its residents,” states Smith. The 2017 Green Spring Master Gardeners are also doing work for the Wounded Warrior Program, helping to write “The USO Resiliency Garden Guide” for the counselors and volunteers to use when working with military personal who are also in similar crises. “I think it is a great service to the community and certainly the EMGs feel a great sense of purpose and satisfaction from working with these groups,” says Smith. “They have an incredible amount of compassion and generosity of spirit and they are able to see the impact on the clients and counselors.”

a drawn diagram of the garden

A hand drawn diagram of the garden

While therapeutic gardening at the Woodburn Crisis Care Center has had lasting impacts on the patients, the work with the crisis care center has helped the Extension Master Gardeners to understand how they can use gardening as a tool to help people heal. “I think everyone should know how beneficial gardening is, both emotionally, physically, and socially,” states Kathleen. Not only has therapeutic gardening allowed for there to be seeds of hope planted at the Woodburn Crisis Care center, but therapeutic gardening has allowed people to see that gardening can heal.

master gardener college 2019 banner

Internationally Known Entomologist John Goolsby, PhD. To Speak at 2019 Master Gardener College

Master Gardener College 2019 is set to feature Dr. John Goolsby of the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) as a keynote speaker. Dr. Goolsby is an internationally known research entomologist working on biological control of invasive species.

Dr. Goolsby’s keynote address will highlight a major success story for biological control:  the reduction of populations of giant reed,  or Arundo donax, along the Rio Grande River by introduction of multiple insect species.

“Giant reed is an invasive weed introduced from Spain and widely distributed in Northern Mexico and along the Rio Grande River. It didn’t have any herbivore insects that kept it under control in this environment,” says Dr. Goolsby. “There were multiple reasons to reduce the amount of this invasive giant reed. The Spanish name, el ladrón de Agua, actually means ‘the water thief,” so reducing it had the benefits of not only reducing water use in the desert southwest, but also improving visibility for border patrol, and helping wildlife.”

Dr. Goolsby’s talk will include details on the years-long research process of identifying a suitable predator insect for giant reed from its native Spain and evaluating any potential risks of introduction or alternative control measures. He will also cover the rigorous regulatory process required before any new species can be introduced for biological control.

“This subject is really about how science works to solve problems, how federal agencies work with each other, and how to work with another country,” says Frank Reilly, a Central Rappahannock Master Gardener and also involved in the project.

“I hope to give Master Gardeners an idea of the damage that we incur from invasive species and the general way biological control works,” says Dr. Goolsby, noting the various invasive species we’re currently battling in Virginia. “When you see how we were able to control giant reed along the Rio Grande, you start to think, ‘How can we control invasive weeds in Virginia?’”

Noting the introduction of invasive species which were originally considered ornamental Dr. Goolsby emphasizes the ecological consequences gardening can have–and the opportunity Master Gardeners have to help.

“Dr. Goolsby is a world-renowned scientist who is working on an international basis to control problems that apply to Extension Master Gardeners and the public,” says Reilly.

Master Gardeners interested in controlling invasive species, restoring native plants, or tackling the many vitally-important scientific challenges we face won’t want to miss Dr. Goolsby’s keynote address.

2019 Extension Master Gardener College will be held from September 19-22 in Norfolk, Virginia.  For more information on Master Gardener College, please visit our website at https://www.mastergardener.ext.vt.edu/college. Registration for Master Gardener College will open in early May; please monitor your email, the biweekly update, and/or our website for more updates.

EMG Involvement at the 2018 State Fair of Virginia

By: Gabrielle Sanderson

Last fall, people from around Virginia flocked to the Meadow Event Park in Doswell, Virginia to attend the 2018 State Fair. Once there they were met with carnival rides, funnel cakes, and multiple educational exhibits that offered learning opportunities for all ages; these informative attractions are why people call the State Fair “Virginia’s Largest Classroom.” Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOLs) were able to come to life this year for 14,000 youth at the State Fair, and Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners (EMGs) were able to take part in the process.   Continue reading

Buffer Landscaping in Action: Master Gardeners & Master Naturalists Collaborate at Smith Mountain Lake

Photo Provided by Smith Mountain Lake Association Buffer Landscape Committee

When Smith Mountain Lake experienced an increase in runoff of fertilizers and sediments due to a housing boom in the 80’s, the Smith Mountain Lake Association (SMLA) recognized the importance of landscaping to prevent harmful runoff and erosion of the lake’s shoreline. In addition to promoting Phosphorous-free fertilizer, the SMLA manages a Buffer Landscape Advisory Service Team (BLAST) that helps introduce and support buffer landscaping to homeowners near the lake. Continue reading

When it Rains, it Pours: An Introduction to Stormwater Management

The autumn weather can be unpredictable. When storms come to visit, they often lead to messy runoff that carries away your garden’s dirt and form large puddles in the most inconvenient places. But where does all that water go once the storm passes?

This water, known as stormwater, often runs into storm drains that lead directly into the nearest streams with little to no filtration. Along the way, it picks up chemicals and oils from the street, plastic and other litter, and all the dirt that was washed from the garden along with whatever fertilizers and chemicals it contains. These pollutants end up in the local waterways, contributing to issues such as increased sedimentation and water pollution right in our own neighborhoods. Continue reading

master food volunteers prepare food at a demonstration

From the Cookbook to the Community: Who are Master Food Volunteers?

By: Gabrielle Sanderson

The famous red and white cookbook Joy of Cooking is a timeless classic for any kitchen, and it’s referenced throughout the training manual for the Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Food Volunteer program. Just as Joy of Cooking educates its readers about the food they are preparing, Master Food Volunteers (MFV) are able to reach and educate people around Virginia about food preparation, nutrition, food safety, and physical activity. The program allows volunteers to merge their appreciation of cooking, nutrition, and physical activity with the act of  helping others. Melissa Chase, Master Food Volunteer Virginia State Coordinator, states that an aspect that draws people to this program is “their love of cooking,” although their love for volunteering fuels their passion as well. Continue reading

Cultivating Collaboration: Master Naturalists in the Garden

Extension Master Gardeners love to grow. We grow plants in our gardens, cultivate knowledge through continuing education, but most of all, Master Gardeners love developing friendships and connections within the community.

As part of Virginia Cooperative Extension, we’re always looking to strengthen our networks through collaboration. Extension Master Gardeners do a lot of important work in the community centered around education, horticulture, and working outside. We bring important skills and knowledge into communities regarding the domesticated plants we grow in our gardens, but what about those wild plants and animals that we encounter in the flower beds?

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hanover master gardeners at help desk

Growing Our Program: Introduction to EMG Recruitment

By Maeghan Klinker

It’s that time of the year again.

The summer is ending, the leaves are just starting to blush with the first thoughts of autumn, and it’s time to start thinking about the future. With all the work still to be had in the garden, surely we could use a few more helping hands…

That’s right, it’s recruitment season for Extension Master Gardeners!

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