Tuesday, August 10, 2010


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (8/10/10)

When going to a party where everyone else is a stranger, it’s nice to have along a friend who knows lots of guests. When Hattie Braun arrived in Flagstaff in 1995 with a master’s degree in horticulture from Penn State, she was a stranger to gardening in the High Country. So, she promptly signed up for the Master Gardener Class, led then by Tom DeGomez.

Instead of stand-offish strangers, she met lots of friendly gardeners who shared their knowledge of gardening in Flagstaff, such as the four challenges of gardening in the High Country: soil, water, wind, and short growing season. The Master Gardening Class turned gardening around for her from woe-is-me to opportunity.

After Tom moved on to other tasks in the forest, she became the Coordinator of the Master Gardener Horticultural Soirée and Fête. In addition to knowing a lot about gardening in Flagstaff, she, also, understands the horticultural shock for transplants from lush lowland climes. She knows what works and what doesn’t.

In addition to that, she’s collected a gang of horticultural virtuosi who know things that only veterans know, good and bad insects, plants that look good and do well, plants that look good but don’t do well, smart watering, and shrewd fertilizer. They’re book-learnt to be sure, but they’ve been around the block more than once and know a lot about gardening in the High Country.

Soil is the starting point of gardening, and as she found out, soil in Flagstaff isn’t what it’s like back home. It needs lots of help. As she says, “It’s almost like we’ve got to make our own.” It has nutrients, but little to no organic matter. There’s a whole class session on adding organic matter to the soil called composting.

In addition to soil, the Master Gardener Class deals with vegetables, flowers, native plants, ornamentals, insects, and water-wise gardening. If people are inclined to go native, the Master Gardener Class prepares gardeners to dress their gardens like a fancy slice of the forest. On the other hand, there are techniques for creating eye-catching gardens, loaded with ornamentals and flowers. For those who want to garden all year, there is a greenhouse tour. And who knows? Someone might discover an entirely new way to garden.

If a gardener wants to turn the yard into a truck farm with row crops of corn, beans, squash, peas, and so forth, the Master Gardener Class is the place to learn. Also, front lawns, the pride and joy of householders everywhere else in the country, are problematic with Flagstaff’s water restrictions and impending rate increases for water.
There are water-smart ways to have beautiful front yards, and the Master Gardener Classes are the place to learn how to make them without reducing front yards to gravel pits with ornamental cattle skulls.

Since Flagstaff is smack-dab in the middle of a Ponderosa pine forest, it’s smart to learn something about one’s environment, like wildfires, bark beetles, and the care of pines trees and their forest friends. St. Ambrose advised St. Augustine who’d moved from Milan to Rome about fast days in Rome, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” In other words, get the lay of the land and hang with it.

The classes, fourteen in number, run from September 14 to December 7 on Tuesday evenings from 6:00-9: 00 p.m. at the Southwest Forest Service Complex at NAU, Room 133. There will be no classes on November 23 and two Saturday classes on September 25 and October 9.
The fee is $250.00 of which $50.00 is refundable on completion of volunteer hours. The Arizona Master Garden Manual is included in the fee.

For applications call Hattie Braun at (928) 774-1858, x 170 or email her at hbraun@cals.arizona.edu.

When asked his opinion of free verse, the poet Robert Frost said that it was like playing “tennis with the net down.” Gardening in those lush lowland climes is like gardening with the net down. The Master Gardener Class prepares gardeners to garden Above the Rim with the net up. It takes more smarts, and it’s a lot more fun.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith

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