Master Gardeners plant seeds of education

Enthusiasm and education are blooming at the Greenbank Farm Master Gardener Display Garden with a variety of free, public classes that dig deeper than ordinary garden classes.

Master Gardener Bill Stipe

Enthusiasm and education are blooming at the Greenbank Farm Master Gardener Display Garden with a variety of free, public classes that dig deeper than ordinary garden classes.

The Island County Master Gardener education series began April 22 with a class on advanced composting and worm bins, and continues at 1 p.m. Sunday, May 6 with advanced rhododendron care, then 1 p.m. Saturday, June 16 with roses, Sunday, Sept. 16 with berry care and in October, a presentation on espalier.

Coming up on May 6 is advanced rhododendron care and propagation, presented by expert rhododendron cultivator and Master Gardener Bill Stipe, owner of Glynneden Gardens, where more than 5,000 rhodies grow in his display garden.

Stipe is no newcomer to rhodies; he’s been growing them for 50 years and will teach everything from planting to fertilizing and pruning to hybridizing. He’ll also talk about pest control, growing from seed and other maintenance issues.

Stipe’s favorite feature of rhododendrons is their wide variety. Some are just a couple of inches tall and are used as ground cover, “and some that I’ve seen in China are 100 feet tall,” Stipe said.

Just as varied as their size are their leaves. Some have thin, long leaves, and some have reddish or bluish leaves.

“I try to tell people a rhododendron shouldn’t be bought just for the flowers,” Stipe said, adding that rhodies look good year-round.

Stipe has been a Master Gardener since 1987.

“It gives me a chance to explain to others and help others,” he said, adding that he loves to meet new people. “I find gardeners are ethical people; honest and straightforward and just a great group of people.”

Find out more about Stipe and Glynneden Gardens at

While the composting class by Janet Hall, WSU/Island County Waste Wise volunteer coordinator and Master Gardener Toni Grove is over, Hall emphasized that now is the time to work on composting. Not only is it the core of healthy, rich gardening soil, but last year, the Whidbey Island Fair added a category for composting.

Even if the compost doesn’t earn awards at the fair, “one of the key things to be a good gardener is having good soil,” Hall said.

“It really is easy to get compost. We live in a great place to make compost,” Hall said. For information about composting, as well as to purchase worm bins and receive free worms, contact Hall at 678-7974 or 360-629-4522, or visit

On June 16, learn the ins and outs of gardening roses with Master Gardener Maryanne Coffey, consulting rosarian and rose judge for the American Rose Society. She has been a Master Gardener since 2003.

This advanced rose class takes students beyond the original planting to feeding, pruning, winterizing and more.

“On the island, they tell you you can only grow these roses that bloom once a year,” Coffey said. This isn’t so, and Coffey loves to experiment by planting a wide variety of roses, from miniatures to climbing, at the Greenbank Farm gardens.

“To me, they’re captivating. They can come through the hardest weather and have these glorious blooms,” Coffey said. Her mother and grandmother grew roses when Coffey was young and she wanted to continue the tradition.

To Coffey, each rose is an individual and she is passionate about trying new things with her plants.

“As we go along, we just try to continue to educate people. If we have a disaster in one garden, it’s the old turning lemons into lemonade. It allows people to come up with fresh ideas,” Coffey said. “We just love what we do.”

“Oh, La, La, Espalier” is scheduled for October and will be presented by Donna Stansberry, Master Gardener since 1997 and founder of the Master Gardener Gardens at the Greenbank Farm. In the hands-on class, she will teach planting, pruning, pollination and more about the apple tree variety that’s great for covering bare walls or dividing spaces.

“It’s just a very slow process, but it’s so wonderful for older people because you don’t have to climb into trees,” Stansberry said of cultivating espalier. The trees can be pruned to look like candelabra, fans and more.

Stansberry’s favorite feature of the plant is its ability to divide a garden into “rooms.” She and her husband, Steve, spend hours in their gardens but if the acres are divided into smaller rooms, it makes it easier for Stansberry to garden one room for a couple of hours instead of trying to conquer everything at once.

May 13 through 19 has been proclaimed Washington State University Master Gardener Week by Gov. Chris Gregoire. The WSU Extension Master Gardener Program began in 1973 and provides free public education in gardening and environmental stewardship. In 2011, Master Gardeners volunteered 3,654 hours in Island County.

All classes are conducted at the Display Garden at the Greenbank Farm, located at 765 Wonn Road in Greenbank. For information, call 360-240-5527 or visit

It’s class time

Advanced Rhodie Care: 1-2:30 p.m. Sunday, May 6.

Roses: 1-2:30 p.m. Saturday, June 16.

Not Your Ordinary Berry Care: Sunday, Sept. 16.

Oh, La, La, Espalier: October.

All classes are free at the Greenbank Farm Display Garden.

More information: 360-240-5527 or


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