As a gardener who has turned a fair share of shovels, when I visit a garden, usually the second thing to capture my attention, right after the aesthetics, is the question of how much work did it take to put this here? What possessed a person to devote their time and sweat to building this?
Certainly our own local Ohme Gardens is a prime example.
Anyone who has ever visited Ohme is delighted by the alpine serenity of the place, no doubt. But what really makes us marvel is imagining Herman Ohme and his wife Ruth prying flagstone off of hillsides and carting them to their Studebaker in an old army stretcher to build their stone pathways. Or how simply maintaining the place was a seven days a week, dawn-till-dusk affair for an entire family for over 60 years.
In a larger sense, why do we, like the Ohmes, toil each year in summer heat, trying to improve our own gardens? It’s a fair question. Certainly the answer has to be more compelling than “curb appeal.”
And while you’re thinking about that question, I’ll ask you to consider the members of the Master Gardener program in Chelan and Douglas counties. Here is a group of local people, not all of them spring chickens mind you, who spend much of their free time not improving their own gardens, but rather, the community’s gardens. In other words, your garden and my garden.
If you’ve seen the tidy Xeric garden on the Apple Capital Recreation Loop Trail or the expansive Community Education Garden on Western, you’ve enjoyed their work. These two gardens were built entirely by the dedication and hard work of local volunteers purely for the enjoyment and edification of our local community. They designed them, funded them, and built them.
And the maintenance of those gardens isn’t done by city or park employees. Rather, it’s done by those same Master Gardener volunteers who take time away from family and work to sustain them. They also volunteer their time as speakers for our local organizations, at our local fairs, and every week at the Saturday Farmers Market and diagnosis clinics.
Why do they do the work they do?
I remember a couple of summers ago when we were breaking ground on the native plant portion of the Community Education Garden. My wife and I were part of a Master Gardener work party with the goal of cultivating the soil for the garden — basically digging up rocks to prepare for planting. Mary and I couldn’t find day care for our son after work (he was not quite 1 at the time) so we had to bring him along. There were about eight or nine other volunteers there and we all spent the evening tilling the soil.
To manage our 1 year old, we’d all switch off paying attention to him so he wasn’t too miserable. Digging out there that evening, I have to admit the thought crossed my mind — “Why am I doing this? I could be home watching baseball or at least breaking rocks in my own garden!” The thought persisted for a while and it really began to bother me.
At some point, I looked over at my son, fidgeting in his stroller, and at my wife digging away in the dirt, and at all the other volunteers toiling away, and then, for some reason, I thought of Herman Ohme. I could almost see ol’ Herman sitting on his bluff aside his new bride in 1930, looking over our valley and saying to her, “You know, this spot could be made as beautiful as those mountains over there.”
And then I could almost see it — eventually, where we all stood, there would be a beautiful garden where people could bring their children and enjoy themselves. Perhaps, in some sense, we were all continuing the tradition of the Ohmes. Perhaps the spirit of the Ohmes has drifted off their bluff and taken root in the valley it overlooks.
When Herman Ohme was asked why he built a nine-acre Alpine Eden on a craggy, dry bluff, he remarked that the work was so hard he would “never have done it for wages the way I did. It was a labor of love.”
Herman’s response had always seemed a bit cryptic to me. The lawyer in me always wanted to object to his answer as non-responsive. But now, having witnessed the tireless dedication of our Master Gardeners to gardening and to our neighbors — the thousands of volunteer hours they log each year in our community — I realize Herman’s answer couldn’t be more dead-on. The work of our Master Gardeners is simply the labor of love.
For the past three years, my wife Mary and I have considered it a privilege to count ourselves as local Master Gardeners, as contributors to The Wenatchee World, and as members of this community. May your garden be a labor of love for you.
A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears regularly in the At Home section. Master Gardeners Brad and Mary Drury have been two of the five columnists featured. They have relocated outside the region, and this is their last column for The Wenatchee World.