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Thankful for lessons learned from gardens and gardeners

“We learn from our gardens to deal with the most urgent question of the time: How much is enough?”

— Wendell Berry, American novelist, poet and gardener

A couple of Saturdays ago, I led a class at the Winter Dreams-Summer Gardens symposium in Medford. The idea for the class was to introduce folks to the "Garden Guide for the Rogue Valley" (2007) as a local resource for growing healthy, productive vegetables. I was surprised when I learned almost everyone there already owned the guide; they really just wanted to talk about gardening with other gardeners. So that’s what we did. I believe we were all thankful for an informal opportunity to talk about our shared passion.

It has since occurred to me that most gardeners are usually so busy working alone and, as Wendell Berry put it, “learning from our gardens,” that we don’t often get a chance to learn from our fellow plant enthusiasts. That’s why I’m thankful I joined the Jackson County Master Gardener Association when I moved to Southern Oregon five years ago. Through my involvement, I’ve been able to meet other gardeners in my adopted hometown, and to learn more about gardening in a completely different environment than what I was used to in Hawaii and before that in Louisiana and Florida.

Before participating in JCMGA, I was perfectly content to play around in the dirt and discover things through trial and error. I still love the serendipitous "aha" moments that come just from observing and listening closely in my garden. But I’ve also come to appreciate studying the science behind growing plants, and to check my hypotheses with others. I count it as a true blessing to be able to study and practice gardening with a cohort of kindred "soil" mates.

Discussion of my gardening gratitude would not be complete without mentioning my first garden mentor — my dad. I grew up helping my father tend two raised vegetable beds in our suburban backyard. Most of the time Dad was a hard person to be close with, but somehow we formed a connection among the plants we grew together. Sadly, he died at age 55, so I am extremely thankful for those days of gardening camaraderie, and for the inspiration my dad provided for me to begin what I hope will be a lifelong journey of garden learning.

If you would like to begin or continue a journey of garden learning, now is a good time to join one of our local gardening groups. If you’re really eager, check out the OSU Master Gardener Program, which begins Jan. 20 and runs weekly through April 20 at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center in Central Point. More information is available at www.jacksoncountymga.org.

There is much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving season. Yet, as we express our gratitude for all that we have, let’s also remember Wendell Berry’s advice to use lessons from our garden and ask: “How much is enough?”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Rhonda Nowak is a member of the Jackson County Master Gardener Association and teaches writing at Rogue Community College. Email her at rnowak39@gmail.com.