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Dirt master

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Jane Moyer is an expert at building garden communities
Photo by Rhonda NowakJane Moyer, right, has spent more than 15 years as the Master Gardener practicum coordinator and a gardening mentor to several hundred Master Gardener students.
Photo by Rhonda NowakAs of this year, Jane Moyer has moved into an advisory role for the Master Gardener practicum, but she still often works at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center.
Photo courtesy of Jane MoyerJane Moyer has recently downsized her garden, but she still enjoys growing plants in pots. “You can grow anything in a container,” she said.

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of stories about women gardeners in the Rogue Valley.

“Working in the garden ... gives me a profound feeling of inner peace. Nothing here is in a hurry. There is no rush toward accomplishment, no blowing of trumpets. Here is the great mystery of life and growth. Everything is changing, growing, aiming at something, but silently, unboastfully, taking its time.”

— Ruth Stout, author of “Gardening Without Work: For the Aging, the Busy and the Indolent,” 2011

It might sound as if gardener and writer Ruth Stout (1884-1980) did not care much for busyness. However, she is often quoted as saying, “At the age of 87, I grow vegetables for two people the year-round, doing all the work myself and freezing the surplus. I tend several flower beds, write a column every week, answer an awful lot of mail, do the housework and cooking — and never do any of these things after 11 o'clock in the morning."

Ruth Stout was certainly a woman who was not averse to being busy, but she also knew it’s just as important not to be busy all the time. I admire anyone who finds that kind of balance in their life.

Stout and Jackson County Master Gardener Jane Moyer will always be linked in my mind, because I was introduced to both women at the same time.

It was 2011, and I had just moved to the Rogue Valley, so I decided to participate in OSU’s Master Gardener certification program at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center in Central Point. The Master Gardener program coordinator at the time was Bob Reynolds who, like Ruth Stout, believed gardening need not be labor intensive.

Bob showed the class a film in which Stout demonstrated her method of planting potatoes in her Connecticut garden. She mulched the earth with straw ahead of time, and when she was ready to plant her potatoes Stout would simply move the straw aside, toss the potato seeds on the ground, and cover them back up with the straw. That was it.

Stout’s potato harvest was always abundant, and there was no digging, no weeding, and no perspiring involved.

Then came the practicum portion of the Master Gardener program when the class was able to get our hands dirty planting tomato and other vegetable and flower seeds in the greenhouse. That’s when I met practicum coordinator Jane Moyer, whose easygoing gardening style and kind encouragement embodied Stout’s philosophy about stress-free cultivation.

I decided then and there I wanted to be a gardener just like Ruth Stout and Jane Moyer.

It’s hard to believe that more than a decade has passed, but I’m not surprised Jane has continued to co-coordinate the MG practicum all this time. Over the years, Jane has grown several hundred Master Gardeners in our area, and I hear over and over from folks who credit Jane as one of their most influential gardening mentors.

This year, Jane will become an octogenarian, and she decided to hand over her coordinator responsibilities to a team of practicum mentors. They know they have a pair of big gardening Crocs to fill, so Jane is easing the transition in an advisory role. It’s an excellent time to celebrate her many productive years working with plants, and plant people, in the Rogue Valley.

Jane told me recently that it was because she wanted to become a more productive greenhouse gardener that she took the Master Gardener class in 2005.

“I was never very successful starting plants from seeds, so after I retired from teaching, I signed up for the class and volunteered to work in the greenhouse,” she said.

It wasn’t long before she became a mentor to other MG students, and she found that her years as an elementary teacher were helpful in designing the practicum curriculum and lesson plans. For many years, Jane and other greenhouse practicum mentors taught MG volunteers how to grow the annual vegetables and flowers that were sold in the Jackson County Master Gardener Association plant booth at the Spring Garden Fair, held every year during the first weekend in May. (Unfortunately for the local gardening community, the fair has been canceled since 2020 due to COVID restrictions.)

In 2011, Jane helped to redesign the MG practicum so students could gain hands-on experience with growing plants from seeds and propagating perennials from cuttings and divisions. Around that time, she teamed up with Master Gardener Virginia Brown, who co-chaired the practicum with her for several years before retiring.

Jane told me that being part of a gardening community was one of the reasons she has remained involved with the MG program for so many years. Other reasons for her long-time commitment?

“I’m always learning something new,” she said. “I love the people (gardeners are just nice people); and it’s such a pleasure to see the miracle of taking a tiny seed and, in a few short weeks, you have a beautiful plant.”

Jane’s favorite plants

“I believe gardening should feed us and promote sustainability, but especially at this time of year, I want my garden to feed my soul. As the days get shorter and grayer, I find myself drawn to plants with color, mainly flowers. I have lots of houseplants, many that flower in the winter.”

Some of Jane’s indoor flowering plants include Clivia, African violets (Streptocarpus), Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera), peace lily (Spathiphyllum) and Amaryllis. I asked Jane how she keeps her indoor plants healthy, and she said, “Benign neglect. I water them when the peace lily starts to droop because they are like the canary in the coal mine.”

Local women who inspire her

Lynn Kunstman: Lynn is past JCMGA president, practicum mentor, organizer of the native plant nursery, and garden speaker on Jefferson Public Radio.

Virginia Brown: Virginia is past co-chair of the practicum, and raises a terrific home garden to supply her household, with extras to give away.

Kate Hassen: Kate is past JCMGA president and a practicum mentor. She raises a huge garden on a city lot with her husband.

Ronnie Budge: Ronnie is past JCMGA president and practicum mentor. She lived on 87 acres with an intensive garden until recently moving to Seattle, where she is already involved as a gardening volunteer.

Sherri Morgan: Sherri is past JCMGA president, a landscape consultant, chair of the Summer Dreams/Winter Gardens Symposium for several years, and organizer of the 2021 virtual Native Plants Tour.

Rhianna Simes: Rhianna is past MG coordinator, former executive director of Our Family Farms, and current co-owner of Verdant Phoenix Urban Mini-farm and Educational Center and co-director of Cultivate Oregon.

Rachel Werling: Rachel is coordinator of the OSU Land Steward Program at SOREC.

Maud Powell: Maud is coordinator of the OSU Small Farms Program at SOREC.

All of the women Jane mentioned should be celebrated as impactful women working in the plant world in the Rogue Valley. I’ve spoken with most of them, and they all say Jane has been influential to them. I love that about our gardening community.

Inspiring garden literature

“The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book: Secrets of the Famous Year-Round Mulch Method” by Ruth Stout and Richard Clemence (1979)

“Garden Guide for the Rogue Valley: Year ‘Round & Month by Month Vegetables, Berries, Melons” by JCMGA (2007)

“Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life” by Barbara Kingsolver (2008)

“Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard” by Douglas Tallamy (2020) and “Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants” by Douglas Tallamy (2009)

“Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes” by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West (2015)

“The New Sunset Western Garden Book, The Ultimate Gardening Guide” by the editors of Sunset magazine (2012)

“The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food and Love” by Kristin Kimball (2010)

Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. She is founder and gardener of the Bard’s Garden at Hanley Farm in Central Point. Learn more at www.literarygardener.com, and email Rhonda at Rnowak39@gmail.com.

Spring Garden Fair update

Although the Jackson County Master Gardener Association had to cancel its Spring Garden Fair for the third year in a row, they will have native plant sales during the spring and summer at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road, in Central Point. Learn more about the native plant sales at: www.jacksoncountymga.org.