by Liz Sanborn
King County Master Gardener

I have been asked several times how I became a King County Master Gardener. The short answer is that I applied to the program, completed the training and the rest was history.The long answer involves a divorce, a need for change and a renewed passion for gardening. That story would require a margarita in hand so I will only give the pertinent details here.

The King County Master Gardener Program is part of the Washington State University education system. If you click on this link it will give you instruction for applying for the 2014 classes – and follow the clicks to get to the right page. The 2014 classes will be twelve consecutive Saturdays beginning January 11th, 2014. The cost is $ 275.00. Some of the information that you will need to access is on the internet so hi-speed internet access and E-mail is required to take the class. The internet work can be done at home, so you do not need to bring a laptop. The final exam is open-book and there are several quizzes along the way- which are also open book. It would be extremely difficult to not succeed if you show up for the classes. I will say this – to get accepted into the program a strong volunteer background is helpful on your application. The Master Gardener Program is a volunteer organization and to keep you certification you will need to volunteer at a Master Gardener clinic and also complete continuing education credits every year.

Since I am on the subject of gardening groups I would also recommend a membership in the Northwest Horticultural Society. NHS is a community of passionate gardeners and your membership includes garden tours, classes, Newsletters, lectures, discounts and access to fabulous plant sales. The lecture series is worth the membership price alone. I had the pleasure of attending a lecture last week at the Center for Urban Horticulture that the NHS put on – the speaker was Billy Goodnick and his topic was garden design and creating the garden of your dreams. It was an inspiring lecture preceded by a thirty minute reception for snacks and an opportunity to purchase plants from a guest nursery. The website for the NHS is You will find all the information you need there, including how to join.

It was inspiring to listen to an expert landscape designer talk about design in a way that was not only understandable but translatable to the home garden. The first step in all design – especially for the garden, is to identify what you want your garden to feel like. Do you want a space to relax and unwind in? A place for the kids to play? Or grow vegetables? Think about your garden as a series of rooms to extend your living space – what do you want those rooms to feel like. Once you have that vision you can design with trees, shrubs and plants to create what you envision. Look through garden books and identify what you are attracted to and keep a notebook filled with pictures and ideas.

Billy talked a lot about color in the garden and what color does in terms of creating a feeling. I had always thought I wanted a cool color palette in the garden, but what I have learned from the plants I am attracted to is that I actually prefer warm colors- red, corals, oranges and yellows. I took a photo of my garden this morning and this is what I saw:

From left to right: a yellow Viburnum shrub in the background, in front of that very chartreuse smoke bush, and the tall orange spikes are orange foxtail lilies. To the right of that is bronze fennel. There is nothing cool about this area of my garden and I love it.

If you are passionate about gardening but need some inspiration I would recommend joining a group – any gardening group that works for you. There are garden clubs all over our area – even a Des Moines Garden Club. Look for them on Facebook and join. It is always inspiring to get together with other people who share your passion.