Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Giant Has Fallen (to borrow a phrase from a Master Gardener)

I'm saddened that Gray Thompson, one of the founding fathers of the Oregon Master Gardener Program, passed away recently.

As you may know, the Oregon Master Gardener Program was started in 1976, through the efforts of Gray Thompson and Duane Hatch. At the time, Duane was an Extension Agent in Lane County, and Gray was an Extension Agent in Clackamas County. Thus, the first Master Gardener classes were taught in these two counties, by these two innovative and adventurous individuals.

Although he helped to start the Master Gardener Program in the 1970s, Gray began his career with OSU Extension in 1948, working in agriculture and 4-H. During his time with OSU, Gray worked in Lincoln, Umatilla and Multnomah Counties, before his time in Clackamas County.

Following Gray's retirement in 1983, he took the Master Gardener training course with his wife, Norrene. The two have been active Master Gardener volunteers, ever since.

Gray served as President of the Clackamas County Master Gardener Association. For many years, he taught training classes for the incoming Master Gardener classes. Jan and Ray McNeilan report that Gray is likely responsible for starting the popular pH soil tests at the Milwaukie Senior Center.

In 1996, Gray was honored as a Diamond Pioneer Award Winner, by OSU Extension. In 1997, Gray and Norrene were honored as 'Outstanding Cooperators' by the OSU Extension Association. In 2005, the couple was honored as Oregon Master Gardeners of the Year in 2005 by the Oregon Master Gardener Association and the OSU Extension Master Gardener Program. In 2006, Gray was inducted into the 4-H Hall of Fame . More recently, Gray and Norrene served as MG Guides in the Metro Master Gardener Program, where they helped to insure that both interns and MG veterans provided consistent, accurate and reliable information to clients. All of this and more helped to build and strengthen the Master Gardener Program for the benefit of so many faculty, staff, volunteers and clients.

Those who have had the pleasure to chat with Gray will likely remember him as a true gentleman - ever excited about gardening and about community service through the Master Gardener Program. Jan and Ray McNeilan, who knew Gray very well (Ray had worked with him since 1978) passed on the following sentiments: "We will miss his never-ending enthusiasm, his pride in the MG program and his signature hello, 'Ahoy there.".

When I first started my work at OSU, Gray was generous with stories, jokes and smiles that made me even more excited to join the great tradition of those who came before me. I'm saddened beyond words to think that I will no longer see him at Master Gardener events, or at the annual Gardeners Mini-College.

The memorial service for Gray Thompson will take place at Moreland Presbyterian Church (1814 SE Bybee Blvd, Portland) on Saturday, January 15th, at 2 p.m.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Integrated Garden

A recent NY Times article on aquaponics highlighted the practice of integrating gardening with fish culture. Such an approach can provide a family with a well rounded diet of an nutrient rich vegetables and low fat fish protein.

Although this approach to growing and raising food is just beginning to attract attention in the United States, it has been practiced for more than a century by Asian rice farmers. However, as the Green Revolution swept Asia, mechanized production, pesticides and fertilizers made rice fields increasingly inhospitable for raising fish. The practice has the potential to more efficiently produce food, during a time when resources (including water) are increasingly sparse.

With a resurgent interest in vegetable gardening, edible landscaping, urban/suburban chickens, permaculture, urban homesteads - aquaponics is another example of how we can re-envision gardening practices to more holistically include family- and community-centered goals. Growing and eating nutritious and locally-produced foods are practices that I hope transition from trends to tradition.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Raingarden Guide for Gardeners

(Originally posted on

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new guide on building sunken-bed rain gardens to collect and filter runoff water can help Northwest homeowners learn how to redesign home landscapes to help protect rivers and streams.

Rain gardens can help restore the natural water cycle, according to Rob Emanuel and Derek Godwin of Oregon State University Extension and Oregon Sea Grant Extension.

“As our landscapes became developed, rain falling on hard surfaces was directed to pipes, ditches and storm drains that route to streams or into stormwater sewer systems,” Emanuel said. “The result is too much water arriving in a short amount of time and carrying pollutants.”
Rain gardens work like a native forest, meadow or prairie.

“They capture and redirect stormwater from hard surfaces such as roof tops, driveways, parking lots and streets,” Godwin said. “Rain gardens help keep watersheds healthy by filtering out toxins before they pollute streams and lakes, and they can actually recharge aquifers by encouraging water to soak into the ground.”

The new 44-page illustrated guide, “Oregon Rain Garden Guide: Landscaping for Clean Water and Healthy Streams,” was written by Emanuel, Godwin and Candace Stoughton, who works for the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District. It can be found online at ordered by calling Sea Grant Communications at 541-737-4849. Copies are $4.95 each, plus shipping & handling.
This how-to publication provides information specific to Oregon’s conditions. No stormwater, garden or landscape expertise is necessary to use it. The step-by-step approach teaches how to determine where water flows across a homeowner’s property and the best place to put a rain garden to manage water flow across impervious areas.

The guide points out what local regulations need to be followed and how to determine slope, drainage rates and texture of the soil. Size of the rain garden and volume of water it can hold also are discussed, as are how to excavate, grade and build berms. The guide also recommends native perennials that can withstand both frequent wet and dry cycles.

The guidebook is a joint project of the OSU Extension Service and Oregon Sea Grant, East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District, Jackson Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Oregon Environmental Council. Partial funding for the guide was provided by a grant from Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.