Becoming Worthy of Himself: Reflections on the Master Gardeners’ Class at OYA.


“Tim” is fully engaged. His hand flies up; he’s ready with the answer. This newest Master Gardener apprentice shares his observations, his conclusions, and where we should go next with our work. He’s read and re-read the text, and answered the homework questions with confidence.

Today’s topic in our Master Gardeners’ class is soils. Our teacher gets into it quickly, leading us through the various dimensions, the biology, the chemistry, the geology, and the mystery of it all. And Tim is in the middle of it, soaking it up, loving the complexity, and engaging in the thinking our teacher is calling us to do. His mental wheels are turning fast.

I’m Tim’s mentor, and today, a tutor, a teacher’s aide. My work is easy, a few words of encouragement, an occasional observation. I sit back and just enjoy him for who he has become.

A few years ago, he was lost. He’d done his required work in the youth prison, even finishing high school and then helping others. But, nothing fired up his passion, and life here was becoming just a matter of serving out the rest of his sentence.

Then, he discovered the garden, and the mystery of cultivating that is the joy and the passion of gardening. Wonderful things happened here, and he could be a part of that. He could be the magician and the scientist, the expert on various bugs and herbs, growing into a nurturer and a teacher. Tim was becoming the plant, sending out roots, spreading his leaves, and thriving in this newly discovered soil in his life.

Knowledge and the ability to be a part of the wonders of nurturing life, and exploring the unlimited world of plants and bugs touched his heart. He belonged in this work, and it fed his soul.

Now, the Master Gardeners class is his focus, and he has embraced it with everything in his being. He is in the midst of this class of questioners, deep thinkers in the ever expanding world of common, every day dirt.

I help him work through the math formulas and problems for the fertilizer questions. I watch him realize that the dull, abstract work in his math classes is nothing like the excitement of learning how best to fertilize his garden, and make his plants grow.

“This is fun,” he says.

He laughs then, shaking his head.

“I never thought I’d say that math problems are fun.”

We look at the slides of plants with various deficiencies from their soil, and talk about how to correct that, improving the plants by improving the soil and the nutrients, applying our newly found knowledge and thinking. He is becoming the botanist, the chemist, the scientist, the better lover of life itself.

He smiles, he scribbles notes, he’s totally absorbed in what we are doing, and where this class is taking him.

Tomorrow, he’ll be out in the garden, working his magic, growing his roots, growing into a healthy, complete man.

“We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” –E E Cummings.

–Neal Lemery 4/19/2016

Pruning Towards a Stronger Community


I’m a Master Gardener, a community service organization in my community, supported by the Home Extension Service of Oregon State University. We learn evidence based horticultural practices and share those practices and our love of gardening with the community.

One of our community service activities is hosting a community Pruning Day. We offer our pruning to folks who are unable to fully care for their gardens, and help shape up their gardens for spring. This year, I was in one of the twelve teams who visited people throughout the county.

The faces of the our team’s clients, elderly people who welcomed us into their gardens and homes, shined with delight and gratitude. Our team descended upon them, clippers and loppers in garden-gloved hands. We quickly set to work, creating piles of brush and gardens of newly ordered shrubs and trees.

Many hands made light work, and the tasks were quickly accomplished, along with the laughter of many eager hands.

The real gold of the day was hearing our clients tell us their stories, and the story of their garden and orchard, what that place meant to them, and how their work there had shaped their lives. The conversations turned into sermons of stewardship and reflection on well-lived lives. And, tears of gratitude were shed for our presence, and our time and work, our own love for their garden and orchard.

Afterwards, we gathered around the table, sharing their food, and continuing our conversations begun in the garden. There was a fellowship, with our new friends, and with each other. The joys of gardening and service were shared, along with homemade cinnamon rolls and cider pressed from the apples grown on the trees we had pruned.

We made connections, with the earth, with each other, and with lonely people who had their stories to tell.

Community was built on Saturday, one snip of the pruning shears at a time, and a reweaving and strengthening of the community fabric. We are all stronger because of that work, and that time together.

Our county is a better place today because of Pruning Day. Yes, gardens are neater, and orchards are now ready for a productive year of fruit growing. We have cut out the dead wood, brought light into dark places, and invigorated our orchards. Today, we have stronger community relationships with new friends.

—-Neal Lemery 3/7/16