Whidbey Gardening Workshop: Planting seeds for a lifetime of enjoyment

— Created January 20, 2021 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

It may be impossible to “grow” a green thumb, but it is certainly possible to cultivate an interest in, or nurture a love of, gardening. That’s what the Whidbey Gardening Workshop has tried to do for 32 years, and it’s a tradition that will continue Saturday, March 6 in a virtual format.

The Whidbey Gardening Workshop, a production of the Island County Master Gardener Foundation, has moved online this year due to COVID. While some familiar portions of the annual event may be missing this year, the overall mission to bring gardeners together for a day of learning is still the focus, despite the change in format.

“It is our mission, and our fervent desire to provide an exciting and engaging day for gardeners,” said Carole Matthews, chair of this year’s workshop. “We seek to recruit wonderful instructors and provide a valuable experience for a reasonable price.”

Jan. 21 is the last day to take advantage of the early-bird enrollment special for this year’s gardening workshop – just $45 for the keynote address and three different classes. Starting Friday, the cost to attend will be $55. For the first time, attendees have the option to see nearly all the classes from the day of learning for an additional fee. 

“This year people will have an opportunity to select from 27 different classes on the day of the workshop,” explained Jim Peskuric, president of Island County Master Gardener Foundation. “Furthermore, for an additional fee, you will have access to all classes offering recordings for three additional weeks.”

Stepping into the world of technology has been a bit of a challenge for this group of intrepid gardeners, but it was a challenge ICMGF members and volunteers were happy to tackle, according to Matthews.

“Ours is an organization of gardeners, not necessarily techies,” she said. “So, we have had a steep learning curve. We have spent considerable time teaching ourselves how to run a virtual workshop, and to support our instructors, some instructing on a webinar for the first time. Of course, making the event attractive to our attendees, and getting the word out about our virtual workshop has been a high priority to us.”

“We are hopeful that the word will continue to get out this year and we will have a good turnout from Island County and beyond,” agreed Peskuric. “We have seen an increasing number of attendees each year as people from a broadening area hear about our workshop. Many of the participants join us year after year to get motivated to go forth and garden!”

This year’s course offerings cover a multitude of topics, such as how climate change is affecting how gardens grow, how to grow tomatoes in the Pacific Northwest, vertical gardening with vines, how to benefit pollinators by adding native plants to the garden or yard, container gardening, how to care for rhododendrons and azaleas and much, much more.

“This year a remarkable group of classes are being taught by expert instructors,” Matthews said. “We will have Richie Steffen as our Keynote speaker. Steffen is the executive director for the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Gardens and director of the GreatPlantPicks.org outreach branch of the Miller gardens. Two extra features are included this year for the first time: Gardening Pain Free by physical therapist, Mike Goodman, and a panel of five answering questions in the Master Gardener Plant Clinic.”

While the new virtual format gives people access to more content, other regular events associated with the workshop will not be happening. The popular marketplace will not be held and the field trips had to be canceled. Organizers say both – and maybe even more – will be back in 2022.

“Next year we plan to have field trips, a marketplace with a bookstore, raffle, master-gardener store, and plant, gardening art, and other vendors,” Matthews said. “We also will be considering how the classes will be held, just physically as in years past, or a hybrid event with both virtual and physical classes. Much for which to look forward!”

It is no small feat to put together an event like the Whidbey Gardening Workshop year after year. This year has been no exception. But community spirit and determination have allowed the event to continue to grow and flourish, even during a global pandemic.

“Over 50 master gardeners have participated in creating the workshop for 2021,” said Matthews. “Even more people are involved if you add in the 30-plus instructors. As usual, we have also had contributions from the community—both in funding and time and energy. Our sponsors have been generous in this time of economic stress, and friends and family have pitched in to support the classes in manpower. For over 32 years this workshop has grown into an event expected and loved. We manage this with support from our amazing volunteers, friends, family and our community.”

Anyone looking for more information or who is interested in registering for the March 6 event can visit whidbeygardening.org.