Gardening workshop examines its roots

— Created January 17, 2024 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Get ready for a gardening adventure!

Registration is now open for the 35th annual Whidbey Gardening Workshop, to be held at Oak Harbor High School Saturday, March 2, beginning at 8:30 a.m. ( This one-day gardening-palooza, put on by the Island County Master Gardener Foundation, will include 40 different in-person classes, a Garden Marketplace, plant clinic, demonstrations, keynote speaker and more. Registration includes the keynote address, a class in each of the four scheduled sessions and the Garden Marketplace. Cost is $70 for those who register by Sunday, and $85 thereafter. All proceeds benefit the Island County Master Gardener Foundation.

Photo Courtesy of Whidbey Island Master Gardener Foundation
A highlight of the annual Whidbey Gardening Workshop is the Garden Marketplace, where plants, garden art and more will be among the items featured, along with educational displays and demonstrations.

Event organizers said this year’s theme, “A Gardening Adventure: Back to Our Roots,” has a double meaning.

“First, after a few years of offering online classes only or online and in-person classes, for our 35th year we are returning to our traditional, one-day, in person workshop bringing gardeners of all levels together to learn and exchange ideas,” shared event co-chair, Cathy Lofton-Day, in an email to Whidbey Weekly. “Second, our keynote speaker and many of our other instructors’ classes are focused on combating the effects of climate change by bringing native plants into our gardens, nurturing the earth and promoting diversity. Basically, a return to our horticultural roots.”

As noted, workshop organizers have responded to the growing interest people have in how to create a thriving garden in a changing climate.

“Many of our classes address their concerns by focusing on ways to update gardening practices, supporting pollinators, increasing diversity (through reducing lawn footprints) and conserving water,” noted Lofton-Day. “Some of these classes include ‘Eco-friendly Garden Care,’ ‘Less Water, More Blooms,’ ‘Meadowscaping,’ ‘Backyard Habitat Stewardship’ and ‘Developing and Designing Climate Resilient Gardens.’”

Photo Courtesy of Whidbey Island Master Gardener Foundation
Bestselling author Jessi Bloom will deliver the keynote address at the 35th annual Whidbey Gardening Workshop, to be held March 2.

According to Lofton-Day, this year’s keynote speaker, author Jessi Bloom, is perfect to introduce the workshop’s theme.

“She is an ecological landscaper and bestselling author,” she said. “The ‘Seattle Times’ called her a ‘rockstar in the ecological gardening movement.’ She literally wrote the modern book on permaculture (the concept of utilizing land, resources, people and the environment in a manner that doesn’t produce any waste). Her talk will include the concepts of permaculture and re-wilding, providing an excellent kick-off for our theme and the rest of the day.”

Hundreds of people of all different skill levels have made the Whidbey Gardening Workshop part of their annual routine. Lofton-Day said a combination of factors has helped make the workshop so popular.

“The time of year and the variety of classes are key. With the workshop happening right before spring, it inspires people to get out in their gardens and try new ideas, plant new plants and enjoy being outdoors,” she said, adding they try very hard to offer classes that will appeal to everyone.

“Our workshop strives to provide a broad range of classes to attract experienced and novice gardeners and all in between. Gardening can be a life-long learning experience. There are always new plants and new ideas,” she continued. “Over the years we have made connections with the top instructors in the area and every year we attend and review the programs of other gardening events, reach out to other organizers and comb the internet for new instructors and topics. The content development team starts shortly after the previous workshop has ended and works several months to identify and secure all of the instructors. It’s not easy, but it is one of the most fulfilling tasks of the workshop.”

Speaking of beginning gardeners, there are several classes to get them started on their own growing adventure, such as “Gardening for Beginners,” “Gardening Wisdom,” “Basics of Tomatoes,” “Transplanting Seedlings” and many others. Demonstrations and a plant clinic can also be educational.

For the first time, the Whidbey Gardening Workshop will be offering “Make and Take” classes.

“People often learn better when they actively participate in creating something, rather than just being told what to do,” Lofton-Day said. “Our content development team has wanted to do this for a while and decided this is the year! We are hoping these classes will be popular and provide an option for our participants to be more actively involved.”

Another popular feature of the gardening workshop is the Garden Marketplace, and this year’s should be no exception, according to Lofton-Day.

“The Marketplace is rapidly filling up with all types of vendors,” she said. “We will have vendors selling gardening supplies, garden art, and gifts, as well as nonprofit groups providing information important for gardeners (such as Island County Noxious Weed Control). We will also bring back the Master Gardener Bookstore, with book signings by our instructor authors and a Master Gardener plant clinic, which will answer your gardening questions. And again, we will have the popular free demonstrations on gardening techniques, our WGW24 raffle with all kinds of items from our local businesses, and the local 4-H group will be serving Whidbey Coffee and homemade snacks.”

The Marketplace is open to the public from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. For those not registered for classes, a $5 admission donation is suggested. Lofton-Day noted lunch can also be purchased as part of one’s registration.

“This year’s lunch is provided by the Oak Harbor farm to table restaurant, Rustica,” she said. “Participants can purchase a boxed lunch to enjoy in the lunchroom or the Marketplace or for an extra fee, they can have lunch with our keynote speaker, Jessi Bloom, where they can participate in an active discussion.”

Photo Courtesy of Whidbey Island Master Gardener Foundation
More than 40 different in-person classes, along with demonstrations and a plant clinic, will be featured at this year’s Whidbey Gardening Workshop, which will be held Saturday, March 2 at Oak Harbor High School.

All of this, of course, is put together by the Island County Master Gardener Foundation. Organizers always hope to spur more interest among those attending to perhaps join their ranks.

“There will be a Master Gardener recruiting booth in the Marketplace,” said Lofton-Day. “Interested folks can also go online to to learn more and for the contact information of the program coordinator. 

“This event has been a highlight for me since I finished my certification in 2020,” she continued. “As Island County Master Gardeners, we work throughout Island County (both Whidbey and Camano). There is an overwhelmingly positive response to our efforts. We help provide food to local food banks, conduct clinics throughout the year and have an education garden at Greenbank Farm that demonstrates a number of garden types that are possible on the islands.”

For registration and more information, go to