Volunteer Spotlight: An Oasis of Dedication with Laura Heldreth
Laura Heldreth, 2018 Master Gardener of the Year
Every year, the Master Gardeners of Clark County select one of their volunteers to highlight for their efforts in the community. This year the honor was bestowed upon Laura Heldreth. Laura teaches many classes on gardening at Clark College through the Master Gardener program, she maintains a gardening blog—Gravy Lessons, and her household garden was on the Clark County Natural Garden Tour for the first time this year.
How long have you been a Master Gardener and what type of work do you do?
I transferred into the WSU group in 2012 from the OSU group. I go out and teach people about how to garden sustainably.
This year my big project was "The Pollinator Posse." We went and taught people about pollinators and then installed a pollinator garden.
Last year, I put in a garden for a Habitat for Humanity owner. We put in a whole vegetable garden for her, and then I taught a class on how to grow it. And that's was a lot of fun. Last year, she grew so many tomatoes that she had to go take canning classes, and then this year, she's been really successful as well.
What type of classes do you teach?
I've worked as an instructor at Clark College for 3 years. I teach horticulture classes through the community education program. I teach all different types of classes. My latest is Organic Gardening 101. Last year, I was teaching a Container Gardening class. I also teach a class on Beneficial Insects. And I also help train new Master Gardeners, so I teach the overview, the Natural Gardening portion of it, and then I get to help out in the various hands-on labs like teaching about native plants or working in an etymology lab. It's very rewarding and a lot of fun. I also work as a garden coach and gardener through my own business, The Humming Gardener.
How does it feel to be Master Gardener of the Year?
They warned me ahead of time because I cried like a baby. I was just beyond thrilled because I look at those who have won it before me and I admire them so much. When I was teaching new people coming into the program about the different facets, we laughed because I've only not been in two facets of the whole program. So I'm in the answer clinic; I'm out in clinics; I'm in the greenhouse propagating new plants; I'm just all over the place. So I've gotten to volunteer with all of the volunteers in the program. I honestly don't know what the criteria was that they used to select me, but I feel deeply honored and very happy because I look to those who won it before me and I hold them up high on a pedestal.
What other type of work do you do in the community outside of Master Gardeners?
This year, I opened my garden up for the Clark County Natural Garden Tour and it was such a wonderful experience to have people come in and ask questions about our garden and learn about different techniques. I had volunteered in the past at the event in other people's gardens as a Master Gardener. It was really fun having everyone come through. We had 247 visitors and not a leaf was disturbed. It was the fastest six hours of my life. I love the tour because it teaches people how to garden smarter not harder and it shows some of the latest cutting edge science on how to garden successfully.
Prior to being really involved with the Master Gardeners, I was really involved with the Evergreen High School Band Boosters Association. I planned all of the trips and I drove a truck across the country to the Presidential Inaugural Parade in snow and ice and it's been really fun to be out in the gardens and have my own thing going on.
What inspires you to reach out to the community?
I have a vegetable garden in my parking strip and the only reason I put it there was because it was the only place on our property with full sunlight. We put in this 3 ½ foot by 50 foot vegetable garden and people were…mortified, to put it mildly. So what I did was anybody who stopped to ask a question got free produce. We had a bumper crop of tomatoes that year, so everyone left with heirloom tomatoes. And the next year we got a thank you card from the neighborhood association. Even now, we have kids walking through the neighborhood and I give them different edible flowers. I laugh at their expressions at the spicy nasturtium flowers and the green bean flowers that taste just like a bean. So anyone who walks through my vegetable garden gets to have a hand salad as they walk through.
In previous years, I've adopted a family in the neighborhood and they get to come pick the produce out of the garden that they want until they just can't stand another tomato or cucumber, and that's been successful as well.
The backyard is my oasis. My idea was picnic in paradise and I bought the largest hammock I could find. From there we've build this really nice secluded space that is in general 12 degrees cooler than out front. This is a space that is dog friendly. I have a 210 pound Great Dane, Barnaby, who comes running through all of this. He has his own furniture set because he's a big fella.
Four years ago, my husband also fell in love with gardening. He actually planted an invasive plant in the front yard, Butterbur, which we cannot kill. But that started his green thumb and now he's picking out plants and he's added the color orange to the front yard. So if you drive by (15007 NE 48th St, Vancouver, WA) and you see orange flowers—that's Charlie.
The best part of my volunteer work is the amazing volunteers that I get to work beside and all the gardeners that I get to meet. I love our gardening community and continue to learn so much from my fellow volunteers.
See Laura talk about volunteering, natural gardening and being Master Gardener of the Year here.
Looking for more garden inspiration? Check out our Demonstration Gardens at Pacific Park for even more natural gardening ideas and techniques!