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is a lot like falling in love. You start slowly and then you fall head
over heels in love."
This is how keynote speaker Marianne Binetti set the tone for 300 master
gardeners at a recent Master Gardener Advanced Training conference in
Port Townsend, Washington.
Binetti, a well-known Pacific Northwest garden guru, author, and radio
and TV host was among friends and familiar faces as she laughed and filled
us with hope (which all gardeners crave) by sharing her how-to tips during
her slide presentation.
"To grow bananas in a cool climate," she teased us, "you have to cut the
top leaves after the first frost and then put a plastic garbage can over
the stump to keep the moisture out." To prove it could be done, she flashed
a slide showing a tall banana tree growing in the middle of a lawn in
"Well, hmmm," I thought, newly inspired like the rest of the audience.
"If I can grow artichokes in Kodiak,
Alaska then why not bananas?" I dumped that fantasy when Marianne fired
off a salvo of more down-to-earth truisms.
"Beautiful vegetable gardens are the latest thing."
"There is no such thing as a garden mistake--it's just a compost
"September is the best month of the year. Don't leave Washington State
in September." Many heads nodded in agreement, since the past decade has
blessed gardeners with an enviable, Mediterranean-like climate. It also
showed me how a group of gardeners is like a tossed salad: Mix them together
and you'll come up with something good.
"Use ground covers instead of grass," Marianne continued, explaining that
it's a lot less work to tend perennials and shrubs than to maintain the
Speaking of shrubs, Marianne, who calls herself a lazy gardener, says
flowering shrubs are the backbone of the lazy gardener. She followed with
slides of flowering chrysanthemums--giant mounds of color that require
no deadheading. "My favorite mum is called My Favorite Mum."
She shared a variety of tool tips, which included placing pruning shears
in strategic spots around your garden. "Slip them inside old mailboxes,
newspaper tubes and buckets turned on their sides so you always have a
pair handy. And don't fall for the ads that say buy the most expensive
tool you can afford,'" she warned the audience, now at the edge of their
seats, "Just get some cheap, brightly colored tools that you can place
all around your garden."
More truisms followed. "Grow what likes your climate," and "Rocks are
great in your garden because you can't kill rocks!"
Though I needed to finish preparing for two presentations of my own coming
up the next day, I hung around for the entire keynote address. Afterwards,
I found Marianne autographing books in the lobby of the old theater. We
exchanged hugs and promised to touch bases in a couple weeks.
Port Townsend itself is nestled on the northeast corner of Washington's
Olympic Peninsula. Victorian homes dot the downtown area and bluffs overlooking
Puget Sound. Known for its festivals, including the annual Wooden
Boat Show, mild climate and a rainfall that's less than half of Seattle's,
it's no wonder that many Alaskans flock to this community.
View of Puget Sound
from Fort Worden State Park
After the keynote address, I strolled around the spacious grounds of
Fort Worden, where the
conference was being held. Fort Worden, once the centerpiece in the Puget
Sound harbor defense system during WWI and WWII, was completed in 1902.
Today, the 434-acre park is a major visitor destination in the Port Townsend
area that includes lodging in restored Victorian officers' houses, barracks
and campgrounds, a theater, and museums. I followed old concrete roads
and gravel paths. Leaves swirled around my ankles. The air was warm and
fall-like and to my delight I discovered a clump of ripe blackberries.
I picked several juicy ones and savored them as I stolled back to the
Approaching the wooden steps of one of the barracks, I flashed on a comment
Marianne made toward the end of her presentation. "If you have a green
thumb, you can change the world." Yes, gardening, whether you're pruning
roses or eating a blackberry that takes you back to childhood memories
of cereal bowls filled with hot, blackberry cobbler, is like falling in