In this verdant quadrant of timberlands and hay fields, it’s beginning to look like Lewis County has cornered the market on yet another home grown crop — first-rate green thumbs.
For the second year in a row, a member of the WSU Lewis County Master Gardeners has been picked as the Master Gardener of the Year for the entire state of Washington. This year Mary Jo Christensen, of Chehalis, was selected as the state’s Master Gardener of the Year. In 2018 the master Master Gardener was Bob Taylor, who claims the old train depot between Adna and Chehalis known as Littell as his home turf.
Mary Jo Christensen grew up in a family that was keen to grow a vegetable garden, so the seeds of her accomplishment were sewn early on. She first joined the Lewis County Master Gardeners in 2000 after deciding she wanted to undertake a new pursuit for her own enjoyment but she never imagined she’d one day earn top honors across the Evergreen state.
“When it was announced at our regular meeting, because the state foundation president is one of our members, it was a total shock. It really was. To me it was an honor just to be nominated by my own peers so I didn’t even think anything more about being able to win,” Cristensen said.
Christensen noted that there are more than 4,000 WSU Master Gardeners across the state and each undertakes their craft in a slightly different manner. However, like mycelium in a robust soil composition, there’s one common theme that binds them all.
“The main purpose for the Master Gardeners is to be able to educate the public,” explained Christensen.
She noted that the questions fielded by Master Gardeners fluctuate with the seasons. In the spring there are lots of inquiries about tree pruning. Then when pests arrive people want to know what they are and how to get rid of them. Later, minds begin to wonder about irrigation and then harvesting and preservation.
“It’s a big variety. It just depends on what the homeowner is interested in. Even if they want to grow a nice big lawn and they want to know the best way to do it,” explained Christensen.
With her background in good old-fashioned vegetable gardening, Christensen spends a lot of time growing goods that can be canned. She also tends a flank of berry bushes that she uses to make jams and syrups. At the same time, she’s dedicated a mess of hours to cultivating a barrage of plants that are beneficial to pollinators, including, but not limited to, her hummingbird garden she’s manicured for 16 years.
In her official capacities with the Lewis County Master Gardeners Christensen carries plenty of water as well. She’s a fixture as the co-coordinator of the popular Home and Garden show and conducts community outreach with grade school children like those at R.E. Bennett Elementary School where she used to work. She served as president of the Lewis County Master Gardeners for three years and continues to serve as treasurer since taking over that position in 2010.
Christensen was also instrumental in the development of the demonstration garden at the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds back in 2016 and continues to oversee its regular upkeep.
Christensen noted that the Lewis County Master Gardeners program was founded in 1980 and currently boasts about 70 active members. She says that Lewis County has a particularly dedicated set of members that have helped to foster a fruitful culture of cultivators in the community.
“It’s a great program. You meet a lot of really nice people and it’s great that you have a common interest to start with in gardening. But the best part is to be able to pass that on to the public,” said Christensen. “There’s many ways to do it. You don’t have to be involved in giving a presentation necessarily. There’s a lot of different ways to participate.”
The Lewis County Master Gardeners meet once a month in the old courthouse in Chehalis. Those meetings are from 6 to 9 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of every month, except for November and December. November’s meeting will be held on the third Tuesday, Nov. 18. The December meeting is slated for the third Tuesday of the month, Dec. 10. That meeting will include a potluck dinner and an awards ceremony.