Board Member Interview with Marilyn N. Dudek

Newsletter (NL) – How long have you been gardening?

Marilyn Dudek (MD) – I could say I was born in a garden, as all yards in the north end of Winnipeg, had large vegetable gardens. Along with a variety of vegetables, they always included flowers, grown from saved seeds and then broadcast onto the soil in the spring. The large rhubarb plant, a stalwart in the garden, became my snack food. Pull the stem from the plant, have a handy sugar-filled custard dish in hand to dip the snack into. Yummmm!

But gardening began in earnest when we bought our first home when I was 20 years old. The elderly couple who owned the home were gardeners and often travelled to British Columbia where they brought back plants that were not sold here. They were privately selling their house as they would only sell to people who would be interested in the yard and gardening. What a find! But sadly I did not appreciate some of the plants, barberries and autumn joy sedum. Barberries were extremely dangerous with their thorns causing difficulty in cleaning between them. As for the sedum, I loved flowers and came by this honestly from my Ukrainian roots and north end gardens. The blooms were not colourful enough for me and bloomed too late in the season. Out they went too! And so the lessons of gardening began for me.

NL – What kind of a garden/s do you have?

MD – As I back onto Bunn’s Creek Park in Winnipeg, where the forest and my yard are comprised of large oaks, my backyard is shade. I have embraced the shade when I realized that my garden beauty would be through shade perennial leaf shape and colour and the flowers. As I have been on many garden tours over the years, my vision for my garden has expanded to include large specimen plant exclamation points in the garden. My favourite is Rodgersia pinnata.

Shade backyard garden


Rodgersia pinnata in bloom

My front yard is my only sun area and three years ago I decided to grow tomatoes in a front shrub/ perennial bed. They had grown so well that in the fall of 2020 I expanded the bed by covering the grass with the compost and shredded oak leaves method. I have a feeling it will increase in size every year.

Having gardens at our cottage has always been a challenge as the neighbourhood animals like to visit – deer, skunk, chipmunks, and woodchucks to name a few. We quickly learned woodchucks chew through wire to access the desirable food. I have a raised vegetable garden that is fenced to a height of 5 feet and double wired two feet from the bottom with heavy stucco wire. This space, I call it my handkerchief garden, is a small 8 by 10 feet, as deer will not jump into a small space that they cannot readily jump in and out from.

All the ornamental flowers are grown in containers with the majority well protected on the cottage decks. I have successfully used a scent repellant deer spray for the four containers that are in the open. Over the years, I have trialed every concoction and product, from Irish Spring to dog hair to fox urine to no avail.

NL – What are the things that give you most pleasure in your garden?
You like to experiment in your garden. Are you planning other experiments?

MD – To say “I love nature” would be an understatement. Whether I am in my garden, or in a forest, I enjoy seeing the minutiae of the place I am experiencing. From nodding flowers under leaves of the Trillium cernuum, to the delicate mosses and lichen, that grow on the boreal forest rocks, to the forest ‘nursery trees’ supporting new life, I enjoy it all and my camera is always with me to capture these delights.

Trillium cernuum

Of course being in my garden is therapy at its best, pure escapism where I can lose myself whether it is on my hands and knees weeding or planting, pruning, or hose in hand, a one on one relationship with each plant.

One could say I am always experimenting or pushing the envelope for growing non-hardy, to our zone, plants in my garden. Also, I may be fortunate to have somewhat of a microclimate in my backyard that has, over many years, allowed me to grow Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ and a hardy to Zone 5 Helleborus, that I purchased in Toronto.


NL – Why and when did you decide to become a Master Gardener?

MD – My cousin in St. Catharines, Ontario introduced me to a Master Gardener in 2003. I had never heard of MGs but was fascinated with what she told me about the program as I loved gardening and believed in passing on the knowledge. What better way than by becoming an MG. On returning to Winnipeg, I asked various people who were in the horticultural industry, including at the Assiniboine Park Conservatory, where I was volunteering at the time. No one had heard about the program. I dove into the computer search engine and discovered the University of Saskatchewan program. I registered immediately and went to Saskatoon for a couple of weekends where two courses a weekend were offered. Then ACC offered some courses and I took the remainder in Winnipeg and MacGregor, MB. Yes, travelling to take Botanical Latin in mid-January. I was determined. The exam was written, closed book, from the U of S. I received my certificate in Saskatoon at the 2005 International Master Gardener Conference (IMGC) that was held in Saskatoon, the only time in Canada.

NL – You are a founding member of the MMGA and you have served on its board since its inception. Last year the MMGA celebrated its 10th anniversary. How has the MMGA changed over these 10 years?

MD – The major change, of course, has been in the membership. Originally, there were nine MGs in Manitoba that we were aware of, before the formation of the association. As we were from across Manitoba, and felt we needed to be together as certified MGs and further promote gardeners to become MGs, the formation of an association was the answer. For example in 2012 there were 9 MGs and 15 MGITs at the AGM with five positions comprising the board, two co-chairs, secretary, treasurer, membership and website communications. We had no money in an account and owed $1300.00 to some of the board members for posting the initial expenses. But we were a dedicated group and had the faith to believe that this was a much needed group for horticulture in Manitoba.

NL – What do you see as the strengths of the MMGA?

MD – Definitely the diversity and dedication of the membership in the variety of ways they want to share their specialized knowledge, whether it is through presentations, writing or hands-on teaching, to name a few areas. Plus, we always embraced technology knowing that this was the way to communicate in today’s world. At the beginning we were offered to piggyback with other horticultural groups to share a website but believed we could develop and maintain one ourselves successfully.

NL – What do you wish for the future of the MMGA?

MD – In my future dreams I would like to have the MMGA host the IMGC. It is a wonderful conference to attend and meet Master Gardeners from around the world and to learn from them and see the variety of projects they are involved in. I believe we have the membership and ideal location for attracting International MGs to our province. Manitoba has the history of many forerunners in the horticultural industry who historically added to developing and breeding new plants and hybridizations which continues today. We can offer many in-province speakers and feature well known Canadian horticulturalists. Plus, feature pre and post tours with exciting destinations.

Another wish for the MMGA is that we offer a bursary to people who are interested in taking the MG courses and certifying to become a Master Gardener. This incentive could be sustained through monetary donations from our members as one example.

For the continued success of the MMGA organization the hope is that more members become involved with the ‘mechanics’ of running such an association. Not only do we need to pass on our knowledge to others but volunteering could be ‘at home’ at the board and committee level. So often it is heard that hours are difficult to accumulate, but by dedicating time and hours to these ‘mechanics’ would continue to expand the MMGA exponentially.

NL – What makes you most proud of being a Master Gardener?

MD – To be a Master Gardener means sharing your knowledge, and that is the most rewarding for me. Whether it is teaching my grandsons the ease and simplicity of planting tulip bulbs with the excitement and surprise to come, or simply to inform people to understand that tropical plants do drop leaves and it is part of the growth cycle. To see and hear the surprise when I show presentation attendees how to rejuvenate succulents by ruthlessly chopping them down and replanting.

I am a big proponent of eliminating the myths of gardening which are rampant in online media. Fake news is very much a problem in gardening circles too. Through Master Gardeners studying science-based information we can make a difference one step at a time.

Forest ‘nursery’ tree

NL – What is the most exciting development in horticulture that you follow?

MD – There are many discoveries now from soil to oak trees to native bees, and so much more. As I follow the no-till method with soil, I am fascinated with the discoveries about all the minute organisms that form the ‘underworld’ of soil. For example, approximately twenty years ago, when mycorrhizae were first offered by a company where you could purchase the product to increase the health of your newly planted shrub or tree, my interest grew in all that we didn’t know about soil. This product has been proven to be not particularly beneficial to plants.

In the ensuing years more developments have been discovered such as how trees ‘talk’ to one another. How through various gardening methods we have used, we have harmed this soil “underworld” and still do: digging, adding sand to our clay soils, smothering soil with cardboard or landscape fabric, amending the soil in the planting hole when planting trees or shrubs, are some examples. .

I could continue on about the importance of oak trees and native bees but that discussion will be saved for another time as discoveries are never ending.

Lake ‘handkerchief’ garden – April 26, 2022