Interview with Board Member Virginia Stephenson

Interview with board member Virginia Stephenson

Newsletter (NL): How long have you been gardening?
Virginia Stephenson (VS): I started gardening in a small way with some vegetables and flowers when I moved into my home in Charleswood in 1978. In 1988 I hauled 50 railway ties and 50 yards of soil into my backyard to build raised beds all around the yard, and started filling them with flowers. I am still working on it now.

NL: What kind of a garden/s do you have? How has it evolved over time?
VS: I started with a vegetable garden 45 years ago, but now grow only flowers. My flower beds were initially all massed plantings of annuals, which I bought as seedlings and raised in heated cold frames. At the height of my folly I was planting 200 dozen annuals a year. Then I became a Master Gardener and discovered the wonderful world of perennials, and I have been in the process of converting to a perennial garden ever since. I have also begun doing container gardening, which is where I now have most of my colorful annuals. In the past couple of years I have begun working on some flower beds in my front yard which are definitely still a work in progress.

NL: What are the things that give you most pleasure in your garden/s?
VS: I love going out in the spring and removing the protective leaf cover, and seeing that miracle of new life coming out of the ground. I love seeing each new flower come into bloom, with its distinctive shape and color, and for some their fragrance. I also love sitting on the deck with my husband at the end of the day, listening to the fountains, watching the birds and admiring the tapestry of the garden all around us.

Black swallowtail on pansies.

NL: You are also painting. Do your art and gardening inspire each other?
VS: I paint with two local art groups and also teach beginning watercolor at the seniors’ center. I generally paint landscapes, and have thought of painting some scenes in the garden, but have not yet done so. During Covid I did do one joint painting and gardening project in which I painted a set of four garden fairies in different color combinations, and then planted color matched hanging flower baskets in which to place them.

NL: Why and when did you decide to become a Master Gardener?
VS: In 2016 my husband read a notice in the paper about the information session for the program. He thought I might be interested, so told me about it, and I went to check it out. What initially sold me was that as a Master Gardener, I could apply to be a volunteer in the English Garden. I took my Master Gardener training and my park volunteer training at the same time, and have been happily involved with both ever since.

NL: What motivates you to serve on the board as member at large and study group coordinator?
VS: As a general member of the MMGA I felt distanced from the board. I decided to run for a board position to learn more about the inner workings of the board and the association as a whole, and to share with the board some of the concerns of the general membership. My position as study group coordinator is motivated by my belief in the importance of study groups, and a desire to see them get back onto firmer footing after the restrictive Covid years.

NL: How are study groups important for our organization and what benefits do they provide to our members and interns?
VS: I see the study groups as directly supporting three of the stated goals and objectives of the MMGA, providing a communication network for the exchange of ideas and information, supporting the ongoing training of MGs and interns, and encouraging the growth of horticultural communities. For the MGs and interns, participation in a study group gives a human face to the organization, gives them a sense of belonging and community. It is also a perfect vehicle for the ongoing education of MGs and interns, providing them with horticultural information through discussions, presentations and sharing sessions, as well as serving as a training ground for speaking on horticulture topics and making presentations. In addition the study groups are a good source of information on resources, upcoming events, projects and volunteer opportunities.

NL: In your opinion, what is crucial for study groups to flourish?
VS: There are several important factors. One is a strong group leader or leaders to keep the group organized and running. Group members who are committed to participation in the group, which means attendance at meetings, active participation during meetings, and helping to plan topics and activities for future meetings, so as to reduce the onus on group leaders to do so. I think that more networking and sharing of ideas among the groups will make them all stronger. Finally, I believe that support and recognition by the board of the importance of study group membership will help the groups to flourish.

NL: Is there anything in particular that you wish the MMGA as an organization would accomplish in the future?
VS: I would like to see a two way flow of communication between the board and the membership. At present the flow of communication is from the board to the membership, with little opportunity for consultation with the membership, or hearing of their concerns. I would also like to see the organization continue to expand in areas of Manitoba outside of Winnipeg. Our new system of online training with U Sask makes it easier for rural residents to take the courses to become Master Gardeners, but as an organization we must find ways to accommodate our rural members and help them to acquire the volunteer hours that they will need, first to complete their training, and then to maintain their certification on an annual basis.

NL: We all have role models and people who inspire us. Who are the gardeners that truly inspire/d you?
VS: My role models for gardening were my parents. As a child, I always saw them working in the yard, and we always had a lovely yard. It was a given that when I had a home and yard of my own that I would be out gardening in that yard. My father was very much into Japanese gardens and bonsai trees, and in his later years fulfilled a lifelong wish to go on a garden tour in Japan. I was also inspired by several of my aunts whose large farm gardens I would visit in the summer. Their large vegetable gardens for produce and canning were truly impressive, but what I loved were their beautiful flower gardens where they grew prize winning flowers for competition in county fairs and flower shows. Those gardens inspired my love of flower gardens.

Photos by: Virginia Stephenson
Published:  March 2023