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Planting Roots

Master Gardener Teri Wagner Finds a Hobby and a Community as a Master Gardener

When the coronavirus lockdowns went into effect in spring 2020, reports quickly emerged of a gardening boom. For Teri Wagner, the pandemic provided the perfect opportunity to rekindle her love of cultivating vegetables and to learn more about growing in Arizona’s arid climate.
“That's kind of how everything started,” she says. “COVID hit, and we were all stuck at home. I was like, ‘What can I do hobby-wise that's safe and outside?’ That's really when gardening kind of took a life of its own for me.”

The Ohio native had always been interested in gardening. As a child, she would help her mother tend to the family plot. Then when she moved to Los Angeles, she focused on growing ingredients to use in her cuisine.
“There’s just something therapeutic about being in the dirt and being outside. I really like it,” she says.

Wagner moved to Arizona five years ago, and she purchased her current home, on a large corner lot in North Scottsdale, in 2019.

“It’s so different to plant here in Arizona. It’s not like the Midwest where you can just throw seeds in the dirt, and they grow,” she notes. 
To learn more about the specifics of gardening in the Valley, Wagner enrolled in the University of Arizona Maricopa County Cooperative Extension’s (MCCE) Master Gardener program. This 17-week course—which Wagner attended online—uses research and science-based information to train people on the best practices in home landscape and gardening. Participants study everything from botany and soil and fertilizer properties and chemistry to pest management, landscape design, citrus, and cacti and succulents. Students are also required to complete 50 hours of volunteer work to receive their certification.  

“I really enjoyed learning the science behind why Arizona is so specific—why you can’t just take your knowledge from the Midwest or West Coast and be successful here,” Wagner notes. 

While most Arizonans focus on creating eye-catching xeriscapes, Wagner stocks raised beds with lush arrangements of herbs, vegetables, and flowers. Cabbage, broccoli, Romanesco, Swiss chard, celery, and arugula mix with colorful ranunculus, irises, freesia, lilies, magnolias, and dahlias. Garlic, eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers are arranged next to herbs, including basil, rosemary, dill, cilantro, oregano, and lemongrass. 
“I think that some people like to plant all of one thing together, so they know what it is,” she explains. “If you mix it up with different flowers and herbs, pests don’t tend to multiply and destroy your entire selection.” 

She also likes to plant flora that will attract pollinators and feed birds. Spring flowers ensure happy bees, while sunflowers, corn, and amaranth provide sustenance for local birds—and hopefully keep them from eating the tomatoes and peppers. 

Like all Master Gardeners, Wagner loves sharing her knowledge of plants with friends, neighbors, and just about anyone who needs some landscape advice. 

“One thing about the Master Gardener program is it’s such a great community,” she says. “Now I have friends of friends who will call or text me with questions about gardening. Being a Master Gardener is all about connecting people with the right information to solve a lot of problems.”
Her top tips? 1) Grow what you like. Whether it’s flowers, herbs, or veggies, if it’s something you enjoy looking at or eating, you’ll feel a greater connection while tending to it. 2) Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or not be perfect. Gardening should be an enjoyable hobby, and even Master Gardeners have plants that die. 3) You don’t need to spend a fortune to find great plants. You can find clippings or succulent pups for free online or through friends or neighbors. 4) And finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions. MCCE has an “Ask the Master Gardener” email and phone line. 

“The Master Gardener program is very community-based, and gardeners and plant people love to talk about plants,” Wagner says. “And now I feel like I’m one of them.”

“I really enjoyed learning the science behind why Arizona is so specific."

"Gardening should be an enjoyable hobby."