Michael and Debbie O’Malley purchased a house in Oak Harbor last summer and started dreaming about the possibilities for their yard.
They took a step toward turning those dreams into reality by attending the 2013 Whidbey Gardening Workshop at Oak Harbor High School Saturday.
“We want to create an edible landscape around our place,” Michael said. “We wanted to determine what was needed to put in place to do that, how to go about it.”
The O’Malleys were among 261 gardening enthusiasts who chose to stay indoors on a mostly sunny day to soak up information from experts.
The workshop consisted of roughly 50 classes, a catered lunch and a keynote address from popular television and radio personality and gardening expert Ciscoe Morris.
Cost was $40 for the event, which is the primary fundraiser for the Island County extension of the Washington State University Master Gardeners.
This was the Island County group’s 25th year of holding the workshop.
Afterward, surveys were emailed to attendees to gain feedback to begin planning for the next year’s event, said Marcia Nelson, chairwoman of WSU’s Island County Master Gardeners.
“We take our customers’ opinions very seriously,” Nelson said. “About 80 percent of our customers are repeat. So it’s important we have new material.”
Classes were offered during three sessions with subjects that ranged from Japanese gardening, wild mushrooms to saving seeds.
There were classes that covered the soils of Whidbey Island, how to grow potatoes in the Pacific Northwest and friendly methods to cope with deer and slugs.
For the first time, the workshop included shortened classes that took half the time to deliver the information.
“Our mission is education,” Nelson said.
The most popular classes tended to be on vegetable gardening. That was the feedback the Island County Master Gardeners got from last year, so the 2013 classes reflected that.
“People want to grow their own food. That seems to be the theme,” said Re McClung, treasurer of the Island County Master Gardeners.
“That caused a shift,” Nelson said of the feedback they got. “We used to be (more about) ornamentals, perennials and shrubs.”
Claudia Pereda of Oak Harbor soaked up information on growing vegetables year-round and collecting seeds.
“I don’t live all the time in one place,” she said. “If you need to transport bulbs or something, you can do that. I learned a lot.”
Joyce Hewitson and Kara Mathenia came from Freeland to learn more about vegetable gardening. They attended Linda Bartlett’s class, “Eating From Your Garden Year Round.”
“I have an interest in growing lettuces and broccoli and winter crops through the winter,” Hewitson said. “She was very knowledgeable of how to protect them from frost, which we get here. We got a lot of information.”
Georgie Smith, a fourth generation farmer from Coupeville, spoke to a crowded classroom about how to successfully grow potatoes in this region.
“This is the second year I’ve been presenting,” Smith said. “I talk about vegetables because that’s what I do. People seem really interested. I can give them tips about growing in their area. You can read things in books but a lot of times it may not necessarily apply to your situation.”
Robin Llewellyn of Greenbank stumbled upon Dr. Tim Lawrence’s class on honeybees and other pollinators. And she was glad that she did.
“That one was heckuva fascinating class,” said Llewellyn, chairperson for Whidbey Audobon Society. “I went in just because I was interested. But I realized that when I got out not only did I get information but I realized that his class was telling us things that had to do with the survival of agriculture across our entire country and very few people get this information. And yet we all depend on plants for our food. But we have very little idea of what it takes to get that from the farm to the table. Without this little bee we wouldn’t be eating.
“And there’s only seven people in there learning this important stuff,” Llewellyn added. “At least here in Oak Harbor, there are seven more people learning something very valuable and if we can share that with our neighbors, this is a way to be a better community.”