Tobey Nelson carefully snips a tiny green leaf, dabs it with a bit of glue and presses it down with her thumb on a bundle of wire.
She does the same with a bud of ranunculus, a bright orange flower.
Snip, glue, thumb, press.
“There, let it dry. It’s already beautiful,” she said. “You can’t really mess it up.”
Nelson is a landscape horticulturist with decades of experience. Green thumb? Definitely. But what she’s demonstrating at Venture Out, a nursery in Clinton, isn’t typical gardening fare.
She specializes in making floral jewelry. Think much fancier and much more stunning versions of boring carnation boutonnieres.
Brides wear her necklaces, bracelets, even headdresses of fresh and dried flowers. Some pieces are made strictly from the spikes and slopes of succulents.
How to make floral jewelry is one of numerous new classes added to this year’s Whidbey Gardening Workshop happening March 3 at Oak Harbor High School.
In addition to teaching about botanically focused wearable art, Nelson will lead a workshop called “Pots with Pizzazz.” She’ll explain what elements to consider when selecting plants and flowers for a container and how to “dazzle with design” year round.
“Choosing a container that’s too small and letting it get too dry between watering are the most common mistakes people make,” she explained.
The all-day workshop features 53 classes, a keynote speaker, vendor marketplace and a raffle. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the event put on by the Island County Master Gardener Foundation. It oversees the WSU Extension of Island County Master Gardener Program.
Over the years, it’s grown in popularity. Participation has more than doubled since 1997, when 221 people registered.
This year, registration was cut-off at 450. Tickets cost $45.
“We were going to close registration Feb. 25 but we sold out early,” said Loren Imes, WSU Extension coordinator of master gardener, farm and food systems programs.
“We are taking names to put on a waiting list. We’re thrilled to be sold out.”
Other new topics covered this year: how to consistently grow high-quality fruit trees in your yard, how to prune tomato plants for a better harvest, Japanese garden design and how to outsmart pests without pesticides.
Keynote speaker is Dan Hinkley, who created Heronswood, a large woodland of rare plant species on the Kitsap Peninsula.
Instructors and participants are increasingly coming from off-island around the Puget Sound region, said C.J. Nielsen, chair of the event.
“I think we’re hitting our stride,” she said. “With growing interest, you can attract more instructors. There’s really nothing else quite like the Whidbey Gardening Workshop. We have so many classes, a vendor marketplace and a chance to get to know growers.”
Classes are small and hone in one specific subject, and they’re geared with all skill levels in mind.
“One class is dedicated to one flower — peonies,” Nielsen said. “Now that’s targeted.”
About 45 of Island County’s 77 active master gardeners volunteer to help during the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. event.
“And they are all smiling,” said Nielsen, in her fifth year at the helm. “We get to spend a happy day in a building full of so many happy gardeners learning and growing.”
Nelson, one of 38 instructors, said she’s looking forward to presenting for the first time at the workshop.
She offers various gardening classes and creates floral displays at weddings and other events under her business moniker, Tobey Nelson Events and Designs.
“The floral jewelry classes are popular,” she said. “I love to see how people start with the same collection of stuff and end up with different designs.
“And the jewelry will last,” she added. “Keep the succulents cool, it could last two to three months. With gentle handling, dried flowers will last indefinitely.”
• Want to become a Master Gardener? Applications for the 2018 training must be received by March 17. If there is sufficient interest, the training will begin in early April every Saturday for 11 weeks. Call Loren Imes at 360-678-2343 with questions.