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Love of learning takes retiree to pinnacle of Master Gardening
At this time of year, often only traces remain of a garden’s splendor.
Beautiful rose blooms become few and far between. Butterfly bush blooms turn brown. Lilies lose their luster.
Still, it’s clear by walking through Marcia Nelson’s yard that her gardens exploded with color in recent months as evidence is still visible.
Nelson, however, will kid with you that her Oak Harbor property is among the most neglected around. There are other gardens to tend to, after all.
And other gardeners to tend to as well.
“The joke is Master Gardeners’ gardens don’t look too swift because they’re busy doing Master Gardening,” Nelson said. “I’ll have to retire from Master Gardeners to get my own garden in shape.”
Nelson is not just an ordinary product of the Washington State University Extension Master Gardener program.
Her dedication to learning, teaching and leading resulted in her being named the 2013 Master Gardener of the Year for the state of Washington.
Nelson will be honored at the 2013 Master Gardener Advanced Education Conference Friday night, Sept. 27, at the Hansen Conference Center at Comcast Arena in Everett.
She is the second Master Gardener from the Island County chapter to win the award in the past four years, joining Coupeville’s Don Lee, who was honored in 2009.
“I thought it was kind of exciting because you are kind of in a remote area yet you pop out these Master Gardeners with regularity,” said Betty Ryan, chairperson for the Master Gardener of the Year selection committee. “It’s kind of unique.”
The committee received 10 nominations this year out of the nearly 5,000 certified Master Gardener volunteers statewide.
Nelson stood out the most.
“She is a WSU Master Gardener of all seasons,” Ryan said. “She is not only involved in all of the projects gardening-wise, she has been so instrumental organizationally. To some extent, she saved the Master Gardeners program in your area when it was having problems.”
For Nelson, becoming a certified Master Gardener seemed only natural.
She enjoys soaking up information and loves to share it.
Gaining certification involves classwork and training, and maintaining that status involves continuing education and giving back hours of service to teach and help others.
All life-long learning habits that Nelson has mastered.
“It’s a perfect fit,” she said. “I love learning.”
Nelson and her husband of 45 years, Bob, moved to Whidbey Island from Olatha, Kansas, in 2002 following retirement to be closer to their daughter Rebecca, who lives in Edmonds.
After they purchased a home with one-and-half acres, Nelson decided not only to tend to her own property but branched out to help others.
Nelson became a Master Gardener through the Island County chapter in 2003 and has spent the past decade teaching, planning and coordinating events and projects.
She was the designer, creator and maintainer of two educational public gardens at Greenbank Farm. She initiated and is actively involved in a project to determine which plants might grow best on septic drain fields.
She has served as an advisor to the county for its landscape tree problems. She was chairperson for the Whidbey Gardening Workshop in Oak Harbor in 2013.
“One of the things that kind of tipped our hand with Marcia is she’s not only an outstanding gardener, her organizational skills are so great,” Ryan said.
It’s all part of the methodology of Nelson’s background.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in science at Penn State University following in her parents’ footsteps.
“Both of my parents were microbiologists,” said Nelson, an only child. “I had to prove I could do it, too. I wanted to be a science writer.”
Nelson calls herself a “multi-career person,” starting out as a seventh grade math teacher in Georgia, stopping to raise her daughter then returning 10 years later as a substitute in New Jersey only to discover a little “culture shock.”
She then moved up the ranks in the banking industry in the area of commercial lending, went back to school to earn a master’s degree in business, delved into marketing and later got into sales for a freight forwarding business.
“I drove my husband crazy,” she said. “I’d be on the phone at 2 a.m. talking to someone from Hong Kong making sure they got the freight picked up.”
She finally “retired” after working for five years as a budget manager for Sprint.
But retirement is a relative term.
Nelson doesn’t mind being immersed in gardening. It’s a subject she can’t learn enough about.
She and her husband lived on five acres in the Delaware Township in New Jersey with a quarter acre reserved for a vegetable garden. They lived in New Jersey for 30 years. Her husband worked for Johnson & Johnson.
When they got to Whidbey Island, Nelson got one more job at the Greenhouse Florist & Nursery in Oak Harbor.
“It was total immersion,” she said.
Ten years later, she stands tallest among the state’s Master Gardeners.
When she was told she won, she initially misunderstood.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said.