ANACORTES, Wash. – Jane Billinghurst vividly remembers the very first garden she planted. She was six years old and living in the tiny village of Charlwood, England, just south of London. “It was a little patch outside the kitchen window that my father said I could garden,” she said. “I planted pansies.”
That marked the beginning of a life full of “gardening and visiting gardens,” authoring a book about gardening, and now, being named the Washington State University Extension Master Gardener of the Year for 2012. The Skagit County Master Gardener Foundation Board nominated her because of “the inspiration and passion” that she has instilled in that county’s program.
“Jane is a leader in every beautiful and powerful aspect of the word,” said Skagit County WSU Master Gardener Program Coordinator Lisa Hervieux. “The Skagit County Master Gardener program is a more innovative and educational resource because of her.”
Billinghurst learned about the Master Gardener program more than 20 years ago. She was taking a course on starting a business and met a woman who was a Master Gardener. “It was then I vowed that when I have time, I want to become a Master Gardener,” she said. It wasn’t until 2005, however, that she found the time to complete the program.
What attracted her?
“First of all, the Master Gardener program has an amazing reputation,” she said. “I like being part of something that is making a difference and doing a great job in the community. I enjoy the community outreach and talking with different groups trying to resolve their gardening problems.”
During her time as a Master Gardener, Billinghurst has initiated no fewer than 10 new community-education garden programs in her county, five of which have targeted growing foods for the home. For example, in partnership with Transition Fidalgo and Friends, she helped to create “Eat Your Yard” workshops. Billinghurst also helped to develop the Anacortes Farmers Market Outreach, a partnership among Master Gardeners and three other community organizations to disseminate information at the Farmers Market about gardening, backyard wildlife habitat and growing fruit and vegetables at home.
A primary focus of her current Master Gardener work is improving water quality in her community by educating gardeners about how to use fewer pesticides and other chemicals. That interest has translated into helping to set up rain gardens.
Author of five books, including her latest – “The Armchair Book of Gardens” – Billinghurst also is a regular contributor to Seeds for Thought, the state Master Gardener Foundation newsletter, local radio programming and newspaper articles. She also is a frequent presenter at the annual statewide WSU Extension Master Gardener Advanced Education Conference.
The thorniest problem she’s ever faced as a Master Gardener?
“Deer,” Billinghurst says, laughing. “People ask, ‘What can I plant in my garden that deer won’t eat?’ and the answer is nothing. If they’re hungry enough and can get to it, they will eat it. You can do all sorts of complicated things, but the best answer is a very big fence.”