She grew a crop of vol­un­teers

Los Angeles Times - - HOME & DESIGN - BY JEFF SPURRIER Savio’s blog, www.gar­den­ing inLA.com, is ex­pected to go live the first week of this month. Spurrier was in the 2010 group of mas­ter gar­den­ers. home@la­times.com Twit­ter: @la­timeshome

“We train vol­un­teers,” says Yvonne Savio. “We give the more so­phis­ti­cated knowl­edge of gar­den­ing, the re­sources. I’m not teach­ing you ev­ery­thing about gar­den­ing. I’m teach­ing you where to go to look for the an­swers about any ques­tions that you might get from your gar­den­ers.”

Cal­i­for­nia na­tives and drought-tol­er­ant or­na­men­tals are also in­cluded in the mas­ter gar­dener cur­ricu­lum, but the em­pha­sis for the last 20 years has been on how to grow food for home con­sump­tion. That meant teach­ing smart wa­ter­ing, com­post­ing, com­pan­ion plant­ing, pest and weed con­trol, and re­cy­cling ev­ery­thing and any­thing for the gar­den: kids’ milk car­tons and plas­tic straw­berry bas­kets for seedlings, torn women’s hosiery for melon sup­ports, bread pack­age twist ties for stak­ing toma­toes.

The num­ber of projects ini­ti­ated by L.A. mas­ter gar­den­ers tops the to­tals of other Cal­i­for­nia coun­ties and even those of many states.

Last year, L.A. mas­ter gar­den­ers logged more than 20,000 hours at 269 lo­ca­tions, giv­ing ad­vice to more than 140,000 Los An­ge­les County res­i­dents.

No­body, it seemed, could grow gar­dener vol­un­teers like Savio, but the 2015 class is her last as pro­gram co­or­di­na­tor. The woman re­spon­si­ble for much of the pro­gram’s suc­cess has just re­tired.

Savio grew up in Pasadena and still lives there — with her hus­band, Tom, a rail­road his­to­rian, in the house her par­ents built on a hill­side and ter­raced with fruit trees, veg­eta­bles and roses.

In the mid-1980s, Tom be­came the as­sis­tant cu­ra­tor at the Cal­i­for­nia State Rail­road Mu­seum in Sacra­mento while Yvonne worked for the YWCA in Sacra­mento and then the UC Davis Co­op­er­a­tive Ex­ten­sion of­fice deal­ing with statewide grow­ing of toma­toes, pota­toes, onions, gar­lic, cool-sea­son crops, har­vest­ing and pro­cess­ing.

She also started free­lance writ­ing about gar­dens, re­ly­ing on a stack of gar­den­ing col­umns she had cut out of the Sun­day Los An­ge­les Times Mag­a­zine.

At nurs­eries in Davis, she en­coun­tered other like­minded gar­den­ers who also were search­ing for edi­bles they could grow at home and some­thing more tasty than the fla­vor­less pro­duce found in mar­kets.

With the sup­port of the Yolo County Co­op­er­a­tive Ex­ten­sion ad­vi­sor, they set up their own mas­ter gar­dener pro­gram, one of only a few in the state.

When a job opened up in 1994 to co­or­di­nate the restart of the mori­bund L.A. mas­ter gar­dener pro­gram, Savio jumped at the chance to move back home.

She teamed up with food banks, such as Se­nior Glean­ers and Sec­ond Har­vest, that were fo­cused on get­ting food to peo­ple. To­gether they cre­ated the Los An­ge­les Com­mu­nity Gar­den Coun­cil, a non­profit ded­i­cated to sup­port­ing com­mu­nity gar­dens in Los An­ge­les County (their two new­est, Wil­low­brook Com­mu­nity Gar­den and East­mont Com­mu­nity Gar­den, opened last month).

But dur­ing the first few years of mas­ter gar­dener classes, the stu­dents were of­ten re­tirees or gar­den club mem­bers who didn’t nec­es­sar­ily vol­un­teer, es­pe­cially in ur­ban neigh­bor­hoods. Savio’s boss, Rachel Surls, sent her to visit com­mu­nity gar­dens to look for a dif­fer­ent type of trainee.

Dur­ing 2000, Savio vis­ited 60 com­mu­nity gar­dens, search­ing for would-be mas­ter gar­den­ers. Fifty sent stu­dents.

“That’s what started this syn­ergy be­tween mas­ter gar­den­ers and com­mu­nity gar­dens,” she says. “We in L.A. are com­pletely dif­fer­ent from other [mas­ter gar­dener pro­grams] statewide in that we al­low peo­ple to de­velop their own projects. We have had the spe­cial distinc­tion in spe­cial­iz­ing in edi­bles, school gar­dens and low-in­come folks. As much as we’re known for do­ing this won­der­ful stuff, it’s not within the purview of other mas­ter gar­dener pro­grams.”

The mas­ter gar­dener pro­gram will con­tinue, with Surls at the helm.

Ann Summa

YVONNE SAVIO,

here in her Pasadena gar­den, was UC Co­op­er­a­tive Ex­ten­sion mas­ter gar­den vol­un­teer train­ing pro­gram co­or­di­na­tor.

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