In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
November, 2006
Regional Report

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I still love to spend time in the garden with my friends!

A Gardener's Tale

I began my career as a professional gardener way back in the 1970s. I had been working for Bank of America as a file clerk and couldn't imagine spending the rest of my life trapped indoors. If working every day was going to be torture, I needed to make a change. A friend helped me get a job in a wholesale nursery in St. Helena. It was a giant industrial greenhouse that must have covered five acres. The job was grafting grapevines for the booming wine industry in Napa Valley.

Going to work in jeans was a vast improvement over wearing panty hose. Although it was winter and the dormant season, which is ideal for grafting, it was always warm and humid inside the greenhouse. We sang as we worked, and the hippy girls (my team) had a friendly competition going on with the Mexican ladies in the bay next door. Every day we had an informal race between the bays to see who could produce the most grafts. The Mexican ladies usually won, especially if Maria was on the stapler. Her agile fingers could piece those twisty little branches together like lightning!

As the season progressed, we followed the finished grafts from the grafting bays to the greenhouses and finally to the hardening area outside, where the young vines were gradually introduced to the bright summer sun. Finally, around June, our babies were put into trucks and delivered to the various vineyards around the valley. Once the young vines were gone, there was nothing for us to do but clean the greenhouse and wait for the next grafting season to begin. In other words, I was out of work.

I cast about looking for work in the landscape/gardening industry. The first job that came up was with the City of Napa Parks Department. There weren't many women gardeners in the 70s, and it was tough to break into the "Good Old Boy's" club. Luckily, I had a boss who gave me the opportunity to learn various propagation techniques, how to repair irrigation and operate a multitude of machines including tractors and gang mowers, as well as nursery and park maintenance.

When my husband was transferred to the Bay area in 1980, I took a job with the City of South San Francisco Parks Department. It was much different from working in Napa, where we actually did gardening. In South City, the first chore awaiting us when we entered the park was sweeping up the broken glass and painting out graffiti. I never quite felt safe there, and since I was the first woman they had ever hired, I was put to work cleaning bathrooms. I wanted to get my hands dirty but I preferred the soil.

So I began working as a gardener at Sunset magazine, where I stayed for 17 years. I've done lots of garden writing and television production since then, but I'll always value the time spent working outdoors in gardens. Those experiences made me the gardener I am today.


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