2017 Workshop 3rd Place (tie) – The Sustainability Series of Workshops, Durham Region, Ontario, Canada

In response to questions asked at our advice clinics, the Durham Master Gardeners created a series of workshops linked around the theme of sustainability in gardening. Our goal was to stimulate interest and create awareness of sustainable concepts among Durham Region gardeners and demonstrate its relevance in everyday living. We worked closely with the community sustainability committees as well as with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, Ontario Nature, the Legends Centre Community Garden group, the Oshawa Garden Club and Durham College.

Here are the workshops the Durham Master Gardeners developed:

Balcony Workshop: A presentation on growing vegetables from seed including the importance of soils, organic techniques and hygiene, natural fertilizers, small space gardening, and the culture and requirements of different vegetables.

Introduction to Vegetable Gardening: We discussed and demonstrated the planning of vegetable gardens. Categories of vegetables were discussed with when, where and how to grow, an introduction to soil and composting, and intensive gardening techniques such as square foot gardening and companion planting of commonly grown vegetables.

Xeriscaping Workshop: This workshop covered drought-friendly plants including ornamental grasses, bulbs, perennials, shrubs and trees. We explained how to create a moisture friendly landscape including mulch, use of rain barrels, and rain gardens.

Native Plants and Invasive Species Workshop: We talked about the four types of native perennial gardens and the plants typically found in each one. We also discussed how to choose native plants for your garden, buying plants and growing from seed. We then introduced participants to invasive plant species found in Ontario using information published by the Ontario Invasive Plant Council.

Pollinator Workshop: In this workshop we wanted to raise awareness about the plight of our native pollinators and what individual gardeners can do to help them. We discussed plant species, which ones provide food for pollinators and demonstrated how to make bee nests out of common materials around the home. We distributed lists of appropriate plants, seeds for pollinator plants and a page with sample bee nests.

Composting Workshop: We talked about basic composting do’s and don’ts and how to build a pile. We discussed the pros and cons of different composters and various techniques including showing participants how to create a vermicomposter.

Seed Saving Workshop: This workshop was designed to introduce participants to the wonders of collecting and saving your own seed. Topics included what are seeds, selecting seeds to save, how to store seeds and how to check for viability. The activities included identifying and gathering seeds from a nearby park or garden, sorting and preparing seeds for storage.

Happy Gardener Workshops: In late 2015, we were asked to create a series of workshops to be run in partnership with Durham College’s Continuing Education program for the spring of 2016. We developed and delivered the Happy Gardener Workshop series, four, 4-hour sessions held over a month at the Durham College Whitby Campus. We utilized our existing presentations and workshops and combined them in this unique series. The curriculum for the 4 weeks was as follows:

  • Day 1 – Introduction to Soil (2 hours) and Starting Plants from Seed (2)
  • Day 2 – Introduction to Vegetable Gardening (2 hours) and Culinary Herbs (2 hours)
  • Day 3 – Balcony Gardening (2 hours) and Potscaping (2 hours)
  • Day 4 – Composting (2 hours) and Pollinators (2 hours)

Each of the workshop sessions was accompanied by hands-on activities such as seed planting, creating square foot garden designs, creating bee nests and worm composters, as well as demonstrations by the various master gardeners who participated.

The feedback from all of our workshop sessions was overwhelmingly positive. We felt that certain techniques helped to engage the participants. These included “hands-on learning”, “show and tell,” and Q. and A formats.

One of our greatest accomplishments was the formation of so many new partnerships and, as a result, a wider audience for these important issues. Nor were our audiences the only ones to benefit. The workshops were valuable training for our own members as well. They gained experience and confidence in both horticulture and public speaking while having fun and meeting new people in a relaxed environment.

Our program has raised the profile of the Durham Master Gardeners and the Master Gardeners of Ontario while we continue to educate the public in sustainable gardening practices. We believe we have made a significant contribution to the understanding of food and soil security, the importance of wildlife habitats and the application of those ideas in both backyard and balcony gardens.

We continue to offer the sustainability workshops to our community while keeping them updated and topical. We are a small group of 16 who strive to increase awareness of sustainability concepts in challenging times.