by Bess Lovec
Eight yellow jackets stole AnnaMarie’s career as a professional gardener. She reached behind a railroad tie to pull weeds, and they nailed her forearm, which swelled to twice its normal circumference. The swelling even went halfway up her upper arm. If toxins had made it to her heart, she would have missed this interview and the past three years.
She has been in and out of hospitals more than a dozen times, and even more times to emergency rooms, but not just due to the bites. AnnaMarie has suffered heat stroke twice, making her even more vulnerable to falling prey to that condition again. So she is wisely poised to give advice: “Hydrate, and take breaks, even if you don’t think you might need one. Use electrolytes. And get to medical help ASAP if you’ve been bitten by yellow jackets.” I repeat her mantras throughout the day, since the combination of medical events wiped out her immune system. She gained a close-up view of gardening’s underside that I hope my readers can avoid.
In 2014, AnnaMarie completed all three levels of Master Gardeners. She encourages everyone to take all levels for the diverse knowledge each course provides. She worked as a gardener at the Moss Mansion and for various families, plus volunteered at the Zoo and with veterans at Veteran Hall. Master Gardeners provides hope for humanity, in her eyes, and the variety of people plus camaraderie are its biggest strengths. She thinks the focus going forward should be to teach people to garden their way, providing support for a variety of paths, with the value of sustainability.
She adores many perennials, such as gay feathers, Jupiter’s beard, and coneflowers, but she wonders about the future of perennials in the face of climate change. Zonal maps might be outdated as soon as they’re published! AnnaMarie touts the virtues of annuals because they are easier to maintain than perennials and can be changed every year. Exactly what she loved about gardening is what she misses… the physical exercise, sweating, and dirt. Her creativity has shifted to painting and jewelry making. Her new activities help her brain heal and improve her balance and coordination.
For newcomers to gardening, AnnaMarie recommends that you buy a few good books, such as the Taylor series, and don’t get too big too fast. If you’re part of a large, commercial project, make sure an overall plan exists, both to keep volunteers engaged and to avoid waste. And catch the documentary Wasted by Anthony Bourdain about how indigenous peoples use what we frequently consider waste. I can’t wait to hear more great ideas from this true Master Gardener!