University of California Cooperative Extension

Garden Variety

Thanks to the UCCE Master Gardener Program of Riverside County, you don’t need a green thumb to get your hands on expert gardening know-how.

Thomas Meagher Attractions, Current Digital

University of California Cooperative Extension

A UCCE program coming March 9 is “Trees for Tomorrow”, a remote class that reflects the organization’s dedication to “educating home gardeners on research-based home-gardening techniques and strategies.”

“One must cultivate one’s own garden.”

So wrote Voltaire in his famous 18th-century novel Candide. Deriving from the French philosopher’s skepticism about the perfectability of the world at-large, the idea that true happiness can take root only in the well-tended soil of home has taken on new resonance during the pandemic, as Janet Hartin has lately been reminded.

“A silver lining of COVID,” says Hartin, who is Area Environmental Horticultural advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE), “is that since people have had to be home more they are taking greater notice of what’s going on right around them, in their gardens, grounds, and trees. And they’re appreciating all of it a lot more.”

Hartin and her colleague, Rosa Olaiz who coordinates UCCE’s Master Gardener initiatives and volunteer services, spoke recently with Palm Springs Life about the surge in interest over UCCE’s gardening education programs.

For example, coming in mid-February are three Zoom sessions on Edible Gardens. The topics are Vegetable Gardening, Home Orchard Culture, and Container Gardening – the latter a subject that reminds even apartment dwellers that they can enjoy the varied pleasures of gardening, too.

“You can grow an orange tree in a container,” Olaiz points out. “It doesn’t have to be planted in the ground. So, yes, you can garden on your balcony. You just have to do it a little differently.”


It’s still possible to join one of those Edible Gardens classes. Send an email to [email protected] for information.

Another UCCE virtual program coming March 9 is the “Trees for Tomorrow”. Hartin says the remote class will focus on ways to enhance the “tree canopies of our landscapes” to counteract the growing problem of our communities, including the hundreds of Coachella Valley homeowner associations turning into shade-less “heat islands.”

“Edible Gardens,” “Trees for Tomorrow” and the many other UCCE programs reflect what Olaiz describes as her organization’s dedication to “educating home gardeners on research-based home-gardening techniques and strategies.”

“They’re asking for more, and more in-depth classes,” Olaiz adds, referring not just to those with a track record of green-thumb mastery but also beginner and would-be gardeners.

Classes are led by volunteer Master Gardeners — over 300 who reside in Riverside County including about 100 in the Coachella Valley. These Master Gardeners are the same experts, by the way, who answer UCCE’s gardening helplines, which have also been busier than ever as home-bound residents finally got around to wondering what the heck the name of that flowering bush is by their driveway.

Class information is available from UCCE Master Gardeners’ Facebook and Instagram feeds, but also on their website,

The website is also where you will find the email addresses and telephone numbers to get in touch with the experts who will answer general questions as well as inquiries about specific gardening problems. (There’s even a helpline dedicated to the desert region’s unique horticultural issues.)