Meet the Gardener - She has a trained eye for crowd-pleasing sites

Kortne Phillips coordinates annual Mother’s Day tour
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Putting together the Placer County Master Gardeners’ Mother’s Day tour is a labor of love for Kortne Phillips of Auburn. The annual tour has been around 23 years and Phillips and good friend Cooki Vonasek have been coordinating it for the last five years. “The two of us are year-round scouts. We talk to people when we hear about their gardens,” she said recently. “We’re always looking at gardens for the tour. We’re looking at gardens for two years from now.” This year’s tour features sites in Meadow Vista and Applegate (Heather Glen). “We have been planning for gardens in South Placer for next year,” she said. “People come back year after year. It really is a family event. You’ll see grandmother, mother and maybe granddaughter.” One of the gardens this year belongs to Connie Reagan in Heather Glen. “It’s in among the tall pines,” Reagan said about her garden. “We have tall pines throughout the yard so it has a micro-climate. It seems to grow everything you put into it. When we bought the home, (the yard was) three acres of garbage. We just kind of experiment and see what grows best. We’ve been working at it just three years.” For Phillips, the Mother’s Day tour is just one of the many facets of Placer County’s University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener program that she oversees as this year’s president. “Master gardeners are busy being writers and researchers,” she said. “We go to public events all the time. Last week we were at two Earth Day events. I’m thankful for this learning experience of being a master gardener. I think it is really important we share our knowledge with others.” One of the most popular projects is the 13-month calendar. “Our 2008 calendar was on sustainable landscaping,” she said. “We have a big group of people doing research on water-wise gardening for the 2009 calendar. Obviously water conservation is becoming critical in our society today. It is very important that we help. We look at our calendar as an educational resource. Each year we pick a different theme that’s timely. Last year we sold 1,500.” She’s extremely proud of the work the master gardeners do, but there is one addition she’d like to see. “Nevada County has a demonstration garden and that is No. 1 on our wish list for Placer County,” she said. “We’d love to have a place for a demonstration garden that would be easily accessible to many people — maybe even a small area that’s part of an existing park.” Phillips has been a master gardener since 2001 but she has “enjoyed playing in the dirt,” as she puts it, since she was a child. “(I remember) planting little seeds for flowers and having them come up,” she said. These days, her five-acre home gives her lots of open space for plants and flowers. “I have a lot of rock and clay and I’m also on a slope,” she said. “I’m using rock and topography to design my hardscape. I have a lot of herbs — rosemary, lavender and sage. I try to use things that have color and texture to them. … We have a lot of oaks and pines that have been on the property for many years. We’ve kept open spaces.” Phillips puts in gardening time when she’s not volunteering. She’s also a member of the Auburn Garden Club and the Colfax Garden Club. “I’ve been a volunteer all my life in different organizations,” she said. “That’s something I’ve just enjoyed doing.” What is her favorite thing about gardening? “It’s peaceful,” she said. “We lead such stressful lives. (The garden) is the first thing we put in when we remodeled our home, so we could sit there and relax at the end of the day.”