CiCi Polson is a science nerd.
At least, that's how she describes herself.
So when she put her career as a midwife nurse on hold to raise her children, Polson turned to the OSU Extension's Master Gardener program in search of an intellectual outlet that would help her nurture her passions for science, gardening and community service.
Her mother was a Master Gardener through Washington State University. While Polson didn't cultivate her interest in the outdoors and gardening until she was in her 30s, the Master Gardener program always sat in the back of her mind.
When both of her children went off to school and Polson could swing the once-a-week, full-day classes offered each year in the spring
to newbies, she jumped at the chance.
Polson particularly enjoyed the training classes on entomology, soil science and botany. But not everyone who enjoys the program is a science nerd like Polson. Master Gardeners learn about everything from growing fruit to attracting pollinators, so even those who barely made it through their biology and chemistry classes are able to learn through and enjoy the program.
Now Polson volunteers with other Master Gardeners from Washington and Multnomah counties maintaining the gardens at Portland's Pittock Mansion, bringing gardening to Doernbecher Children's Hospital
patients and educating children in school gardens.
Master Gardeners are responsible for mulching, weeding, pruning and planting up at the Pittock Mansion, one of the area's most scenic landmarks. Polson has even enlisted her two teenage children to help her on their days off.
Polson's true passions lie in working with children at Doernbecher and Sunstone Montessori school in Northwest Portland, helping them explore and observe the natural world.
The Master Gardener classes for Doernbecher patients have long been established, but Polson took over the coordinator role a few years ago. Because many of Doernbecher's young patients stay long-term at the hospital, a variety of educational opportunities are offered.
"Our classes are a respite," Polson said. "They can take a break from their treatments and other classes to have fun."
Polson and fellow Master Gardener Bridget Shaw alternate teaching the every-other-week classes which focus on everything from the ever-popular bug unit to crafting terrariums to planting bulbs in pots children keep on their windowsills. She adapts the classes for ages five through 18 and to fit individual interests.
The Washington County Master Gardener Association also donated funds to Sunstone Montessori to build a learning garden. Polson uses the garden and surrounding area to teach children about plants, trees, nature and the environment.
"I love being outside and making kids aware of the natural world around them," Polson said.
One of the best things about the Master Gardener program, Polson finds, is the flexibility and variety of topics, volunteer opportunities, and scheduling. Some years, Polson volunteers less than others with the ebb and flow of life and kids. In addition, when she needs a break from one project, she can plunge into another.
"I'm really enjoying being a Master Gardener," Polson said. "I plan to stick with it."