Meet the Master Gardener: Sandra Siebert

When did you start gardening?

I grew up on a farm.  As a child, I was not interested in weeding but I do have a distinct memory of sitting in the pea patch eating peas.  At age sixteen, I became interested in medicinal herbs and planted a garden of my own.  I’ve always had a garden.

What is the focus of your garden?

My focus is food and herbs.  I grow vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, cabbage and peas as well as herbs.  I have native plants and annuals mixed throughout my garden beds to increase biodiversity.  I created raised beds using topsoil leftover from a pond excavation.  The raised beds warm up quicker, drain better, and retain moisture when it’s dry.

What are your favorite plants?

It’s hard to choose just a few but I adore poppies.  I also love echinacea, yarrow, and elderberry.  For vegetables, I most look forward to snap peas and tomatoes. 

Give us a bit of gardening advice.

People say they have a brown thumb, but I think it’s just that they haven’t found the right plant to grow. Sometimes people try once and fail and think they can’t do it, or they try a few times and don’t get the result they want and conclude that they have a “brown thumb.” Instead of deciding you can’t grow anything, first figure out what went wrong. Were you unable to devote the time necessary to make the garden thrive? If so, either scale back the garden plans, or scale back whatever else is taking up your time.  Did you plant at the right time and give the plants proper cultivation? Study more about whatever plants you want to grow. If you wait until May to plant cabbage, it won’t thrive. If you plant tomatoes too early (or too late) they won’t thrive. Did you overwater? Did your plants receive too little or too much sun?  There are so many things to consider. Maybe it’s not anything you did or didn’t do, but the weather was unusual or there was a freak invasion of pests or disease.  An important tip is to take care of your soil.  If you do, it will take care of your plants.  And finally, when someone gives you a plant and tells you it is a vigorous spreader, believe them. 

Tell us about a gardening mistake you’ve made. 

We all make mistakes. I’ve gardened my entire life and I still have dismal failures. One is trying to do too much too soon, which resulted in me not paying attention to pests on my vegetables until they were a huge problem.  The only true failure is quitting. If it is important to you, keep going. If it’s not really important to you but something you feel you should do, quit now.

What Master Gardener activities do you participate in?

I graduated in 2013.  I like to volunteer in areas where I have the most contact with the public.  My favorite is the Master Gardener hotline.  I’ve worked at the Farmer’s Market information table and I currently give presentations through our Speaker’s Bureau.  (To access recordings of presentations on our YouTube channel, click here).

What is/was your occupation?

I was a reporter for the Holton Recorder newspaper in Kansas.  I currently write a gardening column for the Holton Recorder and Oskaloosa Independent. I also blog at

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