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VOLUNTEER SPOTLIGHT: The Many Hats of Marlene Walder

Marlene has incorporated a distinctive water feature into her garden.

By Karen Krugman.

I had the pleasure of meeting Marlene Walder early on in my membership with SDHS. She was one of the first to befriend me at meetings, and then at garden tours and workshops. She personifies 'welcome' and friendliness!

Marlene often arrives early to help set up at meetings, bringing treats and sharing fruits from her prolific fruit trees. “I’m going to the meeting—I may as well arrive early and help out.”

Growing Up in Los Angeles

Marlene has always had an affinity for gardening. As a young girl growing up in the Los Angeles area, her parents didn’t want her in the garden because she might get dirty. Her family had a gardener who did the planting and caring for the garden. Undeterred, Marlene would ask the gardener to plant vegetables for her and she was able to reap the benefits. Unfortunately, it is doubtful that any of the bounty reached her father’s grocery store.

Later, high school graduation led to recreation studies in college for Marlene. She spent a summer working for Kelly Girl Service (today's office staffing agency, Kelly Services) and had a part-time job selling fertilizer for Ortho. This experience solidified her interest in gardening and she began exploring fruit trees. Again, the family gardener came to her rescue, and the home garden ended up with three very productive fruit trees.

Marlene's Many Hats

Marlene has followed various career paths, including her roles as a park director and kindergarten teacher. She was also a statistical data analyst at the United Service Organizations office in Los Angeles, where she gained an appreciation for the military and the effects of PTSD on returning soldiers. At one time, Marlene worked for Hartz Mountain and ran a bird farm with aviaries full of parakeets, finches, lovebirds, and cockatiels. She also built greenhouses and landscaped a couple of acres into a full-fledged nursery. She sold her bounty of flowers, fruits, and vegetables from a roadside stand. Prior to retirement, Marlene worked at the welfare office as a social worker. Is there anything she hasn’t tried?

Koi and Cacti in the Garden

Marlene's love for agaves is seen in this painting created on a cruise ship in 2012.

Marlene's take-charge approach to life is reflected in the garden she has created over the last thirty years at her current home in San Marcos. When it comes to what guides her plant selections, she says that "many collectors grow plants for the flowers. I select plants for the beauty of the plant." Originally, she had fruit trees and three small sections with cacti and succulents. “Agaves are my favorite,” Marlene tells me, and she has a lot of them! She had one that spiked over thirteen feet and flowered. She grows barrel cactus as well, preferring the white-spined and classic golden.

Many collectors grow plants for the flowers.

I select plants for the beauty of the plant.

Several years ago, Marlene wanted a water feature in her garden, which wasn’t feasible given the space limitation. Undaunted, Marlene used her painting skills on a piece of plexiglass, where she created a koi pond scene and placed it in the yard. Marlene also paints rocks to identify the plants in her garden, a technique she began using when she painted rocks for Angels in Flight, a group that painted rocks for wounded veterans.

Aside from her SDHS volunteer work at the annual garden tour, the San Diego County Fair, and setting up before monthly meetings, Marlene is a member of the San Diego Botanic Garden, the North San Diego County Chapter of California Rare Fruit Growers, and the San Diego Cactus and Succulent Society. And if that isn't enough, she also volunteers at a local food bank.

If she isn’t traveling, you can find Marlene at a meeting, workshop or Coffee in the Garden event…all activities she enjoys as a SDHS member.

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