Gardening inspired by
patriotic roots

July 01, 2011

by Charla Borchers Leon , Victoria County Master Gardener and editor of Gardeners' Dirt
Gardeners' Dirt
Red begonias with bronze leaves, variegated Swedish ivy mint and blue daze, all planted in a white container with red, white and blue garden art, display patriotic color on the front porch of a Victoria residence.
Victoria Educational Gardens at the Victoria Regional Airport projects patriotism with flags waving over the Military Honor Garden and Pathway of Family and Friends.
"Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth."
- George Washington

My time in the nation's capital 25 years ago planted my home within a few miles of the Mount Vernon estate and River Farm, both located just off the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Northern Virginia. From where I lived in Old Town Alexandria, Va., (dating back to the 1750s) the drive to Mount Vernon at the end of the parkway, the corridor of which is maintained by the National Park Service, is spectacular in natural and planted design with seasonal color.


Those who thrived at Mount Vernon and River Farm in colonial days were acclimated to the land, had their own gardens of food and plants, and to this day, each provides horticultural training to those who wish to visit and learn. In fact, the River Farm American Horticulture Society website links to state Master Gardener training organizations throughout the country.


My professional time was spent in politics on the Hill and in the Reagan White House, but I also visited the gardens of the area in limited spare time. Thus began my passion for learning about plants and beautiful landscaping. It could be said that the red, white and blue was tried and still runs true for me to this day.

Living in the community where George Washington walked and lived, inspired in me an endearing and patriotic following. With unwavering commitment to our fledgling nation and irreproachable integrity in laying the foundation for the freedoms observed on today's Fourth of July, he loved his country and sacred Mount Vernon intensely. He would, in his many letters written during the Revolutionary War , remember his home, the estate and specific instructions for the planting of trees in vivid detail. In essence, he was not only considered the father of our country, but a lover of this land and also a believer that when liberty takes root, it grows.


With patriotism instilled in me throughout my upbringing and also from living in modern day colonial America, I often symbolically plant in red, white and blue with garden art added to emphasize patriotic flavor. This year, I planted an Americana container filled with red begonias with bronzed leaves, variegated Swedish ivy mint trailing over the edges of the white container, and a touch of blue daze that peeks out from the ivy. It is accented with a patriotic stem of red, white and blue butterflies, with the whole design up against a white column on a red brick porch.

It is indicative of July, a time to observe tradition and celebrate freedom - a month that brings forth red, white and blue and all things tried and true to many of us. Country, home and family come to mind - as does for me, a salute to the writers of this column and our master gardener coordinator.


Each first week of July since 2003, I have written an article that announces the status of "The Dirt," as it is affectionately called. This is the first for year nine and the beginning of another year of educational material provided to our readers. I remain the editor-in-chief and salute my fellow members who voted to continue the column and voluntarily write for the betterment of the horticulture community.


The Victoria County Master Gardeners have garnered 53 statewide awards since the program began in 1998. The 150 certified master gardeners may each have their own preference of project, but we all know who by example is unequalled tried and true and has spearheaded the effort from day one. That is our Extension Agent and Master Gardener Coordinator Joe Janak Jr.

Associated with Texas AgriLife Extension Service for more than 30 years in Milam, San Augustine and now Victoria County, Janak lives his passion every day in what he does. As an ag agent, he works with crop tours and farm and ranch shows, helping to educate tens of thousands yearly, and contributes his time and knowledge to the Master Gardener program daily.

Janak's deep heritage and ancestry are important to him, and he stems from a family that ranched land, planted trees and always had a large garden. He is most content out in nature.and being a part of how things grow - in his own landscape and elsewhere.

He is known for his knowledge of trees, nuts, vegetables, fruits and harvests, and shares them from his own land. He plants trial gardens, cans produce and collects seeds, and even makes his own wine. His wife, Carol, shares that he finds great satisfaction in the garden on the land that is dear to him, with family and tradition significantly a part in the rearing of their three sons with the same values.

I can personally attest to the dedication he has for the gardening group that he coordinates. Janak and I have been acquainted in ranching circles for years, but the professional respect and friendship we share on an almost-daily basis in various efforts, including the publication of this column, has provided an in-depth view of this dedicated and knowledgeable man. He has led and inspired hundreds in our group in thousands of meetings. He's a leader and a friend that comes along only rarely in life, and, one that deserves recognition and thanks for his effective efforts, all-the-while not accepting deserving accolades easily.

On behalf of the local master gardeners, a salute is given to who we consider the best in Texas - our tried and true master gardener coordinator, Joe Janak. No doubt, Joe's efforts have taken root and have allowed us to rapidly grow.
Master Gardener Coordinator Joe Janak is honored with a personal brick paver on the Pathway of Family and Friends.
Joe Janak lives by example in what he does. Shown next to an esperanza plant with knock-out roses in the background, Janak successfully grows Texas Superstar plants in his own landscape.
Numerous fruit and nut trees, a large vegetable garden and grapevines can all be found on the Janak property from which Joe and his family harvest and produce wholesome foods and wine.

Began on July 3, 2003
Published weekly since inception
422 articles to date
97 cumulative writers to date
Each article is original; never repeated
Today's article begins year nine
Awarded "First Place in Texas" three times


Look for details on the Fall 2011 Training Class in next week's column.


Happy Fourth of July
from the Master Gardeners!!

Be safe, and remember the burn ban this holiday weekend.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at