Master gardener Jager to discuss why weeds matter at BTG ‘trowel talk’

RUBY WALLAU | Staff Photographer
Master gardener Nancy Jager will lead a Bird, Tree & Garden Club workshop on “Wild on Weeds” at 4:15 p.m. today in the Roger Tory Peterson Nature Classroom.

The word “weed” tends to have a bad connotation — for gardeners, that is.

But according to master gardener Nancy Jager, weeds that sprout in people’s gardens are actually just wild plants. She will lead a gardening workshop called “Wild on Weeds” at 4:15 p.m. today in the Roger Tory Peterson Nature Classroom, where she will provide interesting tidbits on wild plants.

“A weed, as most people think of it, is something they don’t want growing in their garden — a plant that’s in the wrong spot,” she said. “But weeds can be interesting.”

Many weeds were brought to the United States for their beneficial properties, she said, while others are native to their region. Jager plans to discuss the history of approximately seven to 10 different wild plants.

She will bring several of the plants as well as photographs of others to the informal workshop. By the end of the hour, she hopes people will be able to identify these flora in their own gardens, as some of them are edible or have medicinal properties.

Jager grew up surrounded by nature in Paraguay. She can recall one specific instance when she became interested in gardening as a young girl.

“One time, another young girl came into my yard and started picking things out of the grass,” she said. “It turned out she was picking dandelion greens for her mother to cook. I went out and helped her and started thinking about how you could eat things by just going into the wild.”

Jager said Paraguay was an ideal environment for gardening, especially with edible plants.

“Everything grew there,” she said. “We had lemon trees, papaya, avocado, orange … so I began to love gardening more and more.”

When Jager moved to Dunkirk, New York, she heard about the Chautauqua County Cornell Cooperative Master Gardening program. She completed the program training and became a master gardener.

In order to maintain her status as a master gardener, she is required to perform 50 hours of volunteer work each year. That requirement led her to the Bird, Tree & Garden Club, for which volunteered last year leading plant walks.

This is her first time leading an adult gardening workshop, or as BTG calls it, a “trowel talk,” at Chautauqua Institution. She will lead another trowel talk during Week Two called “Plants Gone Wild,” where she will discuss invasive plants.

While the attendees of her workshop are usually adults, Jager believes gardening is gaining popularity among the general population, particularly with younger people who are looking to eat healthier. 

“I’m getting the feeling that there’s a growing awareness of organic gardening because people want to avoid GMOs and the chemicals that are used,” she said. “And I think there’s also a growing movement to go back to nature.”