Sarah Elieff will not go so far as to call herself a gardener.

“You could almost say ‘wanna-be gardener,’” the Glendale resident said. “Sometimes I say it’s a passion, other times I call it a sickness.”

Yet Elieff is not lacking enthusiasm, nor a desire to learn more about the craft. That is why Elieff, along with hundreds of others, toured a half dozen gardens around the Northwest Valley Saturday for the Maricopa Master Gardeners’ 10th Annual Real Gardens for Real People Tour.

From Sun City West to Peoria, Surprise and Glendale, from a vast community garden to a backyard filled with ponds, there were a variety of gardens on display and University of Arizona certified master gardeners at each location to answer questions.

“Our mission in life is to help people choose the right plant for the right place at the right time,” said Master Gardener Mary Ann Garewal of Sun City Grand. “And to help people become self-sufficient so they can make all those choices themselves.”

Garewal was at the Sun City West Agricultural Club’s community garden, a 3.5-acre expanse with dozens of individual plots.

Garewal said the community garden offers the perfect opportunity for budding green thumbs to share advice and ideas, which is the spirit of the tour as well.

“That’s really the whole point,” she said. “It’s an educational tool. It’s a day for people to learn about the things they could be doing in their own backyards.”

Sun City West gardener Terry Wascher has a plot of her own in the community garden, one she said she started working on about a year ago. Even with a wide variety of beautiful vegetables to boast of, Wascher said she thinks she still has a lot to learn.

“We’re all still learning,” she said. “Haven’t any of us lived here in the desert so long that we know everything there is to know.”

Wascher said she enjoyed the tour and the opportunity it gave her to chat with like-minded people.

“I’m encouraged to see so many people participate,” she said. “It’s really wonderful to see so many people interested in gardening.”

Barbi Holdeman and her husband Paul moved into their north Peoria neighborhood 11 years ago and have been cultivating their backyard ever since. With several ponds in their yard and a walking path with native plants just beyond it, Holdeman said she and her husband were happy to be a part of the tour.

“We love to share our garden,” she said. “It’s been a long process, but we love it.”

The Holdemans have been master gardeners since 1996, and their reasons for joining were the same as many others.

“There is so much to learn about planting in the desert,” Holdeman said. “We wanted to help spread the word about native plants and let people know you can do some really amazing things with plants found right here in the desert.”

Linda Mardel of Sun City has now taken part in each of the past four Real Gardens for Real People tours.

“There are six people with me, and one year I think we had a group of nine,” she said.

Mardel said she keeps coming back quite simply because she keeps learning.

“And the gardens are really wonderful. You learn so much. I don’t have a garden like this one yet, but someday maybe.”

Jeff Dempsey may be reached at 623-876-2531 or

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