Five Things You Didn’t Know About . . . Paula Kaufman, Master Gardener Coordinator, Virginia Cooperative Extension-Arlington-Alexandria

Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia extend sincere thanks and wish happy trails to Paula, who resigned Feb. 27 after serving for MG Coordinator for nearly two years. Her last day at work is March 10, 2017, but she plans to continue volunteering as a Master Gardener, so look for her in the gardens and at events.

Paula Kaufman in the garden

Photo © Judy Funderburk

If you’re a Master Gardener of Northern Virginia, have attended an MGNV public education event, worked in an MGNV garden or stopped by the VCE office at Fairlington Community Center, you’ve probably met Paula Kaufman. She’s seemingly everywhere.

Paula, who joined the VCE staff in June 2015, is a sunny, calm, capable presence who keeps on track MG training, other courses and 175 active MGs – all in 20 hours a week.

You may know she herself is a certified Master Gardener, Class of 2013.

But do you know:

  • Cue the Temptations — Paula was a rollin’ stone.
    Born in Indiana and raised in Michigan, Paula’s sense of adventure and love of learning led her in the 1970s to live in Denmark for a year as well as in Hawaii, Oregon, Colorado, California, Florida and Williamsburg, Va. – all before landing in Washington, D.C.

“I wanted to see the country. I’d move, go to school and work. That’s what I did in the ‘70s — I got a job and went to school,” she said. Her academic interests were as varied as her addresses. She studied the arts and liberal arts — and civil engineering.

  • Her path to gardening started with lilies in a field.
    Not the 1963 movie, “Lilies of a Field” — a real lily farm.

First, a bit of background. Paula’s mother had her geraniums and portulaca back in Michigan, but Paula didn’t garden much growing up. Lack of experience, though, was no impediment to her starting a 10-acre Easter lily farm near the Oregon coast in the 1970s. With help from the Oregon State University research station, she grew Easter lilies (Lilium longiflorum), which are native to the Ryukyu Islands off southern Japan, just as Americans were learning the soil and climate in the Pacific Northwest were ideal.

Paula at the lilly farm

Photo courtesy of Paula Kaufman

At the same time, she got on the tractor and put in a big vegetable garden in her back yard.

“I threw seeds in a row – and that’s all it took,” she said, adding she raised “things that don’t need sun” – beets, peas, broccoli, lettuces, strawberries. “We’d sit in the garden and eat right off the plants.”

  • Hollywood called. Paula loved being outdoors every day, but the farm couldn’t hold She moved to L.A. and worked for Paramount, Universal and Disney studios, building and painting sets.
  • Paula’s connection with Woody Guthrie. She found a career at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and retired after 20 years as a projects manager at Office of Exhibits Central. Among exhibits she worked on as a specialist in paper objects was This Land is Your Land about the life and work of folk music composer Woody Guthrie, which included his contracts, handwritten letters, lyrics and diaries and other papers.
  • She’s still learning after all these years. Paula trained to become a Master Gardener after she retired, but that wasn’t the end of her education. To remain MG certified, she like everyone else has to get in her eight continuing education and 20 volunteer hours every year.

She also takes college-level, non-credit courses for people 50-plus at Encore Learning in Arlington, where she is on the board.

World events have prompted her to study international affairs and foreign policy – China, Islam, Russia and its neighbors, the Middle East, cyber security. And she finds time for the occasional art appreciation and cooking class.


“I’ve discovered I love working with volunteers. Volunteers come with such a huge background of experience that we don’t even know about.”

Want more than five?

To learn more about the Easter lily industry, see Garden America: Easter Lily Capitol of the World

For more about Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia, see Become A Master Gardener

Check out Encore Learning at

~ By Marsha Mercer, Master Gardener

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