Leslie Fillmore, Master Gardener Coordinator, Virginia Cooperative Extension-Arlington-Alexandria
By Marsha Mercer, Certified Master Gardener
Leslie Fillmore is proof you don’t have to be born with a trowel in your hand to become a Master Gardener. Her parents don’t garden and the closest she came to gardening growing up was spreading pine needles, a “prickly and hot” task she hated.
But when she visited her grandparents in California as a child, she found the lemon, lime, and orange trees in their backyard nothing short of “miraculous. They had food in their backyard!”
Leslie started vegetable gardening when she became a certified Master Gardener in the Class of 2015. A decade earlier, she had become a Tree Steward.
You may know Leslie — a positive, friendly and well-organized person — joined the VCE staff last April. You may know she ran the MG training class with 30 students last fall and that her duties include keeping track of intern projects and shepherding year-end recertifications and reports for Virginia Tech. And that she fields a myriad e-mails and calls from the 223 Master Gardeners and the public – all in just 20 hours a week.
But do you know:
- Leslie has a Swiss connection. She was born in Geneva, where her dad was working for Caterpillar, Inc. The family lived in Switzerland for her first two and a half years and later for three years in Sao Paolo, Brazil. The family settled in Charlotte, and Leslie studied at the University of North Carolina, where she earned a B.S. in biology with honors and became an environmentalist.
- And a space connection. For 15 years, she provided environmental support for the U.S. Air Force Space Launch Program, working at Cape Canaveral in Florida and at Los Angeles and Vandenberg Air Force bases in California. Her job included monitoring marine mammals and endangered and invasive plant species. She met her husband, Jeff, an aerospace engineer, when he was in the Air Force in California.
- She’s a master at finding balance in life. Being the mother of three sons – ages 14, 11, and 7 – helps her cope with work challenges, Leslie said. Exercise helps too. To keep in shape, she gets up at 5 or 5:30 a.m. to swim or run. She taught herself the butterfly stroke as an adult and currently is improving her running with the book ChiRunning, A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running, by Danny Dreyer and Katherine Dreyer (2004, 2009) based on the principles of tai chi. Leslie competes in the Reston Sprint Triathlon every June – swimming a quarter mile, biking 12 miles and running a 5 K.
- She loves learning and books are a passion. Partial to historical fiction and science fiction, Leslie prefers holding a book to reading on her Nook. Among her favorites: The Outlander novels by Diana Gabaldon and The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. “Everybody should read No Ordinary Time, about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, she says.
- Leslie has learned the joy of container gardening. A North Arlington backyard shaded with walnut trees makes gardening a challenge, so Leslie gardens in containers along her sunny driveway. A vegetable gardener, she’s particularly proud of her bumper crop of cherry tomatoes. Bush beans were a hit with her family this year, but a pest devoured the kale.
Her sons have caught her enthusiasm for gardening. One boy tried potato bags this year, and another grew potted “lima beans that grew up our basketball hoop all the way to the top.” Only one problem: “We never ate them.”
Quotable Leslie: “After a walk around with Kirsten, I’ve learned most of the plants outside at the Fairlington Center and in our Tribute Bench Garden. I’ve loved watching them change throughout the seasons, and now I recognize them all over the place when I walk the neighborhoods. I also love reading the Tried and True highlights on our MGNV Homepage. I try to learn each plant as it gets highlighted.”