By Janice Sroufe
Charisse Kahler wrote a song called “The Gardener” a couple of years ago that nicely sums up her experience as one.
Well I dig in the dirt, you know I plant and I pray.
To embellish the earth, in a humble way.
Growing food for the birds, bees and butterflies,
Sustenance for them, and beauty for our eyes.
When I pick up a spade, all my troubles fade.
I feel the sun on my back, it warms my blues away.
A lot of help from the sun, a lot of love from my hands.
Giving glory to God, in a way I understand.
I have known Charisse since she became a Master Gardener in 2015, and got better acquainted with her when we found ourselves together in a watercolor painting class. Since then she has become very active in the Master Gardener program especially with Hotline, answering gardening questions for anyone who calls.
Born in Detroit, she moved with her military family every few years, graduating from high school in Ithaca, N.Y. She put off college to be a traveling musician and turned down a recording contract with Vanguard Records at the age of 19 due to contract length. At 25, she enlisted in the Army as the first female turbine engine technician.
She served four years in the military, working on helicopters from mechanic to a Huey crew chief. Charisse entered college at age 30 and studied economics and business at Austin Peay State University, graduating with a BA in Business Management.
She continued working in the aircraft industry, specifically with helicopters, after college.
She also kept singing and writing songs. She and her husband, Steve, have continued to record and perform their music since they moved into their west Wichita home over 10 years ago. You might have seen her or both of them performing in several area locations. Charisse also serves as a docent at the Wichita Art Museum and especially enjoys introducing grade school children to the art exhibits.
Moving into their home also was a beginning of serious gardening for Charisse. Her first try at gardening was with houseplants many years ago. She managed to kill most of them until finally figuring out sun and water requirements. When they moved into their home, a serious drainage issue forced them to extensively renovate their yard, creating raised gardens and stone waterways. That’s where she learned gardening, and she had to learn fast.
Charisse prefers to grow native plants as much as possible in her garden. She uses no insecticide sprays in order to encourage butterflies, bees and other pollinators, and to protect the birds and the koi in her pond.
In her volunteer work as a Master Gardener, she is often asked for advice about starting a new garden. Here are some tips she gives to aspiring gardeners:
Find out how many hours of sun your garden area will get every day. You can purchase a gauge to calculate this for you.
Determine your soil type by doing a soil test through your local extension office to know whether you need to amend the soil. This is easier to do before you plant.
Choose plants that are happy in this area first. Once you are successful in growing the easy things, then push into the more complicated ones.
Charisse has a beautiful yard with a wonderful deck outside her back door where she enjoys listening to the water sounds from her pond and watching the birds, bees and butterflies that her trees and flowers attract — just like the song says.
Janice Sroufe is a Sedgwick County Master Gardener. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org