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May 19, 2020

Faces of Fauquier: She shares gardening know-how

Photo/Don Del Rosso
Master Gardener Nancy “Nan” Grambo tends her plot near Markham.
It seems like during this pandemic people are even more appreciative to get that call back and to have one of us helping them out, finding the answer for them. Their phone’s ringing and they’re having a conversation that they care about.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
By nature, the Markham-area woman likes to seek and share knowledge.

So Nancy “Nan” Grambo in 2017 got a Master Gardener’s certificate through the Virginia Cooperative Extension office in Warrenton that serves Fauquier and Rappahannock counties.

“Even though I’ve gardened all my life, it has been primarily through experience and reading magazines,” admitted Mrs. Grambo, 56, who brought to the 16-week program a deep, hands-on understanding of how to cultivate all things flora.

The program’s learned approached to gardening complemented nearly a lifetime of making things grow, she suggested.

“I do love being a student of things — learning things I didn’t know — and getting an academic sense of what I had been doing on my own,” said Mrs. Grambo, who maintains extensive vegetable gardens on the family’s five-acre property.

To complete the Master Gardener program, participants must volunteer 50 hours to the cause. That in part involved Mrs. Grambo working the “Help Desk.”

Because she enjoyed the experience so much, Mrs. Grambo more often than not still pulls a weekly, three-hour desk shift at the extension office at 24 Pelham St.

Desk volunteers field the “gamut” of citizens’ questions, she said.

“Maybe they’re trying to figure out what to plant in a vegetable garden,” said the retired publishing executive who oversaw the marketing and product development of more 100 newsletters and reference books on healthcare and educational administration. “Maybe they have a tree that’s showing symptoms, and they’re wondering what’s going on. We get calls about snakes and skunks.”

But she profits from the service as much as the callers, Mrs. Grambo said.

In researching questions, “my knowledge is getting richer and richer, as I’m helping homeowners,” she said. “I love the ‘Help Desk.’ I feel like it’s the heart and soul of the Master Gardeners’ program.”

And people can’t say enough good about it, according to Mrs. Grambo, who grew up in a small New York town east of Niagara Falls.

“There are times when people are just gushing as they thank me, that it just seems disproportionate for what I gave them,” she said.

As a result of Gov. Ralph Northam’s stay-at-home order, the extension office closed its doors to walk-in visitors in mid-March.

To continue a semblance of the “Help Desk,” Mrs. Grambo set up a system that allows citizens to call in and email questions. In turn, volunteers remotely retrieve and respond to the questions via email and phone calls.

Perhaps because of the “isolation” the coronavirus crisis has caused for some, citizens may be particularly thankful for the volunteers’ efforts, she said.

“It seems like during this pandemic people are even more appreciative to get that call back and to have one of us helping them out, finding the answer for them,” Mrs. Grambo said. “Their phone’s ringing and they’re having a conversation that they care about.”

The “Help Desk” can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 540-341-7950, extension 1.

• Age
56

• Home 
Near Markham

• Work
Owner/founder, Grambo Consulting, near Markham, 1999 to 2017; new product development director, Resources for Educators, Winchester, 1997-99; marketing/product vice president, St. Anthony Publishing, Reston, 1995-97.

• Why did you become a Master Gardener?
I am a lifelong gardener. We moved to Fauquier in 2000. We have five acres here and I was growing more things than usual. I went to an evening (Master Gardener’s) program class, and it was fantastic.

I had not really been aware of the things that the extension office can offer to the general public. I became very enthusiastic, learned a lot and said, “Oh, I want to be a Master Gardener!”

• Family
Husband, Mike, 69, and two grown sons.

• Education
Bachelor’s degree, English, George Mason University, 1986; Akron (N.Y.) Central High School, 1981.

• How long have you lived in Fauquier?
Twenty years.

• Why do you live here? 
We lived in Winchester. Our kids were at Mountain Laurel Montessori School in Front Royal.

We were going to move back closer to Reston, because my husband was working there. But we could not find a school we liked as much as Mountain Laurel. So my husband said, “Keep the kids in Mountain Laurel. I’ll keep commuting to Reston. Find something closer to the school so the boys don’t have as long a drive to school.”

We ended up buying this property and building here. I wanted the option of having the kids to eventually go to public school in Fauquier — which they started attending in 10th grade — and take classes like AP and auto tech.

• How do you describe this county? 
We’ve got a good mix of well-educated, very professional people who are commuting. At the same time, we have this very strong agricultural influence. We have the people who appreciate it — those with deep roots for agriculture and our efforts to preserve agriculture.

• What would you change about Fauquier?
You have to have enough growth that there are economic opportunities so business can survive.

I hope that we can retain farms and that we can have more small farms — the market gardeners and CSAs — growing and selling locally. We’re losing the big farms, little by little.

Upgrade the libraries in Marshall and Warrenton. Get them into larger and more modern facilities.

• What do you do for fun? 
Garden. Hike. I cook what I eat. I like to share what I’ve grown with other people.

• What’s your favorite place in Fauquier?
Crooked Run Valley, near Paris in Northern Fauquier.

• What will Fauquier be like in 10 years? 
More development. I hope there are still farms. But, I hope there’s room for economic balance and some financial stability.

Many people have been in a position to put their land in conservation easements.
So hopefully we’ll still have a fair amount of space.

• Favorite TV show?
I don’t watch much TV. I would rather read. Beach novels are my guilty pleasure.

• Favorite movie? 
How about favorite Broadway musical? “Les Misérables.”

• Favorite book?
How about favorite authors? I enjoy Robin Carr, Suzanne Brockmann, Nora Roberts.

• Favorite vacation spot? 
I love a variety of places in nature — beaches, the mountains of the West, the forests of the Northwest, the canyons and stone formations in the Southwest. I love Hawaii. I was just in Wales.

• Favorite food? 
Scallops, with just a little butter.

• What is the best advice you have ever received? From whom? 
My former yoga instructor, Barbara Arnett. Practice gratitude.

• Who’s your hero and why?
Jean Valjean of the musical “Les Miserables.” He’s the embodiment of integrity.

• What would you do if you won $5 million in the lottery? 
Travel more. Make sure all the members of my extended family have secure housing and all the education they want.

Have a suggestion?
Do you know someone who lives in Fauquier County you would like to see in Faces of Fauquier? Email Don Del Rosso at Don@FauquierNow.com or Lou Emerson at LKE@fauquiernow.com
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