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Style · April 25, 2019

Q&A: Love of trees, shrubs in Master Gardener’s DNA

Photo/Don Del Rosso
“Winny” Buursink and other volunteer Master Gardeners maintain the Rady Park Arboretum in Warrenton.
If we have a theme, it’s to show people there’s a backyard, a front yard and what they can do with smaller trees, smaller shrubs — to give them inspiration.
— Master Gardner Willemina “Winny” Buursink
Willemina “Winny” Buursink
• Age: 72

• Home: Near Warrenton

• Work: Administrative director, BUURSINK International Consultants in Environmental Management,1989-2009; nurse, 1971-89.

• Volunteer work: Master Gardener, Virginia Cooperative Extension, 2009-present.

• Family: Husband, John; 2 children and 2 grandchildren

• Education: Nursing diploma, Free University (Netherlands), 1971; Christelijk (Netherlands) Lyceum, 1965.

• Hobbies: Cooking, exercise, gardening and reading
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
As teenager, she thought about a couple of different career options, including landscape designer.

“Of course, my dad said, ‘Absolutely not’,” Willemina “Winny” Buursink, who grew up in the Netherlands, recalled with a smile. “ ‘That’s not a job for a girl. You will never make money at that’.”

Heeding his advice, Ms. Buursink, who lives near Warrenton, got a nursing diploma.

“That was a good choice, because I could use that all over the world, wherever I lived.”

But Ms. Buursink, 72, eventually found a structured way to pursue her passion for trees and shrubs, after she and her husband John moved from McLean to Fauquier about a dozen years ago.

In 2009, at a neighbor’s suggestion, Ms. Buursink took the 50-hour Master Gardner course through the Virginia Cooperative Extension office in Warrenton.

“I loved it,” she said of the experience.

To remain active with the program, Master Gardeners must volunteer 20 hours per year. Logging 2,000 hours of service in the last decade, Ms. Buurnick has given 10 times the minimum, for which she received an extension office award in December.

For about five years, she and Mary McGee of Warrenton have led a group of Master Gardeners who help design, plant, prune and otherwise maintain the Rady Park Arboretum in Warrenton.

“If we have a theme, it’s to show people there’s a backyard, a front yard and what they can do with smaller trees, smaller shrubs — to give them inspiration,” Ms. Buursink said of the arboretum.

In a vacuum, the internet provides images and nurseries display trees and shrubs, she said.

But “here, you can see them in real life, in like a garden,” Ms. Buursink said Tuesday during a visit to the arboretum.

Her other Master Gardener duties include teaching elementary school students the basics about plants and cultivation through the “Ready, Set, Grow” program, lecturing on tree and shrub topics and mentoring new Master Gardeners.

Established in 1999, the arboretum has more than 50 species of trees and shrubs.

• So you’re a plant-lover?
Of course.

• Did you come to that naturally?
I’m Dutch. And, I think every Dutch person has it in their DNA. I grew up in a house that had a garden that was a nursery. From way back, from the minute I could walk almost, I was into plants.

• Why did you become a Master Gardener?
When we bought our property (near Warrenton) in 2006, we found it completely overgrown and just wanted to know what to do with it. One of my neighbor friends got me interested in signing up for the course.

When I started the course, there was a requirement of 50 hours of volunteer service. At that point, I wasn’t that much interested in volunteering. I wanted to know what to do with my property.

After I did my 50 hours, I got so enthusiastic that I stayed on and I did more volunteering than was required. In December, I got to 2,000 hours of volunteering and an award.

• You didn’t expect to like volunteering?
That was a complete surprise. The more I learned, the more enthusiastic I became about sharing it.

• Why did you focus on the arboretum at Rady Park?
I enjoy working with trees and shrubs, putting them in the right place.

I really discovered that it’s my second love (after her family). When I was growing up, I wanted to go into landscaping design, and I wanted to be a forester. May dad said, “No. You can’t do that.” So now I’m back — in my retirement life — being a tree-hugger. (She laughs.)

• What do people want to know about trees and shrubs?
All kinds of stuff. It depends on the season.

• What do they want to know for spring?
When do I prune? What do I prune? Should I prune my bush now? Should I prune it later? Should I fertilize? There’s a nice variety. Where can I get it?

• Do you have a favorite kind of tree?
The beech.

• Why?
The shape. It’s sturdy; it grows slowly; it’s a gorgeous tree.

If you’re in the woods in the winter and see trees that still have leaves, it’s a beech. It grows understory — pushes off the old leaves and the new ones arrive.

• Any trees you don’t like?
“Tree of Heaven.”

• Why?
Because it’s as invasive as whatever and it stinks.

• So it’ll never find a place in the (Rady Park) arboretum?
We are pulling them up by the hundreds every year. There are “Trees of Heaven” in the fields behind it.

• Besides the arboretum, you teach elementary school children through the “Ready, Set and Grow” program. Why is that important?
They take the message home — if you plant seeds, you can grow food. If you plant seeds, you can grow flowers and beautify the world. And, it puts a smile on your face.

• How do master gardeners occupy themselves during the winter?
We rest (laughs). We do lot of planning. If we have enough money to buy new trees and shrubs, October/November is the right time to plant.

Contact Don Del Rosso at or 540-270-0300. 
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