‘I Need to Teach People’: Mary’s Corner Gardener, 91, to Host Free Classes Out of Her Home Garden


If Gayle Schilling didn’t want to, she’d never have to leave her property again.

At age 91, the Mary’s Corner area resident and mother of six grows her own food, sews her own clothes, bakes her own bread and spends free time reading, solving puzzles and listening to the radio.

But she doesn’t hog all her talent and fun to herself. Schilling said she feels it is her “duty” to share the knowledge of a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.

To perform this duty, Schilling will host free “Let’s Grow a Garden” classes out of her home garden at 4162 Jackson Highway every Thursday from 10 to 11:30 a.m. beginning on Feb. 17. The classes will go for 12 weeks and are open to folks between the ages of 8 and 80. Her reasoning behind the age bracket, she said, is kids under age 8 may be disinterested and gardeners over the age of 80 aren’t going to be starting from scratch. The classes are designed to teach the basics of gardening for people who don’t already have foundational knowledge in the subject. Weather-suited garden attire is encouraged.

Schilling has done classes of this sort before, in gardening, sewing and baking. These will be her first since the start of the pandemic.

The first class will teach guests to test soil and choose a garden location with appropriate drainage, sun, water, etc. Following classes will build on previous topics. 

“So they find where they want to put their garden and I’m just going week by week. That way, it’s fun for me. And hopefully it is for them, too,” Schilling said.

Born in Venice, California, Schilling has lived in many places across the western states including Medford and Corvallis, Oregon; Redding, California and Bellevue. She and her husband Bob settled in their home on Jackson Highway 22 years ago, shortly after finishing up her Master Gardener certification. Schilling herself designed the home, and Bob, an engineer, had it built. He died 10 years ago.

Asked how she stays so healthy, Schilling said: “working.”

Her compost pile takes up an approximate 3 by 5 foot plot littered with organic materials and roughage — shredded pages of The Chronicle — for the worms. She affectionately calls her greenhouse her “playroom.” Potted geraniums and rose bushes are the only flowers Schilling tends to. In front of her home is her “show garden” with shrubbery. Behind the house are four food garden plots.

“I raised six kids. Food is very important. It costs almost nothing to raise food. And if you spend two days a week playing in the garden, look what you’ve got,” she said. 

She never buys meat at the store. Occasionally, friends bring fish or chicken, but most of her protein comes from beans and legumes, which she enjoys adding to cornbread to create a complete meal. 

Seeing a rise in food insecurity in her community signified by increased demand for food banks and school lunch programs, Schilling said there is a growing importance for getting necessary vitamins and nutrients through gardening.

“I have gardening classes because that's my duty. That's what I feel that I need to teach people,” she said. “It's common sense. I've learned how to do some things and why not share it?”