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Chuck Ingels changed Sacramento's landscape

A memorial to Chuck Ingels is planned at the Fair Oaks
Horticulture Center, which he developed,
(Photos courtesy Tracy Lesperance)
Memorial in the works for go-to UCCE adviser who created Fair Oaks Horticulture Center

Chuck Ingels was one of the best friends Sacramento gardeners ever had, and one of the best teachers, too.

Through his development of the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center, Chuck showed gardeners better ways to grow food, fight pests without chemicals and save water during drought. In hundreds of demonstrations, he taught pruning and other life skills for gardeners. He experimented with varieties and growing methods, introducing new plants to local gardens.

“Your landscape is more diverse because of Chuck,” said Judy McClure, Sacramento’s master gardener coordinator. “He changed the landscape of Sacramento.”

Last week, about 400 friends and colleagues gathered at Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church , next door to the Hort Center, to remember Chuck. After a battle with cancer, Chuck died peacefully at home Aug. 12. He was 61. A permanent memorial is in the works at the Horticulture Center, itself a lasting tribute to Chuck.

Afarm and garden adviser with insatiable enthusiasm and curiosity, Chuck understood that the best way for many people to learn a new technique or grasp a botanical concept was to see it, experience it in person, take a hands-on approach.

Chuck saw a problem – invasive stink bugs, shrinking backyards, worm-filled cherries – and tackled it with gusto, combining scientific training and evaluation with effervescent energy and almost nonstop optimism. That combination made Chuck a force of nature and beloved among Sacramento’s garden community as well as many local farmers.

“Our lives have all been enriched because we knew Chuck Ingels,” said McClure, his co-worker for many years at Sacramento County’s UC Cooperative Extension. “Obviously, his knowledge was very vast. He was a problem solver, eager to do research on many topics.”

For example, his work with local strawberry growers made their crop viable. “When you pick up organic strawberries, think of Chuck Ingels,” she said.

Dozens of pear growers were among the crowd at his memorial.
“You could call him up in a blinding panic because things had gone pear-shaped, so to speak,” recalled pear farmer Matt Hemly. “He was always the absolute pleasant professional, able to translate the latest academic research into hillbilly farmer.”

Chuck did the same for home gardeners. His handbook, “The Home Orchard: Growing your own Fruit and Nut Trees,” is a UC best seller.

“There are many reasons to admire Chuck, such as his quest for doing the right thing,” said Morgan Doran, UCCE livestock and natural resources advisor director. “In February, after completing chemo, he returned to work to focus on projects he really cared about. He had a glow with a message. He recognized the gift that life is.”

Besides, he had pruning demonstrations to do. “His biggest joy was connecting with the public, help improve their knowledge and the environment,” Doran said. “His true passion was developing the Fair Oaks Hort Center into the mecca it’s become.”
Chuck Ingels wrote a popular book
on home orchards.

Maintained by Sacramento County master gardeners, that one-acre space was underused park land when Chuck started that project. Considered among California’s best demonstration gardens, the Hort Center recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.

Chuck liked to use the site as a living laboratory. He experimented with espalier techniques to grow fruit on walls and fences. In the center’s orchard, he planted three dwarf trees to the hole and kept limbs within reach. He added more varieties by grafting onto existing trees. These methods allowed for more fruit production in small spaces as well as easy harvest and netting for protection from pests. When a visitor asked which compost method was “best,” he sought the answer by creating seven simultaneous compost batches using different bin types and techniques.

"The whole reason we have the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center is because of Chuck,” said Pam Bone, a former UCCE adviser. “He put his own sweat into the planting holes. It’s now considered the finest research-based garden in the region.”

Tracy Lesperance, Chuck’s widow and a master gardener, will spearhead the Hort Center memorial committee.

In the meantime, donations are being accepted in Chuck’s memory at (Use the webpage’s “Make a Gift” button and choose the “UCCE Sac County Fair Oaks Horticulture Center.” Under “additional information,” type “in memory of Chuck Ingels.”) Checks, made out to “UC Regents,” may be sent to the UCCE office, 4145 Branch Center Road, Sacramento CA 95827. In the memo field, note that the donation is in Chuck’s memory.

Chuck’s can-do spirit will live on at the Hort Center. While undergoing treatment, he still took time to lead clinics and demonstrate such specialties as how to prune three-way pluots and new grapes.

“As master gardeners we ask ourselves: What would Chuck do?” said Gail Pothour, a longtime master gardener and Hort Center volunteer. “In mid-July, even though Chuck was going though all these challenges, he took time to teach these lessons.”

Every garden problem has a solution; it’s just finding the one that works. “What Chuck taught us, when it comes to plant problems, it’s OK to say I don’t know,” McClure said. “It’s OK to garden by trial and error as long as you stay true to your beliefs.”


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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