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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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For week of Feb. 18:

It's wet to start the week. When you do get outside, between or after storms, concentrate on damage control:

* Keep storm drains and gutters clear of debris.

* Clean up tree debris knocked down by wind and rain.

* Where did the water flow in your garden? Make notes where revisions are necessary.

* Are any trees leaning? See disturbances in the ground or lawn around their base? Time to call an arborist before the tree topples.

* Dump excess water out of pots.

* Indoors, start peppers, tomatoes and eggplant from seed.

* Lettuce and other greens also can be started indoors from seed.

* Got bare-root plants? Put their roots in a bucket of water until outdoor soil dries out. Or pot them up in 1- or 5-gallon containers. In April, transplant the plant, rootball and all, into the garden.

* Browse garden websites and catalogs. It’s not too late to order for spring and summer.

* Show your indoor plants some love. Dust leaves and mist to refresh.

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