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From politics to horticulture: Charla Borchers Leon talks shop about her life, gardening

By Trysta Eakin
April 2, 2011 at 7:01 p.m.
Updated April 1, 2011 at 11:02 p.m.


About VCMGA

There are three stages to becoming a master gardener: Trainees, who are entering the class for the first time; Interns, who graduate from the pass/fail course and then begin their community service; Certified Master Gardeners, who complete at least 50-volunteer hours each year.

Master Gardeners seek to extend the knowledge base of the organization, along with educating and answering questions the general public has about horticulture.

VCMGA hosts the lecture series, Lunch & Learn with the Masters, where the community can interact with the masters themselves on various topics. For a complete schedule lectures, go to their site at www.vcmga.org/2011Calendar.html

The Victoria Educational Gardens, located at the Victoria Regional Airport, was recently finished to include a children's garden, vegetable garden, greenhouse, 16 mini-gardens, water garden, 6,000-square-foot pavilion and more.

For more information, visit or call the Victoria County Extension office at 361-575-4581, 442 Foster Field Drive, Victoria.

Charla Borchers Leon walked into a classroom at the airport expecting maybe one other person.

Instead she found 12 like-minded gardening enthusiasts, 10 of which she already knew.

"I saw this notification (for the class) in the paper and I thought, 'You know, I might enjoy that. I'm just gonna go to the first class and see what it's about."

That was 12 years ago and her love for horticulture and the Victoria County Master Gardeners Association is still intact, taking the fourth-generation rancher all over the map in terms of duties and abilities.

Getting an Education

Since that fateful day, just one year after the master gardeners first began, Borchers Leon has raised funds for projects, helped build the extensive Victoria Education Gardens, written, edited and managed the newspaper column "Gardeners' Dirt," and even presided over the club in 2004.

It all started for her, however, to simply learn about native grasses, land management and flowers.

"When you kill plants in your house, you wanna know why you did it and how to do better," she said, adding that it is also in her blood.

"It's a passion for many of us. I've met people I never would have known otherwise ... That's another neat thing about it because you find new interests, new sparks of collaborative effort that you would have never dreamed - you know, to propagate a plant together?"

A decade and 172 organization members later, she said the group attracts all kinds; some are experts and others just have a keen interest in gardening. She's somewhere in between, she said, but has other "God-given talents" to put to use for the master gardeners - writing and fund raising.

Gardeners' Dirt

On July 3, 2003, the first of the organization's columns ran in the Victoria Advocate newspaper. Since then, they've provided more than 400 original articles, some of which have won first-place statewide awards in the horticulture world, she said.

"It started off with the organization wanting to offer something educational to the community and, quite frankly, become better known."

Now, with 95 unpaid writers throughout the years, along with editors and photographers, the columns serve as a factual base of information, complete with sources, research and "a little bit of home advice from the people who know what they're doing."

VEG

Ten years ago, Borchers Leon's small class had grown, as had their ideas.

The concept of Victoria Educational Gardens was formed in hopes of not only beautifying near the control tower at Victoria Regional Airport, but also to educate visitors on plants, the creatures they attract and their impact on environment.

Built in six phases, the two-acre, 19-garden installment with a pavilion that seats 600 has become a $500,000 project.

Borchers Leon was instrumental in helping to raise the money for the recently completed venture through plant sales, events and fund drives, and more.

However, that's all a part of the program, she said, as everyone is expected to donate 50 hours a year to be a certified master gardener and each member finds his or her niche in community service.

That niche didn't start here for her, though, but in Washington, D.C., of all places.

On the Hill

More than 30 years ago, a young Borchers Leon left South Texas for a political career, working for U.S. congressman Tom Loeffler and eventually finding herself on a nine-member lobbyist team representing the then-president, Ronald Reagan, on Capitol Hill.

"We were the eyes and ears - the liaison. My background is in legislation and in lobbying efforts - helping write bills, pass bills and helping a team representing the executive office of the president pass legislation."

She is still active in the Republican Party, helping to campaign, attending events and even serving on the Texas Republican Executive Committee for seven years.

Coming back to her roots 22 years ago would eventually become a blessing.

A Love Story

Having been away for 12 years, the last thing Borchers Leon probably expected upon her return was love, but that's what she found.

She was reintroduced to her childhood friend Bobby Leon, now the owner of Chesnick Furniture in downtown Victoria, and the two hit it off, again.

"He'd been in the furniture business all his life and moved out to California briefly to work in inventory management and computer-type stuff in the retail world," she said. "I'd gone and done my political career and we both ended up back here ... We got reacquainted, neither having had been married. Now we've been married for 20 years."

Continuing to grow

The milestones in Borchers Leon's life have made her a familiar face in the community, as she continues to expand her horizons from flower arranging and the arts to the harder-edged political scene and cattle breeding.

And the patriotic, bromeliad-loving, natural-born event planner and writer has many years and endeavors ahead of her, continuing on her journey of growth and gardening.

Starting with her own yard. "It's not groomed meticulously - some day in my dreams - but it's formal. I guess I'm known for that."

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