Deborah Twombly says she’s an “outdoor girl,” and figures it’s because she’s been outside since she was a child gardening at her mother’s knee. “It’s in my genes.” As soon as she retired from teaching in 2012, she became a Master Gardener (MG) and hasn’t stopped since. She is now in her second term as vice president of the N.H. Master Gardener Alumni Association (NHMGAA) board, but previously held three other board positions — membership, treasurer and special projects.
When she taught at Dondero School, “we visited Portsmouth’s Urban Forestry Center every season and studied seasonal changes, built shelters, sledded, drew, and studied the flora and fauna,” says Deb. “My classes studied the monarch in the life cycle science curriculum throughout my whole career.” In the 1980s when wild monarchs couldn’t be found anymore, she bought larva so each student could raise their own monarch as citizen scientists. They tagged monarchs through the University of Kansas Monarch Watch program and released them.
Her first MG project was developing fallow raised beds at Portsmouth’s Cross Roads House, a homeless shelter. Also in Portsmouth, she worked in the children’s garden at Strawbery Banke and Prescott Park’s Celia Thaxter garden.
She and Drew Sunstein, her husband for 17 years, live in an Exeter condo complex with woods behind the house. “I developed two bridges over wetlands, paths, added a couple of benches, and a small pool with a little fountain. I planted about 600 daffodil bulbs … most with labels.” She bought 40 acres in Maine where she dug a pond, and “immediately saw a pair of mallards fly into it. Build it and they will come,” says Deb, who has two grown children and 5 grandchildren. “This year I did try a small carnivorous bog garden in the wetlands. I’m always experimenting. Sometimes I fail, and sometimes the plants live.”
She reads “tons” about lobbying for conservation issues and volunteers for several conservation committees, chairing some, including Piscataqua Garden Club; First Unitarian Universalist church’s Forest Affinity Climate Activist Team; and Exeter Tree City, a subcommittee of the Conservation Commission.
She enjoys pickleball, downhill and cross country skiing, skating and sledding. Additionally, she recently took two online courses “to educate myself more thoroughly about ways to achieve racial equity in our country.” From January to April, she lives in Florida on a sailboat and comes “back in time to see my daffodils.”
In 2020, she took the Natural Resources Steward program. Due to the pandemic, she says, “every class, rain or shine, was held outside for outdoorsy people.” From there she joined the N.H. Big Tree group that measures the largest trees in the state. “It’s been amazing to trek off-trail through the woods finding the biggest black gum or hemlock…we see so many other naturally growing plants too,” she says. “The people I go with have been years doing it and have an expertise…[and] explanations about everything we see outside. I love learning about it all.”
Deborah Twombly Started Gardening at Her Mother’s Knee is written by jnw1016 for extension.unh.edu