I think I was 17 the first time I heard someone introduce himself as a Master Gardener. We were working on a garden project together in my home community. “Master?” I thought. I wondered what it took to earn such a title when it came to gardening.
Of course, instead of asking the gentleman what the master in master gardener meant, I fantasized about growing record-breaking tomatoes and giant peony blossoms. I wondered if there was a written exam or if I could test my skills with hands-on knowledge. Maybe I could qualify for the “master” title by driving a roto-tiller around little orange cones or beating a speed record to re-string a weedeater.
Thankfully, my curiousity got to me before I started trying to hone any of these skills.
What I learned (some of it later in life):
- Being a Master Gardener is about teaching others what you know about gardening.
- Being a Master Gardener is about learning the science behind why gardeners do what they do and accepting that we always have more to learn.
- Being a Master Gardener is about giving time to the community.
Is this sounding any easier? I hope so!
Now I have the opportunity to work with Extension Master Gardeners almost every day and am responsible for training newcomers each year. Some of them really can grow prize-winning African violets or identify hosta varieties from 100 yards away. Some of them know more than I can ever hope to know about certain types of plants. However, most of them are just regular people. No, wait. They are regular people who enjoy gardening.
Earning the title of Master Gardener does provide a few challenges. Namely, there is a training class that meets one day a week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Historically the class has met on Tuesdays, and this year will be Tuesdays from Aug. 23 to Nov. 15. Course instructors are local experts, professors from Kansas State University and me. Each session is jam-packed with information on all things horticulture.
After training completion, wannabe Master Gardeners have a whole year to donate 40 hours of volunteer time. Most trainees accrue volunteer hours by helping with a variety of Master Gardener activities throughout the year. When the 40 hours are done, volunteers get their official Master Gardener name badge, and sometimes I teach them the secret handshake.
Each year after earning the title, Master Gardeners are required to volunteer 20 hours per year helping with the organization’s activities. They must also acquire 10 hours of continuing education in horticulture (offered locally throughout the year).
Major Master Gardener activities include answering gardening questions on a horticulture hotline, planning and maintaining educational demonstration gardens, partnering with community organizations for Junior Master Gardener and Plant-A-Row for the Hungry programs, speaking to community groups and providing resources at various community events.
There are some other key benefits:
- Many Master Gardeners have made new friends.
- Master Gardeners love to share plants with each other. (But watch out for that lambsear.)
- Master Gardeners love to share ideas with each other.
- You’ll be the first to know anytime mulch goes on sale anywhere in town.
- Sometimes Master Gardeners will let other Master Gardeners come see their gardens.
- Many Master Gardeners are also great cooks. (Awards dinner potluck, anybody?)
- Who else will get your hackberry jokes or discuss cross-varietal differences of Tradescantia?
- The classes provide great conversation topics for cocktail parties.
- Oh, and there’s that rewarding feeling of doing something good for the community.
Applications are now being accepted. Pick one up at K-State Research and Extension – Douglas County, 2110 Harper St, or download it from www.douglas.ksu.edu. I hope to see you in the next class.
There are 130 active Master Gardener volunteers in Douglas County. New Master Gardeners have joined the organization every year since the first training class in 1988.
—Jennifer Smith is the Horticulture Extension Agent for K-State Research and Extension. Contact her or an Extension Master Gardener with your gardening questions at 843-7058.