Garden Variety: A growing organization

Thursday, February 13, 2014


From left, Sheryl Beier, of Lawrence, and Jane Akob, of Baldwin City, both Master Gardeners, lay stepping stones and build a raised bed for flowers June 25 at Tom Swan Park at Eighth and High streets in Baldwin City. Last fall, a group of Master Gardeners formed a partnership with the Baldwin City and the local Lion’s Club to improve the space.

Master Gardeners are not just in Douglas County — they are everywhere.

There is a Master Gardener program in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. The 105 counties in Kansas are served by 52 active Master Gardener programs; all of them sponsored through the K-State extension offices.

Master Gardeners in Douglas County now number at 160 avid enthusiasts, who volunteer their time and effort to improve their gardening skills and those of the community. These skills are not just “how to plant that” or “what should I plant” or “how do I make this grow.” The skills are more along the lines of “why plant that” or “how well does it grow here” and “what do I need to do to help it grow.” They do this not just for themselves but for the greater community.

Last year, area Master Gardeners recorded over 7,700 individual contacts during their events. The volunteer time for these events totaled more than 7,800 hours, an equivalent 3.8 full-time employees, and at no cost to the community. Additionally these 160 volunteers continued their personal education with 2,170 hours of advance training. Master Gardeners continue to grow as a valuable asset to the community and to ourselves.

The program was started here in Douglas County in 1971 and really became active in 1984. Each year since 1984 a training class has graduated new members. Training utilizes the expertise of Kansas State University professors, local extension agents and even specialized fellow Master Gardeners. This “basic training” is not for the weak at heart. It covers annuals, perennials, woody plants, trees, botany, turf grass, insects, vegetables, houseplants, soil, urban wildlife management and communication skills.

I’ve listed some of the Master Gardeners’ activities, and all are open to the public as ongoing learning opportunities and events. The demonstration gardens at the Douglas County Fairgrounds, Kansas University’s Monarch Waystation and Tom Swan Park in Baldwin City are public spaces maintained for seasonal changes. These are easily visited and provide a visual reference for personal use year round.

There are several ways to find out more about the Douglas County Master Gardeners and their upcoming events: Our website is; our Facebook page; or the Douglas County Extension website at If you have questions about gardening or just want more information on classes and events, call us at 843-7058 or email

— Stan Ring is the Horticulture Program Assistant for K-State Research and Extension in Douglas County. Extension Master Gardeners can help with your gardening questions at 843-7058 or