After a year’s hiatus due to some major funding gaps, the Colorado State University Extension Master Gardener program is once again up and running in El Paso County. Yup, that means I can once again pin on my Master Gardener badge.
It also means that I’ll be volunteering again, putting in countless hours writing articles, taking photographs, teaching classes, and answering questions. It means our horticultural agent will be looking over my shoulder, making sure that my advice is solidly based on scientific research. And it means that I’ll again have access to CSU Extension’s excellent continuing education opportunities, keeping me up-to-date on the latest developments in horticulture.
What is a master gardener?
First and foremost, master gardeners (MGs) are volunteers. The primary focus of the program is educating other people so that they can be successful in their own yards. As the Colorado program states, “Colorado Master Gardener Volunteers assist CSU Extension staff in delivering knowledge-based gardening information to foster successful gardening.”
To that end, we receive extensive training at a university level in all areas horticultural. We have to pass a comprehensive written exam followed by over 40 hours of volunteer time as a MG apprentice before we qualify for our badge. Then there is a minimum level of involvement required each year to stay active in the program. Of course, we benefit personally as we become better gardeners, but the application and interviews required to enter the program actively seek to screen out anyone who is in it only for themselves.
What do master gardeners do?
More than half of all volunteer hours are spent at the county’s MG help desk, assisting clients with gardening questions and diagnosing gardening problems. Satellite help desks (at a garden center or home improvement store, for example) may be staffed for special occassions such as Earth Day. Sometimes MGs take the initiative and offer classes or write articles for the local newspaper. Our county MGs maintain a blog that contains seasonal information specifically written for our local area.
MGs also get involved in the community. They can mentor youth gardening groups, teach gardening classes for the elderly, or provide an educational resource for many community gardening and greening projects. They’re also active in the county fair’s horticulture division.
Note that we don’t normally actually do the digging and planting, we just “supervise”! However, out behind the extension office is a demonstration garden featuring plants specifically selected to do well in our soils and climate. It was designed, planted, and is maintained by MGs.
How can I become a master gardener?
If that sounds like something you’d like to do, you can learn more about the Master Gardener program in your area by searching the web for “master gardener” plus the name of your state and county. For example, type
“master gardener” California “santa clara”
into your search bar. Not all places have master gardeners, but most do, especially in more densely populated regions. I’ve been a MG since 2001, and I hope to continue for many more years to come.