Susan Handjian is a garden educator in the San Francisco Bay Area. She was a contributing editor of Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates.
By: Susan Handjian , 6:07 PM GMT on April 06, 2012
You have an invaluable resource at your fingertips you may not even be aware of – the Master Gardeners of your county. Sometimes called Extension Master Gardeners, these are volunteers who have received many hours of rigorous horticultural training sponsored by local University Cooperative Extensions, then “pay back” the knowledge they’ve gained by helping members of their communities solve the mysteries and problems every gardener encounters – soil, disease, pests, and best plant varieties to grow for your area. Whatever it is, you can be assured that someone will do quality research into scientific data to find the best answer to your questions.
They work in many venues such as telephone and email help lines, school and community gardens, farmer’s market booths, plant sales, webinars, as well as workshops and fairs. Many Master Gardener groups are very involved in traditional agricultural and more recently the urban agriculture movement.
The 95,000 active Master Gardeners who volunteer over 5 million hours annually in all 50 of the United States and 4 Canadian provinces are agents of the cooperative extension service of land-grant universities (although in Canada the program is administered differently).
The program originated at Washington State University Cooperative Extension in 1973 and quickly grew at universities across the country to meet the demand for garden and horticultural information. This service is the legacy of land-grant colleges established throughout the United States that focused on the teaching of practical agriculture, science and engineering geared to the mostly rural population. It was here that the notion of the Agricultural Extension Agent was born.
Master Gardeners perform a very important service by advocating the use of Integrated Pest Management in the treatment of pests and disease. Their influence plays a large part in reducing the indiscriminate use of toxins that are at the root of so many environmental problems. Integrated Pest Management advocates chemical intervention as the last resort, selecting the least toxic action first. Master Gardeners advocate the use of beneficial insects as an alternative to chemicals.
Check out the Master Gardener for a fascinating and informative overview of the work done by Master Gardeners all over the country. It’s a tour of the differences and interests that make each state and region unique. From viticulture practices to interesting youth in science, the array of specialties is dizzying and captivating. I had no idea of advances in controlling fire ants with decapitating ants in Tennessee.
The American Horticultural Society has a wonderful map that links you to Master Gardener programs in every state. While you’re on this website, take a moment to see all the valuable things the AHS does.
Take advantage of this synergy of volunteerism and horticultural knowledge to help you be a better gardener. Gardeners are fortunate to have such valuable friends. Who knows, you may want to become a Master Gardener yourself.
The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.