...Just Lots of Learning and Community
How does one start studying to become a Master Gardener?
My degree is not in horticulture. Does that matter? - B.B.
Check the discussion on this
in the Forum
"Master Gardener" is not an educational degree but a title
awarded by a State's land grant university -- in our case, that's
Michigan State University Extension.
The Extension is run by Michigan State University (MSU) in
conjunction with county governments. One of its aims is to provide
agricultural and horticultural information to the community. In
each Extension office an MSU agent or agents answers questions,
interprets soil tests, provides informational bulletins and
conducts educational events. During the sustained, unprecedented
boom in gardening over the past 25 years, Extension agents started
to fall behind in meeting the demand for information.
Master Gardening was born when Extension agents decided to train
people in the community and send those people forth to answer
Trainees attend a one-semester class taught by Extension agents
and other experts to learn about the hottest horticultural topics
-- soil, lawn, flowers, trees, shrubs, vegetables, fruits, interior
plants, and even household pests. After completing the class and
passing weekly quizzes and a final exam, the trainee becomes a
Master Gardener candidate. To become a Master Gardener, s/he must
complete 40 hours of informational service to the horticultural
community. To retain the title, s/he continues to learn and to do
volunteer service in the community -- a minimum of three hours of
education and ten hours of volunteer work per year. Master
Gardeners are "Advanced" after accumulating at least 25 additional
hours of training and 50 hours of service to the gardening
No degree or level of experience is required to join the program
-- just the will to learn and serve. When you sit in class or lend
a hand as a volunteer you rub shoulders with both experts in
particular garden specialties and well-informed novices. All ages
and backgrounds are welcome -- skills acquired in non-gardening
professions are often as important to Master Gardener projects as
The services Master Gardeners provide to earn and keep their
titles are as varied as the people involved. One person may log 40
hours answering questions at a local Farm Market or on the MSU
Extension hotline. Another may earn some hours helping neighbors
select trees, a few more helping to design and run a teaching
garden at an elementary school, and the rest assisting in endeavors
such as an Easter Seals horticultural therapy program.
The goal is to spread sound horticultural information. Those who
wear Master Gardener badges don't know it all but they have a great
grasp of the basics, a strong commitment to community service and
the confidence to say "I don't know, but I bet I know where I can
This program began in Washington State in 1972 and took off like
a well-grown pumpkin vine to cover 46 States and Canada. In
Michigan, Wayne County led the way in 1978, training 25 people.
This year, 51 Michigan counties certified 2,121 new Michigan Master
Gardeners. Many people stay in the program for many years -- in it
for a decade, I'm still a novice compared to the likes of Genesee
County worthies recognized this fall for as much as 3,500 hours of
Call the MSU Extension to register for Master Gardening class --
the number is listed under county government in telephone
There have been big changes in the program just this year and
more ongoing. Class locations are changing and classes are on
"hold" right now in what would have been the 2012 winter-spring
session while teaching materials are revamped.
To clear the air, a certain person who calls himself "America's
Master Gardener" did not earn that name through any State's
university Extension. He bestowed the title on himself and profits
by its use -- the antithesis of Master Gardening.
I am impressed with your knowledge and practical
application of it. You mentioned that Master Gardeners do community
Our pre-school has a large lot we would like to make use
of. We wanted to include a butterfly garden, nature trail, planting
garden, bird houses and a nature area with a small hill for the
children to use. We need someone to design this and to think of
things we haven't. Are you interested in helping us or can you
recommend someone? - K.F. -
I'm interested in that kind of project but unable right now to
take on any additional Master Gardener work.
Each county's Master Gardener coordinator takes ideas such as
yours and presents them to existing and potential Master Gardeners
to see if someone can be assigned. Although yours is a large
project requiring very special skills there may be Master Gardeners
in your community who are qualified and available.
Call your county Extension! For the number, look under county
government listings in the directory for "MSU Extension" and ask
for the Master Gardener coordinator.
Keep in mind that Master Gardeners are not free labor but
knowledgeable advisers. Once involved as an advisor where a school
or community work force is assembled, many Master Gardeners do
contribute muscle as well as brain -- but that's above and beyond
Call early, too. Many Master Gardener offices are deluged with
requests from March through the end of the growing season. Even
with thousands of Master Gardeners in the State, most are often
assigned for the season by mid-March.