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The idea of mastering the art & science of gardening seems absurd to me (hence the quotes around “master” in the headline). There’s always something to learn, some new technique new to try, and a host of unforeseen circumstances that keep us gardeners humble and searching for answers. But this year, I’m going to get one step closer – I’m going to become a Master Gardener.
When my husband and I were first married, we were sitting on the couch one night when he just casually mentioned “I’ve been thinking about becoming a Master Gardener.” A what? Honestly, I thought he was making this title up, as a way to get me to refer to him as “Master.” But it is a real thing, and he really did become one. (Although I still refuse to call him Master, of course!) The Master Gardener or Extension Master Gardener program started in Washington state in 1972 as an organized effort to provide communities with trained local volunteers horticultural and gardening education and assistance. Today, nearly every state has a Master Gardener program, offered through the state’s land-grant university or cooperative extension services, with education and resources targeted to the growing conditions in that state.
The requirements and process for becoming a Master Gardener vary by state, as well. Here in Minnesota, the University of Minnesota Extension administers the program. In the fall, I applied to my local county Master Gardener chapter, and was conditionally accepted to the program. Because Master Gardeners volunteer in so many different ways in the community, including with children we must complete Safety of Minors training and pass a background check. Now that I’ve passed the background check (whew!) I am considered a Master Gardening Intern, and can attend my local monthly education & business meetings. That’s right, at age <mumble mumble…let’s just say north of 30>, I’m an intern again.
Next week, I begin the core Master Gardening course, which is offered through the university online or in-person. I’ve chosen to attend classes in person so I can meet & mingle with other gardeners in my state, and because I learn better that way. According to the big honkin’ binder I received in the mail, my 48-hour course will include such topics soils, entomology, botany, diagnostics, trees & shrubs, herbaceous plants, lawn care, plant pathology, weeds, wildlife, integrated pest management, vegetables, fruits. After I successfully complete the course, I will need to volunteer at least 50 hours with my local chapter and community to complete the requirements. If all goes according to plan, I will ring in 2019 as an official Master Gardener!
I’m so excited about this amazing horticultural knowledge base I’m about to build, and the effect it will have on our family’s vegetable gardens and landscaping. As my husband’s job has gotten more time-consuming over the years and mine has gotten more flexible, I’ve taken on more of the garden responsibilities, but my gardening knowledge hasn’t necessarily kept pace. For this summer, I’ll be ready with a trove of new information. But I’m also excited about sharing that new knowledge in my county. According to the U of M website, there were 2,336 active Master Gardeners in Minnesota in 2016, who volunteered for 142,194 hours – an estimated $3.6 million in value to their communities. This year, I’ll add some value, too.