I garden like I cook – using a mix of intuition, inspiration, opportunity and random readings.  This system works better for cooking, where any totally “out there” idea produces just a single adventure for the taste buds rather than a failed crop for the year.

This spring I finally enrolled in the Master Gardener’s Program.

At the first class I learned that I about the most important part and true nature of the program.  It’s official name is:

Master Gardener VOLUNTEER Program

This program was created in the face of overwhelming demand for gardening info provided by our government extension services.  It’s the same story in every state.

Extension services used to serve farm families with the latest farming and domestic information.  Now urban growth covered much of that farmland, and many of its residents are turning to the Extension office for answers to their gardening and landscaping questions.

Some people might say this would be a good time to put a little more funding into these highly useful and popular cooperative extension services, but we all know that instead, these facilities are having their budgets cut and losing positions right and left.

This is where Master Gardeners Program steps in with their 2-part plan.

  1. The Extension provides avid gardeners with many hours of intense home horticultural training.
  2. The trained volunteers can assist their neighbors who need help with their gardening.

(You can find the one near you on this cool interactive Master Gardener Map that includes the whole country and parts of Canada!)

Every other Tuesday morning I spend 3 hours taking notes as fast as I can while our teacher Lisa Johnson and guest speakers barrage us with a tiny but useful fraction of their knowledge.   Before each session we read the pertinent part of a MONSTER book that comes with the class.  Between the power point print outs covered with my notes and this weighty tome, I am building the beginnings of my “mastery.”

This Tuesday in the class on tree and shrub planting and pruning, I was shocked to learn that the way I have been planting and transplanting trees is guaranteed to cause problems and compromise, if not kill, those trees over the next 20 years.

Recent research has debunked the official tree planting techniques that we were all taught.  (I will no doubt post about this the next time we plant a tree, but if you want to know sooner, just ask.)

All this knowledge is beyond value, but it will probably turn out to the smaller part of what I gain from this program.

The VOLUNTEER part is the true benefit of this system.  This is the part where you contribute to your community and make it a better place and plant yourself more deeply into your home soil.

...Master gardener volunteers at Penn State

The volunteer possibilities run the gamut – from seed planting, to working with schools, to prairie burning, to organizing and working in gardens that supply local food pantries with fresh food.

In return for 36 hours of high-octane information that will make me a better gardener, I get to volunteer for at least 24 hours this year and every year I want to remain a Master Gardener Volunteer.  Each MGV trainee can tailor their volunteer experience to enhance their special interests and will meet people in the process who may become lifelong friends, and at the very least will be more faces that you recognize in the crowd and expand your own root system.

In Wisconsin more than 10,000 people have been trained as Master Gardener Volunteers since the late 1970s.  I am thrilled and honored to join their ranks.

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