Have you ever wondered what a Master Gardener really is? Is it just an expert gardener? How would you like to be one yourself?
Master Gardeners are simply people who have participated in the Master Gardener volunteer program through MU Extension. Masters volunteer their time and talents in their communities, offering up-to-date horticulture information and gardening help. Some are novice gardeners, some are veterans of gardening, some of them live in the country and others live in town condos, but all share one thing in common: a love for gardening.
Members focus on what they do in their communities, not on whether they've "mastered" gardening. One person described the mission as "spreading the joy of gardening as much as possible in my community." Primary requirements for becoming a Master Gardener are a love for gardening, previous experience, a desire to learn and enthusiasm for sharing gardening knowledge with the public. Master Gardeners are involved in cultivating plants, enriching people and communities and volunteering 20 to 30 hours of their time per year.
The Master Gardener program started in 1972 in the state of Washington in response to a high level of interest in home gardening and numerous requests for horticulture information. Since then, the program has spread to all 50 states and a few Canadian provinces. Special horticulture training, in areas such as plant growth, weeds, diseases and insects, make the program a unique experience for participants. Their instructors are state and regional University Extension specialists. In exchange for this training, Master Gardeners volunteer their time through their county's University Extension office to give horticulture-related information to their communities.
The mission of the Missouri Master Gardener program is "Helping Others Learn to Grow." Master Gardeners involve people in improving the quality of life through horticulture education. The Missouri Master Gardener program began in St. Louis in 1983. The program was offered jointly by MU and the Missouri Botanical Garden and this partnership continues today. Other areas of the state soon followed with programs in Kansas City and Springfield. There has been a steady increase in both numbers and locations where Master Gardener training is offered. By 1994, 400 Master Gardener volunteers were serving 12 communities in the state. Today there are more than 2,500 active Master Gardeners in 110 counties in Missouri.
Gardeners can answer questions on the garden hot line, give presentations to groups, write articles for newspapers or work with various community gardening projects. Locally, the Heart of Missouri Master Gardeners are elbow-deep in a variety of projects, including staffing the hot line at the extension office, working with the Community Garden Coalition, working with children at The Intersection, having educational booths at Earth Day and speaking to various groups. They also work with Habitat for Humanity and the Plant a Row for the Hungry campaign. Whatever one's interest is there is an avenue for expressing it through these and other volunteer projects.
The monthly meetings are a continuing venue for deepening knowledge about horticulture. Various programs have included visiting the greenhouses used by the City of Columbia, learning more about perennials from Bob McConnell, learning about beneficial and non-beneficial insects, a visit to Walk About Acres, a day lily farm, The Jefferson Institute and many others.
If you are interested in becoming a Master Gardener, contact the Boone County Extension Office, 1012 N. Highway UU, Columbia, MO 65203 or call 445-9792 or check out its Web site at mg.missouri.edu.
Barbara Michael has been a Master Gardener since 1993, and serves as the Master Gardeners’ liaison to the Community Garden Coalition, in addition to serving on its board. She enjoys container gardening and houseplants. She can be reached at email@example.com.