Gardening with the Masters

by Matt Whiddon

 

{The following is a recent gardening column by Matt}

Reprinted with permission from Columbus and the Valley Magazine:

The idea for a Master Gardener program goes back over 35 years to Washington State University. Extension agents, overwhelmed by requests for information from the community, enlisted the help of home gardeners in return for training. Today, similar programs exist throughout the world. In fact, Georgia and Alabama have thriving programs statewide.
The mission of the Master Gardener program is to assist the Cooperative Extension Service by providing research-based horticultural information to the community through volunteer service in educational gardening projects. 

Among the benefits of the Master Gardener program is that individuals get specialized training and become certified in horticulture. Courses offered by both Georgia and Alabama programs vary slightly. Core courses common to both include soil science, weed control, annuals and perennials, vegetable gardening, plant identification and selection and turf maintenance. Additional courses are offered, including some that may be taken as electives. In all, Master Gardeners receive over 40 hours of classroom and hands-on instruction. Classes are taught by extension agents, local horticulturists and veteran Master Gardeners. I have had the privilege of instructing a couple of classes and am inspired by the enthusiasm of the group. They are truly passionate about plants and service to others.

Muscogee County Master Gardener Gayle Dean says that Master Gardeners are a variety of people, each with their own expertise. “Some know roses inside and out, others daylily. Some are bee keepers, while others are organic gardeners.
I don’t know much about plants, variety, names. What I am good at is communication and helping to keep us connected.
So we each bring different skills, but we are willing to share and help each other.” 

Muscogee County Master Gardeners are regularly involved in community service. To maintain Master Gardener status, 50 hours of community service are required the first year and 25 each consecutive year. Columbus Master Gardeners work with each of the following:  

 

• Columbus Botanical Garden
• Columbus State University Environmental Learning Center at Oxbow Meadows
• Junior Master Gardener Program
• Walker-Peters-Langdon Garden
• Columbus Museum
• Linwood Cemetery
• WaterSmart Program
• Keep Columbus Beautiful Garden Tour

Jennifer Davidson, agricultural extension agent for Muscogee County, is excited about an upcoming program this spring. “Gardening with the Masters is a series of courses being offered by Master Gardeners at the Columbus Botanical Garden. This collaboration between the Muscogee County Extension Service and the Columbus Botanical Garden is the first of its kind as Master Gardeners will be teaching,” says Davidson. The series will include weekly courses on a variety of horticultural topics in March and April. Call 706-327-8400 for more information or to register. 

Russell County Master Gardeners are also actively involved in their community. A minimum 40 hours of service is required within one year of the date of their training. Master Gardeners who wish to maintain active status must serve a minimum of 20 hours each subsequent year, and it is recommended that they obtain at least 10 hours of continuing education credits.

Vivian Brockway, president of the Green Gloves Garden Club of Master Gardeners in Russell County, says their major accomplishment to date is planting and maintaining the landscape at the Phenix City-Russell County Library. Other projects have included the removal of overgrown shrubbery and re-landscaping at the Phenix City Art Center and working with Phenix City Beautiful to plant trees. The group has also been active at various government and school sites and has planted a spring bulb garden at Idle Hour Park. Russell County Master Gardeners meet monthly January-November on the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at the Phenix City-Russell County Library. Visitors are welcome. The Master Gardener program is a great way for gardening enthusiasts to grow in their knowledge of horticulture while serving their community. For further information, contact Jennifer Davidson of the Muscogee County Extension Office at 706-653-4200 or Ted Gilbert of the Russell County Extension Office at 334-298-6845.

Matt Whiddon is a graduate of the University of Georgia school of horticulture. He is the owner of Columbus in Color Landscape Group and serves as Executive Director of the Columbus Botanical Garden.

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