When and Why the Master Gardener Program was Started
The master gardener program is a volunteer program and was started in 1972 by Washington State University Cooperative Extension in the Seattle area. It has since spread through the 50 states and into parts of Canada.
The Virginia program was adopted by the Virginia Cooperative Extension service to create volunteers to meet the demand for gardening advice to home gardeners.
Requirements for Virginia Certification
To acquire the title of Master Gardener in Virginia the individual must attend 50 hours of classroom instructions and then 50 hours of volunteer service. These hours must be completed in one year. To keep the certificate up-to-date an additional 8 hours of re-certification training is required.
Although the MG program performs an important function, I think the program has acquired a “status” that in most cases is undeserved.
It’s just about impossible to make a blanket statement about any one group of people, since groups are made up of individuals and there are always differences in people no matter what the group. Nonetheless, it has been my experience that the program may have been wrongly titled.
What is a Master?
I have encountered many Master Gardeners and they are all extremely proud of their certification. It’s certainly well and good to be proud of an accomplishment, but I think many have come to believe that they are indeed “Master” Gardeners. Being a master at anything denotes having or showing very great skill or proficiency: a skilled practitioner of a particular art or activity. (Practitioner indicates having a garden. I’ve met MGs who don’t.)
I’m confident that kids hearing that someone has 50 hours of classroom training would consider that person a master. However, if you’ve experienced enough of life to realize that book learning is just the beginning – then surely your know that 50 hours of classroom training and 50 hours of volunteering does not qualify you as a Master anything.
10,000 hours of hands-on or 50 hours of classroom plus 50 of volunteer work
Most MGs probably know a lot more about chemical fertilizers and pesticides than I do. I don’t use them and am not the least bit interested in knowing anything about them except how I can keep them out of my life. In addition, the MGs probably know more about the names of various wild plants in the area and correct names of all the native trees and shrubs. (I’d be interested in that myself.)
But when it comes to my garden, I would put my 10,000 hours (plus) of hands-on experience up against their 50 hours of classroom and 50 hours of volunteer work anytime.
First Encounter with a Master Gardener
As readers of this site will know, I love lettuce. I grow lots of it and have for 32 years. Unless it’s unusually cold in March, lettuce will start coming abundantly for me and I’ll have it through July. (Yes, even in drought this year, I had it through July.)
Years ago in the month of March, when I had been gardening for only 15 years or so, a lady visited our shop who happened to be the President of the MGs in our area. My garden then was very visible to guests — so of course she asked to look around. When she got to my lettuce she exclaimed, “You’d better pick that lettuce because it will bolt and you won’t have any in another week.” (As usual – I had lettuce through July.)
That was my first encounter with a Master Gardener and my first alert to the fact that maybe Master Gardeners were not Masters. Since then I’ve had many.
There is a lot of “information” and “advice” out there. You might just need to get some experience under your belt to know what is correct and what’s not; who’s a master and who’s not.