Train to be a plant master

  • Joyce Kimball (second left) is an UNH Cooperative Extension-trained Master Gardener and shares her skills as a member of the Bow Garden Club. Courtesy

For LiveWell
Friday, September 01, 2017

What is a Master Gardener? Or should I say who is a Master Gardener? Master Gardeners are people like me who have over time developed a love of gardening and simply want to be better at it and to share what they have learned with others.

First, in order to squelch an all-too-prevalent rumor, a Master Gardener does not know everything there is to know about gardening. Sorry. However, as I like to tell people right up front, while a Master Gardener does not know all there is to know about gardening, they do know where to find the answers to virtually any garden-related questions someone may have.

The excellent training a Master Gardener receives from a learned group of UNH professors and other experienced professionals and the availability of vast resources offered within the University New Hampshire of Cooperative Extension educational system are a continuous support for Master Gardeners as they work within their counties sharing their education and enthusiasm for gardening.

In 2003, I attended a spring symposium that was held in Concord sponsored by UNH Cooperative Extension. It was promoted as a day of gardening programs that would be of interest to both new and seasoned gardeners. And it was.

As I remember it, there was a keynote speaker who addressed the entire group of 200 or more attendees, followed by an assortment of educational programs that attendees had pre-selected to attend when they registered for the symposium.

I thoroughly enjoyed each of the programs I had selected and was delighted to discover that a former workmate of mine, another Joyce, was in two of my classes and was in fact a Master Gardener. I picked her brain to learn all about what it was like to be a Master Gardener and inquired about how to become one myself based on her glowing recommendation of the program. Halfway through her explanation, I was hooked.

I signed up for the next class that was to take place that fall in Concord on 10 consecutive Thursdays. I was interviewed by the Merrimack County Master Gardener Coordinator at that time to determine if I was serious about taking the course and “paying it forward” once I “graduated.” It was pointed out to me that the county was essentially assuming the cost of my Master Gardener education and that I would be expected to reimburse the county, in kind, by volunteering my time and sharing my new expertise by working on specific community projects sanctioned by Merrimack County Extension. I would need to accumulate 40 volunteer hours initially to achieve my Master Gardener certification and 15 hours per year thereafter to retain it.

I started the course in October 2003 and soon found out that it was not for the faint of heart, especially if you had not been inside a classroom for, shall we say, “some years.” It was no nonsense, serious stuff.

My fellow students ranged in age from the early 20s to north of 70; however the age differences did not matter one bit, we were all there for the same reason, to learn how to become better gardeners.

We had a terrific educational coordinator and awesome instructors, a different one every week speaking on a new topic, straight from UNH as well as other experts in their field, such as landscapers, arborists, to augment the subject matter. Classes started promptly at 8:30 a.m. and, if I remember correctly, continued until almost 4 p.m. with a short break for lunch, but the time went quickly. It was at lunchtime and through general observations of my fellow students’ participation in class that I really got to know a good number of my fellow classmates. Those of us that lived in Merrimack County were able to work together on several projects over the years, and I still get to see some of them at potluck dinners the Merrimack County Extension office sponsors on occasion.

Graduation day in April 2004 was a big deal for me. I was so proud to have completed the course despite its challenges, and I really felt that I had taken in, and for the most part retained, a great deal of knowledge and I was so looking forward to the opportunity to share that knowledge with others, including my fellow Bow Garden Club members.

But first, I needed to accrue those 40 volunteer hours. I was assigned, along with my fellow classmate Robin, to co-chair the relocation of many of the perennial plantings that were located on the grounds of the Hospice House in Concord. A new circular driveway and a recent addition to the building necessitated removing and relocating hundreds of established perennial plantings. Robin and I developed a prospective site plan indicating the plants’ new locations which we presented to the VNA staff for approval and following a few re-do’s and further consultation with our County Extension Coordinator, we received the go-ahead and were able to start the project. It was a labor of love as things came along and the fruits of our labor became evident. Friends and family members coming and going to visit their loved ones would often pause briefly to admire the flowers, often thanking us for our efforts on behalf of the Hospice House and its residents.

Once I received my certification, I decided to join the Master Gardener speakers bureau and for several years gave presentations on container gardening, herbs, perennials, putting the garden to bed and others.

The County Extension provided a “Talk in a Box” that contained the appropriate CD, fact sheets, UNH Cooperative Extension contact information and more;  their Power Point equipment was loaned out to the speakers as needed. More recently, I have been giving hands-on workshops on gardening with terrariums, container gardening on request with the approval of the County Extension office. Garden clubs and senior groups particularly enjoy these hands-on sessions, and I enjoy doing them.

In addition to all the workshops and presentations I have given on container gardening, my specialty, I have also earned some of my volunteer hours by helping to develop a teaching garden at the Hooksett Memorial School, planting an herb garden with the residents of the Shea Farm half-way house in Concord, manning “Ask a Master Gardener” booths at various garden centers and events, teaching second-graders how to plant and care for daffodils at the Bow Elementary School, and sorting thousands of tree seedlings at the state nursery, just to name a few. And for five years, I served on the board of the N.H. Master Gardener Association as their fundraising chairwoman, raising money for grants to be awarded to Master Gardeners for their proposed or continuing community projects.

I have no problem meeting my obligation of accruing 15 hours of volunteering each year as the county extension office notifies all Master Gardeners of upcoming volunteer opportunities, and I am able to sign up for whatever presentations or projects that pique my interest and work for me in regard to my availability. It is a win-win situation, and I for one am very proud to say I am a UNH Cooperative Extension-trained Master Gardener.