I realize that’s a bold statement, but after experiencing all the benefits of completing the Master Gardener classes, I’ve become an evangelist of sorts. I know I shouldn’t be telling you what you should do, but after all that I’ve enjoyed in the form of great friendships, increased proficiency in my “gardening game,” and being connected to all types of resources, it’s hard not to be a bit pushy.
I had the privilege of going through the program a few years back with some of the nicest and most helpful people that you’ll ever meet. The instructors were superb, entertaining, knowledgeable, and most importantly, approachable. Like many other master gardeners in Tooele County, I had the remarkable privilege of having Larry Sagers and Linden Greenhalgh as the main instructors. In addition, there was a whole parade of other instructors, facilitators, peer instructors and advanced master gardeners that leaned in and delivered a superb experience. Even though we no longer have Larry around, Linden continues to do a great job as the Tooele County Extension Director (and Agriculture and 4-H Programs Agent!), and as a key part of the Tooele Master Gardener course.
Part of the richness of what you’ll experience is the diversity of people that you will go through class with. You’ll find young and old, avid hobbyists and professionals in horticulture, country and city, and those interested in food production or ornamentals, or both! It’s a fun and energizing experience to be in this type of learning environment because everyone is there because they want to be. In truth, I learned nearly as much from my classmates on specific topics as I did from the instructors. I’m confident you’d have the same experience.
I’m getting ahead of myself. What’s in it for you? What would you be learning about or getting resources, to refer to, in your future gardening aspirations? The range of topics is comprehensive, including soils, fertilizers, plant structures, turf grass, irrigation, managing plant diseases, vegetable production, small fruits and berries, orchard fruit production, insect threats and management, annual and perennial plantings, weed types and management practices, and gardening trouble-shooting and diagnostics.
While it’s impossible to remember all that was covered in the classes, now I know what resources I have at my disposal and where I can look up authoritative and effective information on a wide range of gardening and horticulture related topics. For those of us that like the challenge of ongoing learning, this is a great springboard into all sorts of topics. There is always something new to learn or a novel area to explore.
In addition, you’ll also learn about the great resources and examples that exist in our state to support and inspire us that like to grow things. Ranging from the Larry Sagers Memorial Garden in front of the USU Tooele Extension office, to several incredible private garden settings (many are featured in rotation in the Annual Garden Tour every June), to USU facilities like the Botanical Gardens in Kaysville, there’s a whole world out there that you may not be aware of! Being a part of the Master Gardener program and community will give you a “look behind the curtain” that is not readily available to all.
There’s a backstory to the establishment of the Master Gardener program in the United States. The story is rooted in our nation’s “land grant” colleges. Land grant colleges were established (as was the Department of Agriculture) during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. Authorized under the Morrill Act of 1862 and augmented by subsequent Acts, these colleges continue to operate and flourish to this day. Commonly called “Aggie” colleges, there are 106 such institutions of learning with the primary goals of teaching, research and extension into the community and state that a given college serves. Early on, it became evident that the typical model of classroom instruction was not practical or effective for farmers, ranchers and industrial craftspeople. The Cooperative Extension Service was the response to this challenge when it came into being in 1914.
The Master Gardener program had its genesis in the early 1970s as a response to the high demand for gardening information that Washington State University was experiencing. While there were some really questionable things that came out of the seventies (I shudder to think of some of the pictures of me or my friends from back then), something great that continues to grow even today is a strong interest in more self-reliance — to put your own food on the table. The WSU Extension Service couldn’t keep up with all the gardening inquiries so they came up with the concept to train knowledgeable garden volunteers to assist in answering questions and delivering information. The program has had wide appeal and now all 50 states (as well as several Canadian provinces!) have Master Gardener programs, including the great one we have here in Utah!
Should you decide to make 2015 the year you begin the course, be prepared for some pleasant misconceptions! When you’ve completed that course and have earned the title of master gardener, there will be those that believe you know all things horticultural. That’s quite a compliment, but it’s impossible to have such a breadth of knowledge. There are professors and specialists who have created entire careers in specific areas of agriculture and horticulture. Being a master gardener does give you a huge advantage though; knowing where to get information as the need arises or as your interests expand.
The materials that you’ll receive and the contacts you will make in the educational community will be ones that you can count on over and over. Not only does your tuition provide for a series of hand out and reference materials, you’ll also get a thumb drive with the Master Gardener workbook as well as all the printed course notes and handouts. You will meet many specialists that you can correspond with about specific issues when you encounter questions in the future. I’ve met some great people in the USU organization, and you will too.
One other thing. Your payment also includes your first year membership in the Tooele County Master Gardeners Association. Frankly, it’s pretty tough to meet unpleasant people among a group of gardeners. While there are some incredibly knowledgeable people, you wouldn’t know it by their down-to-earth approach (pun intended) and willingness to share what they know. We meet once a month for a brief business meeting and planning meeting for upcoming events and outings, and then participate in an open-to-the-public presentation for an hour. I’ve seen the schedule for this year’s topics and presenters and it’s gonna be good!
I hope I’ve convinced you to register for the upcoming classes. They will be held on Thursday mornings from 9-11 a.m., beginning Feb. 12. The course runs for 13 weeks. To complete the program, you will need to attend the classes and serve 40 hours of horticulture related community service over the year. Cost for the course is $110 per person or $180 per couple. It’s painless to register; contact Patty Wheeler at (435) 277-2409 or write her at email@example.com. She’ll be glad to get you registered, collect your payment, and assure that your course materials are waiting for you the day you arrive for the first course. Classes are held at the USU Tooele Extension Office located at 151 N. Main in Tooele — right across the street from Walgreens and Big 5 Sports.
Whether you have never been successful in raising plants or veggies, or you’re pretty darn good at this horticulture thing, the course will take you to your next level and help you chart a course to become even more accomplished as a gardener. You’ll find all sorts of new things to learn about and meet some pretty spiffy people that are doing some really intriguing things that may just take you by pleasant surprise that can become your interest too. It’s good to surround yourself with people that challenge your thinking and stimulate your creativity a bit. You don’t think I can keep coming up with all these topics for this column all on my own, do you?
Jay Cooper can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can visit his website at dirtfarmerjay.com for videos and articles on gardening, shop skills, culinary arts and landscaping.