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History of the MS Master Gardener Program

The following is a reprint of Master Gardener International Fact Sheet 95-01, July 1995. Master Gardener International, P. O. Box 526, Fall Church, VA 22040-0526.

The first Master Gardener program began in Washington State, in King and Pierce counties, in 1972. Dr. David Gibby, the Extension agent for horticulture in those counties, was overwhelmed by the volume of requests for information about gardening coming into his office. His efforts to use the media to answer questions more efficiently only seemed to result in an increasing number of telephone calls asking for individualized information. Gibby thought of finding gardeners who would be able and willing to answer the public's questions, and came up with the idea of trading specialized training in horticulture for a commitment to spend a specified number of hours doing volunteer outreach work. He sought and obtained the help of Extension agents, specialists, and administrators at the state university in planning and testing both a training program for volunteers and a format for plant clinics at which they would provide information to the public.

The first Master Gardener group to be trained by Extension specialists was from King and Pierce counties. Gardeners were eager to enroll in the program; more than 300 people applied to take the first class, and 120 were enrolled in the session which began in 1973. It was soon followed by a similar training program in Spokane County. Sites for plant clinics were then arranged, schedules worked out, and master gardeners began working with the public. During their first year of operation, these master gardeners served more than 7,000 clients. Twenty-three years later, Master Gardener programs have spread dramatically. Programs have been in operation in 45 states, the District of Columbia, and four Canadian provinces. In addition to the plant clinics, begun by the first group and now a basic activity of many others, Master Gardeners have undertaken a wide variety of other projects. They staff horticulture hotlines, coordinate environmental and planting projects, run demonstration gardens, do research, manage some existing public gardens, work with school groups and other special populations, publish newsletters, and broadcast radio and television programs as some of their many activities. Just as the projects of different groups vary, so do their training programs and organizations. Most programs are run on a local basis, but some are a cooperative venture on the part of several jurisdictions, and some are unitary statewide programs. The length of the training also varies -- from 30 hours to 120 hours -- and some programs offer advanced training sessions. The cost of different programs varies too, depending on local budgets and expenses. As a result of budget cuts in recent years, some programs have been curtailed or even suspended -- to the great regret of those involved and of the interested public as well.

As master gardening has expanded, so too have the organizations which maintain connections among those in one training area, within states and regions, and across countries. There are now nearly 700 active training programs, of which more than half have links to some ongoing association. However, of the estimated 50,000 master gardeners who have completed a training program, only a small fraction remain active volunteers and in touch with their local organizations. Some, to be sure, have moved to areas where there is no group available for them to join, or are taking a break from volunteer activities while maintaining their own gardens and perhaps influencing their neighbors.

In any event, the public eagerness for information has not slackened. Just as the response to notices about the first master gardener program far exceeded the number of places available, public expressions of interest in master gardening are large and impressive whenever information about the program(s) is made available.

For information about Master Gardening programs near you, contact your county Cooperative Extension Office in the U.S. or the Canadian Ministry of Agriculture.

[MGI is a nonprofit, charitable, educational and scientific organization established to support and promote Master Gardening programs internationally through information exchange, program support, specialized publications, and media outreach. Support is coordinated with local, state, and regional Master Gardening groups, the USDA Cooperative Extension Service in the U.S. and the Ministry of Agriculture in Canada, other national and international organizations, educational groups, and representatives of the horticultural industry.]

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Warren County Master Gardener Yolanda Horne checks on worms living in a plastic bin on June 13, 2017. The worms were part of an exhibit on composting at the Know Your Roots: Grow Your Business workshop in Vicksburg, Mississippi. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Bonnie Coblentz)
Filed Under: Agri-tourism, Community, Master Gardener, Lawn and Garden June 16, 2017

VICKSBURG, Miss. -- Mississippians from a wide variety of backgrounds spent a day thinking of new ways to use landscapes and gardens to bring more profit and better value to agricultural enterprises and historic homes.

Know Your Roots: Build Your Business brought 29 participants together for the daylong workshop June 13 at the Southern Cultural Heritage Center. Sandy Havard, Warren County agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, coordinated the event.

Lida McDowell holds an alternanthera plant at her home in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on April 27, 2017. McDowell is a member of the Pine Belt Master Gardeners -- one of more than 60 such groups throughout the state that operate under the supervision of the Mississippi State University Extension Service. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Kevin Hudson)
Filed Under: Women for Agriculture, Master Gardener May 4, 2017

HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- Lida McDowell taught science and math for 30 years at the high school and university levels, and she keeps finding ways to educate while enjoying an interest she had no time to pursue until retirement.

The raised-bed vegetable gardens she and church friend Karen Walker maintain year-round serve as a classroom for a young audience at Thames Elementary School in Hattiesburg.

“What we’re trying to do is get the kids to enjoy nature, be outside and appreciate where their food comes from,” McDowell said.

Lynn McMahan of Vancleave, past president of the Mississippi Master Gardeners, learns about plant diseases from Clarissa Balbalian, manager of the Mississippi State University Extension Service's plant diagnostic lab, during campus tours in 2013. (File photo by MSU Ag Communications/Linda Breazeale)
Filed Under: Master Gardener October 12, 2016

TUPELO, Miss. -- For more than a quarter century, Mississippians with a love for horticulture have been helping to educate and serve their communities through a nationwide Extension Service program.

Oktibbeha County Master Gardener Charlie Weatherly pauses July 23, 2015, beside some of flowers growing in the Veterans Memorial Rose Garden, which he helped establish at the R.R. Foil Plant Science Research Center at Mississippi State University. (Photo by MSU Ag Communications/Kat Lawrence)
Filed Under: Master Gardener July 24, 2015

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Long before Charlie Weatherly earned the state’s 2015 Master Gardener of the Year honor, his family roots were dug deep into the Mississippi soil.

Although he retired from Mississippi State University in 1997, Weatherly has not strayed far from the land-grant institution’s campus or mission. How could he? As a child, he frequently came to campus with his father, Ernest, who was a county agent for what is now the MSU Extension Service.

Pine Belt Master Gardeners Gerald Good and Margaret Thomas mark the 100th salad table built by the group during a workday in Purvis June 19, 2014. The table will be donated to the University of Southern Mississippi's Department of Sustainability. (Photo by MSU Ag Communications/Susan Collins-Smith)
Filed Under: Master Gardener June 23, 2014

PURVIS – The Pine Belt Master Gardeners reached a milestone June 19.

The group constructed its 100th salad table, which is designated for donation to the University of Southern Mississippi’s Office of Sustainability. It is one of many the group has donated throughout the last year.

When the Pine Belt Master Gardeners built two raised beds for demonstration at the Mississippi State University Lamar County Extension office in 2013, they did not expect the educational project to become so popular.

Success Stories

A male retiree in a plaid shirt and khaki slacks sits in front of a piano. On its soundboard is a picture of his late wife in her wedding gown and gloves.
About Extension, Master Gardener Extension Matters: Volume 3 Number 3

In 2016, Myrtle native Michael Hale was looking for a meaningful, lasting way to remember his late wife, Vicki M. Smith.

 

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