In the early 1970’s, a re-generated interest in home gardening spread throughout the United States at an unprecedented pace. Today, gardening is America’s number one hobby. Extension offices were overwhelmed with requests for horticultural information and education. In Washington State, Dr. David Gibby (WSU Cooperative Extension Agent) and Dr. Arlen Davison (WSU Plant Pathologist) realized the need to expand their informational outreach, and came up with the idea of equipping volunteers for this task. The plan was that Extension would provide applicants with extensive horticultural training and in return, the Master volunteers would assist Extension in their outreach, providing the general public with information and education. Thus, the Master Gardener program originated in Washington State, enabling the Washington State University (WSU) Cooperative Extension to better serve the public. The first Master Gardener class was trained in 1973.
The Texas Master Gardener program had its beginnings in 1978 during Extension horticulture training at Texas A & M University when Dr. Sam Cotner (Extension vegetable specialist) described the success of the movement in Washington. The first Master Gardener class in Texas was held in 1979 in Montgomery County and drew about 25 applicants. In 1989, the first training class was held in Bexar County. Since that first training program, the Bexar County group has not looked back. Forty-four classes have been held since that time. Due to the popularity of the program, three classes were held simultaneously last fall.
From the beginning, the program has been richly diversified, reflecting the skills and individuality of each volunteer. Volunteers bring a vast array of skills and talents to the program. Master Gardeners contribute toward a myriad of programs for our community. Answering the homeowner’s questions is at the heart of the program. In Bexar County, it is manifested through the Master Gardener Homeowner’s Hotline. Classroom Gardens is another popular project. Over 250 schools participate in the program. Master Gardeners teach children to garden, emphasizing environmental stewardship and human nutrition. Teachers are also able to teach students math, science and other courses in a non-traditional manner. Junior Master Gardeners (JMG) is another popular program. It offers horticulture and environmental science education through fun and creative activities. JMG introduces young gardeners to the art and science of gardening, and helps them develop life skills, leadership and responsibility to become good citizens within their communities, schools and families.
Master Gardeners also address worthwhile social and environmental issues in Bexar County through their involvement in the Seasonal Irrigation Program (SIP), various Xeriscape programs, educational events, and demonstration gardens. Other Master Gardener projects include group presentations to garden clubs, civic groups and other organizations, information and educational boots at local events, and major public events such as the Texas Experience at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, Habitat for Humanity, Fall Garden Fair and Children’s Day in the Garden.
The program’s strength in Bexar County lies in its ability to support Extension and meet the diverse needs of our community. The can-do and organized approach that the Bexar County Master Gardeners possess illustrates clearly why this is a record-setting organization. A love of gardening and quest for knowledge are the primary attractants to the program, but graduates remain Master Gardeners to enjoy the camaraderie and friendship of others who share their interests, to gain and share horticulture knowledge, and to give back to the community.
As you can see, the Master Gardener program is much more than a horticulture class or a garden club. It is an educational/volunteer program conducted by Texas Cooperative Extension that enables participants to serve their communities. The program is designed to increase the availability of information and extend projects throughout the community. Master Gardeners provide valuable information that improves the quality of life for residents of Bexar County.
Is the Master Gardener Program for you? There are some simple questions to ask yourself. Do you want to learn more about the culture and maintenance of many types of plants? Are you eager to participate in a practical and intense training program? Do you look forward to sharing knowledge with people in the community? Do you have enough time to attend training and to complete the volunteer service? If you answered “yes” to these questions, the program could be for you. To obtain an application, call Angel Torres at 467-6575, or go the Bexar County Extension website at http://bexar-tx.tamu.edu, click under Horticulture & Gardening and go to the Master Gardener site and download an application. A new class will be starting on February 28th. If accepted, you will attend a 13-week Extension Master Gardener training course. The program offers a minimum of 50 hours of instruction including lawn care, botany, soils, diagnosing plant problems, entomology, xeriscaping and native plants, pesticide use and safety, environmental horticulture, propagation, and water issues. In exchange for training, participants are asked to volunteer 50 hours within the first year.
This dynamic group has been able to serve the needs of our diverse population-and serve it well. They strive to make their community a better place to live. The Master Gardeners continue to reach out to the residents of Bexar County armed with knowledge, enthusiasm, and a helping hand. They assist us to extend the Extension hand farther than we could ever do alone. Consider being a part of this elite group–the Bexar County Master Gardeners.
David Rodriguez is County Extension Agent-Horticulture, Bexar County. For more information, call the Master Gardener ‘Hotline’ at (210) 467-6575 or visit our County Extension website at http://bexar-tx.tamu.edu, click under Horticulture and Gardening.