What is a Master Gardener?
Well, the mission of the program is to “teach home gardeners sustainable gardening.” Master Gardeners love gardening, have experience, and become certified by the University of California Cooperative Extension. You have to apply to get into the program, which entails classes a few classes a week over a three month period with UC professors.
How did you learn about the program?
I read an article about Master Gardeners in the Sun!
Did you go up to UC Davis for the classes?
No, they are always in your county. The classes are wonderful – one day a Ph.D. in, say, entomology, telling you all she knows in a half-day class. Another day, a soils expert. We take field trips too. To get your badge you also must do 60 volunteer hours, including 25 hours at the info desk.
How long have you been certified?
For 12 years. I’ve had to do continuing education to stay certified. The program wants Master Gardeners to be scientific and current.
How many Master Gardeners are there?
Here in the Valley there are 38; there are over 300 in Sonoma County. People apply in the fall to get into the next year’s training, and there are three times as many hopefuls as spaces.
How do you accomplish your mission of teaching home gardeners?
We put on free lectures at the local library and workshops at gardens, we have information tables at the Farmers Market, we offer information at Sonomamastergardeners.org and our Facebook page, and we have a home visit program.
We’re having a workshop right here at the Sonoma Garden Park on Saturday, April 7 on Composting and Vermiculture.
Tell me more about the home visits.
It’s a wonderful program, called Garden Sense. You can request a visit by a specially-trained Master Gardener who will come to your home for a few hours, and make recommendations for making your yard and garden sustainable. Including things like what to plant and where to plant it, suggestions about irrigation, trying to get your garden and home as low-water as possible.
Do you enjoy doing that?
I haven’t done it yet. Ever since I got certified I have been concentrating my work in the Children’s Garden here in the Sonoma Garden Park. But I plan to take the special training to be able to do home visits.
Tell me about the Children’s Garden.
It was a dream of mine. We moved to Sonoma 18 years ago, and when I retired from social work I wanted to do something with my two favorite things: kids and gardening. My friend Jean Hopeman helped me make the proposal for a Children’s Garden to the Master Gardeners as well as to the Sonoma Ecology Center, which runs the Garden Park. It’s a wonderful collaborative relationship with the Ecology Center. They offer summer camps for kids that feature the Children’s Garden. We always have two of them with a maximum of ten kids working hands-on. And Parsons’ Hardware donated all the tools – rakes, shovels, trowels, wheelbarrows. The Ecology Center organizes school groups to come throughout the year.; 12 or 13 of our Valley Master Gardeners participate in the Children’s Garden, including helping throughout the year with the planting and tending.
What is special to you about the Children’s Garden?
Kids get to be kids – climbing fruit ladders, planting, running through the tunnel of pole beans and morning glories. And so many children, especially the economically disadvantaged, don’t really have a yard to dig in, to be in.
Some of your best moments?
Overhearing “I didn’t know potatoes grew in the ground.” Or smiling at the squabble over who gets to eat the last of the kale leaves! And I always like to leave the last 10 minutes unstructured, so the children can just be here.
– Interview by Anna Pier