Last spring I mentioned that I was enrolled in the Connecticut Master Gardeners Program (Bartlett Arboretum location). Well, here’s one of my 27 awesome classmates from the Class of 2004, getting her certificate.
The Master Gardeners Program exists in most states. It’s sponsored of the USA Department of Agriculture, through the state land grant colleges (UConn in Connecticut). Since there’s still time to register for the 2005 classes, that begin as early as January in some locations, I thought that I’d share what I experienced to help you decide whether this is something that you’d like to pursue to improve your home gardening skills, to get started in a career in horticulture, or because you’re involved in horticulture-related community service such as community gardening. Or perhaps, you just like to learn interesting things.
The program didn’t make me an instant genius (sigh!). It’s not the same as a four-year degree program, let alone a master’s degree. However, it is very useful to round out “hands-on” horticultural knowledge, in a reasonable time at low cost. It’s also a great for making community contacts, and kind of fun, if a bit of hard work. Overall, I think that the program can add significant value.
At my location, the program consisted of 14 weeks of class work and a major plant research project, with 60 hours of required community service as the “pay back” for the program, which is free except for materials.
During the 14 weeks of classes, we covered a topic a week. The classes included water quality, soil chemistry, botany, plant pathology, pesticides, woody plants, garden perennials, invasives, vegetables, fruit trees, bugs, lawn care, and much more. Each week, there was a full-day lecture on the topic for the week, and a day or two of reading at home. Each class seemed to me to be a condensed version of the first year college course for the area. Some topics were things that I won’t have studied on my own, so the class was good incentive to get familiar with the area. Every now and then, I got an answer to a question that I didn’t know to ask. I also got a better idea of my own interests for future study.
In addition to the class work, we had a “hands-on” research project which required learning all we could about 20 to 25 common trees, shrubs, and vines. The project required obtaining a live sample of each assigned plant so we would learn to recognize it. Then we did a write up on the plant’s history, culture, and uses. In addition to learning a lot about the assigned plants, the project helped to build research skills.