Published in the Toronto Star – November 11, 2017
Many people pursue a professional designation to advance or secure a career.
Others seek a special designation to enhance their knowledge in the volunteer sector.
Most often, in volunteer organisations, a small, dedicated group is unrecognized for the passion, energy and talents they contribute. In the Canadian gardening community, the Master Gardeners are a stand-out in this regard. They volunteer their services on public garden tours, at the local horticulture society, Canada Blooms and in various online forums but are seldom recognised for their volunteer contributions.
Master Gardeners are dedicated to the art and science of gardening, and are always generous with their knowledge and time. They are some of the dedicated people who sustain a broader community of Canadian gardeners.
The term “Master Gardener” is not one that people can bestow on each other. Sometimes, when we are speaking publicly, we are introduced as ‘master gardeners’ by someone who does not understand the full meaning of the term. Here is the real dirt:
In the 1970’s, Washington State University developed the concept that volunteers could acquire horticulture training to share with their communities. The title “Master Gardener” was borrowed from Germany, where Germans were acquiring titles for developing expertise in various fields. The highest title for horticulture was “Gartenmeister”, which translated to “Master Gardener”.
As the Master Gardener program was starting to sweep across the US in the early 1970’s, Dave Omrod, a plant pathologist in British Columbia was taking note of a problem north of the border – garden center staff were often ill-equipped with the necessary knowledge to advise backyard gardeners. Dave Omrod joined Bill Peters, a BC Horticulture Specialist, to adapt the Washington curriculum to British Columbia. They started with a 6-week course for willing volunteers in BC. It was an instant success.
With help from a handful universities and provincial agriculture ministries, the program moved its way across Canada throughout the 1980’s.
Master Gardeners Today
Throughout the 90’s, provincial governments gradually withdrew financial support which led to the re-establishment of Master Gardeners as provincial, independent not-for-profits, supported entirely by volunteer driven initiatives.
Becoming a Master Gardener
There is no shortcut to obtaining the Master Gardener title, which is what gives them such authority.
- Future Master Gardeners start by writing an entry exam and an interview to assess “public service and volunteerism”, at which point they become “Master Gardeners in Training” (MGiT).
- Once becoming an MGiT, they commit to 30 hours of annual public service, a minimum number of monthly meetings, and an educational component which can take up to three years.
- While a handful of universities offer Master Gardener Certificate programs, regional chapters often have self-study options available to prospective Master Gardeners as a more affordable alternative.
- At the end of the educational component, MGiT’s write a comprehensive exam to become certified Master Gardeners.
- All Master Gardeners pay a small annual fee to support the ongoing activities of the organization.
Why become a Master Gardener?
To borrow an old slogan from American Express, “it has its privileges”: access to “Technical Update” meetings where industry experts share the latest in horticulture, as well as access to a community of passionate, community minded people who share a common interest. It is ultimately the passion for horticulture of Master Gardeners that drives people to pursue this designation and return the dividends, in the form of enhanced horticultural knowledge, to their community.
Where to find them
Master Gardeners are often present wherever gardening touches our lives in Canada.
- Speaking engagements at local horticulture or service clubs.
- In botanical and display gardens across Canada, where they do their share of grunt work (physical labour) in addition to offering their expertise.
- Online, where they offer rich resources and are prompt with answering your questions and over the phone if you prefer the analog approach.
- Look up a seed exchange or a plant sale, where Master Gardeners are often the driving force.
- Schools often invite Master Gardeners to deliver youth education programs.
- Townships often call upon Master Gardeners when seeking advice for greening initiatives in their communities.
In countless ways, Master Gardeners contribute much to the gardening community at large. We believe that Canadians owe a debt of gratitude to Master Gardeners as they have elevated both of our appreciation and knowledge of gardening in our northern climes over the years – the superheroes in our midst.
For details about the Master Gardeners program in Ontario go to http://www.mgoi.ca/.