Texas master gardeners training begins Aug. 12

July 15, 2004
JEAN WOFFORD & MARIA SOBCZAK
Victoria County Master Gardener Interns

The Victoria County master gardeners - through the Victoria County Extension Service - offer our readers the opportunity to join our ranks to acquire the distinctive Texas master gardener certification through training and community service hours.

The program, according to Dr. Doug Welsh, extension horticulturist and Texas master gardener coordinator at Texas A&M University, is the envy of all other gardening groups, and of other programs throughout the United States.

Master gardeners are members of the community who take an active interest in their own gardens, landscapes and gardening activities. What really sets them apart from other home gardeners is their special training in horticulture. This, in fact, has propelled them into being the envy of other gardening groups because they have the network of Texas A&M University and Texas Cooperative Extension in the background of their work and the forefront of their knowledge base.

When the first master gardener program was conducted in Texas in 1979 in Montgomery County, few could have predicted it would spread throughout Texas and blossom into one of the most effective volunteer organizations - and certainly one of the most respected gardening and horticulture groups in the state. In the 1990s, the Texas master gardener movement exploded, fueled by the program's success and visibility.

No wonder Victoria County Master Gardener Association (VCMGA) continues to have inquiries about master gardener training and certification in this area. Victoria County master gardeners volunteer in educational projects to benefit the community, all the while meeting requirements for Texas Master Gardener Association recognition. To date, VCMGA has received 16 awards in statewide competition, including two first place and various second, third and honorable mention designations.

Victoria County's first training program was in 1997 with 12 enrolled in the program.

Today there are programs in more than 110 Texas counties with more than 5,500 trained and certified volunteers. The Victoria master gardener program has trained more than 125 master gardeners, most of whom remain certified and active and have given back almost 7,500 community service hours in the Victoria program in the last year alone.

Beginning Aug. 12, Victoria County Extension will offer its eighth year of training in a 17-week master gardening class. Training will be 1-5 p.m. each Thursday, with the class ending Dec. 9. The cost of the class is $135, which includes a Master Gardener Handbook detailing management of various landscape and horticultural gardening topics. It will also cover the administrative cost of required screening to work with local area youth.

Classes are taught by some of the most knowledgeable in the state - Texas Cooperative Extension specialists, county extension agents, and Texas A&M University System professors. This year, training will include material from one of our local well-known experts, John Fossati of Four Seasons Garden Center. Some of the topics that will be covered include:

Plant propagation.

Turf grasses.

Organic and regular gardening.

Entomology (bugs!).

Pesticide safety.

Perennials.

Seasonal color.

Tropicals.

Vines.

Fruits and nuts.

Water gardening, bog ponds and plants.

Butterflies.

Soils.

Trees (including palms).

Plant pathology.

You will also be exposed to other interesting subjects such as gardening Web site accessibility and Power Point presentation.

Through the master gardener program, you will be privy to the latest in horticulture training, and encouraged to learn about and propagate plants that will be sold to the public for the benefit of master gardener educational projects.

You can be trained to write for this column and try your hand at digital photography, and help train and docent for the jointly sponsored Annual Garden Tour ... and a whole lot more.

If you are accepted into the master gardening program, you will be expected to attend all classes and fulfill a volunteer commitment of 50 hours. In exchange for training, participants are asked to volunteer their time to the county extension program to better educate the community. At least 50 hours of volunteer time within one year following the training are required to earn the title of master gardener. Volunteer service for master gardeners varies according to community needs, and the abilities and interests of the master gardeners.

This is the completion of our first year in the master gardening program. We came to the training program with differing backgrounds, but both with the time and interest in gardening. Both of our appetites also were whetted with what we read about the program in the article in "The Gardeners' Dirt" column last year.

I (Jean Wofford) had never known anyone other than professionals with whom I could "talk gardening." I had friends who did enjoy flowers, but most had others doing the "dirty" work for them.

It has been a delight for me to finally be a part of a group of real gardeners who are not professionals, but who are just as knowledgeable in horticulture. Master gardening is not only a garden club, of which I have been a member for years, but it is that - and much, much more.

When I (Maria Sobczak) retired from teaching last year, everyone asked me what I would do with all of my "free" time. I knew that I wanted to devote time to gardening around my home, something I never seemed to be able to do while teaching. The moment I saw the article about becoming a master gardener, I knew my destiny. I was thrilled when I received my acceptance letter, and I have thoroughly enjoyed my experiences, especially the opportunity to work with so many knowledgeable and gifted members. My advice - try it, you'll like it!

You should ask yourself: Is the master gardening program for me? If you answer "yes" to the following questions, it very well could be.

Do I want to learn more about the culture and management of many types of plants?

Am I eager to participate in a practical and intensive horticultural training program?

Do I look forward to sharing my knowledge with people of our community?

Do I have enough time to attend training and to complete volunteer work?

Do I enjoy being around other gardeners?

Determine your own answers to these questions. If you can make the commitments as outlined above, join the gardening group with enviable knowledge and training. Call the Victoria County Extension office at 361-575-4581 and ask for the master gardener coordinator office for additional information. Look for master gardener brochures with green training class inserts at local nurseries and feed stores. We hope to see you in the fall class beginning Aug. 12.