Becoming a Master Gardener

Walker County Master GardenersKathy and Jim Elder

People often ask what is a Master Gardener, or what do we do? The first thing that I tell everyone is that we are volunteers who have a wealth of horticultural information or resources. We don’t go to college and major in horticulture, but we do go through a process that gives us access to a ton of information to help our community.

I thought it would be best if becoming a Walker County Master Gardener could be described by two of our newest members, Jim and Kathy Elder. They are graduates of the 2019 Intern class.

“Most of our lives included gardening, starting with both grandparents and parents”, says Jim. He notes that after eight different residences, they had gardened, purchased plants/trees and landscaped a variety of homesteads. Jim continues, “We also acquired a few references and asked hundreds of questions of friends, neighbors, and nursery personnel. Our discovery of the Master Gardner program was originally in Montgomery County. After relocation north, to southern Madison County, one of our neighbors active in this local Master Gardener program pointed us to this program. Probably similar to most everyone, we had been doing all this work over the years without having participated in any real formal education!”

All Master Gardeners in the state of Texas fall under the guidelines and rules of the Texas Master Gardener program. There is a fixed curriculum and number of volunteer hours to be completed before someone can join the Master Gardeners group in their county or set of counties. The 2020 class starts on January 16 and concludes on April 23. There are 15 total classes. This year’s interns will be using a new manual that is very exciting.

Jim noted, “Orientation class and the program overview were very interesting. Our Class of 2019 started in January with a full slate. When one thinks about three months of time, and about 100 hours total of commitment, it can seem pretty daunting! However that breaks into only one day per week, and a few extra activities like plant sales. All of these are group participation and really fun. Opportunity to acquire the volunteer hours required for certification are many.”

Jim points out, “Everyone should be pleased to find that the Master Gardener program dwells on safety and environment. Significant information is available, and presented regarding the attraction and protection of the some of the most helpful components of our life and food cycle such as insects, bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.”

Kathy says, “It’s great to meet new people, do things that you haven’t done before, and find someone that you can talk to about plants and processes.” She has had success with a cutting of a Confederate Rose (Hibiscus mutabilis), and is enjoying the two Japanese Maples she has planted. She has recently been working with the Propagation Team on various cuttings. She added, “Propagation peaked my interest during the Intern class. You can take one plant and make so many plants from one clipping.” She says she is now doing a number of clippings from her own plants at home.

Jim added, “There are plenty of opportunities to interchange new seeds and/or starts for taking home. Everyone can find someone from the local chapter, who are specialist/experts and just waiting to help.”

Since the class size is limited to 24, Master Gardener Interns find themselves working in teams. Each team is assigned an Intern Bed that is their project throughout the course. Jim said, “Each group utilized the collective knowledge to set objectives and plan a raised bed garden plot. Then plant, maintain and harvest your plot based on a chosen theme. It was an interesting and fun project to finish the course certifications.” All produce harvested from both the Intern beds and the Vegetable Beds are donated to various food pantries or congregate eating sites in Walker County.

Jim and Kathy are planning several projects for their personal property with what they have learned as Master Gardeners. They have an existing greenhouse they will be renovating, but also using to house vegetables through the winter. They are in the process of planting a variety of trees (oaks, pecans, and bald cypress) to use as a windbreak on their post oak savannah property.

Jim concluded, “The soul of the Walker County Master Gardner is a garden dedicated, close knit group of knowledgeable, new friends.”

To sign up for the 2020 Walker County Master Gardener Course, call the AgriLife Office at 936-435-2426. Orientation will be held on Thursday, November 14 at the office located at 102B Tam Road, Huntsville, TX 77340. Space is limited to 24 participants and is a first come/first paid basis. For more information, call the number listed.

The Walker County Extension Office is also on Facebook. WalkerCoTxAgrilife has been established to provide updates and information to Walker County residents and landowners on a timely basis. The Walker County Master Gardeners are also on Facebook! Check out both of these Facebook pages and hit "like" to join. You may also email us at: walkercomg@gmail.com

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