Master Gardeners provide horticulture knowledge through community service
by Marie Nesmith
Mar 18, 2012 | 2316 views | 0 0 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
On Friday, Carol Partee, left, and Venia Etta McJunkin prepare plants for a customer at a plant sale presented by the Bartow County Master Gardener program and Extension Office. The two-day sale was in honor of Master Gardener Day in Georgia, which is held on the third Saturday in March.
SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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Calling Georgia home for more than 30 years, Kate Posey credits the Bartow County Master Gardener program for helping her maintain a thriving garden with ease despite the state's stubborn red clay and scorching summer temperatures.

After years of researching and experimenting, the Kingston resident, who now is the president of the local Master Gardener program, has cultivated a garden showpiece, with plants like camellias, Lenten roses, daffodils and hostas taking root and flourishing.

"Coming from another state, as a lot of our Master Gardeners do, you really feel you need to have the extra education in order to have plants and trees and other things do well in this soil [because] you're not used to it," said Posey, who became a Master Gardener more than a decade ago. "So this is a wonderful education for people out of state coming in here and learning about the soils and the temperature and that kind of thing and the plants that do well in this part of the country.

"... People have a love for [gardening] but you have to have some way to funnel it. We volunteer our time and our energy and it's wonderful," she said about the Bartow County Master Gardener program. "It's absolutely wonderful. We don't necessarily dig holes but we kind of direct it. We can actually do landscaping. We can design planting areas."

Along with providing its members instruction on residential gardening and landscaping, the Bartow County Master Gardener program also stresses community involvement through projects, such as helping Keep Bartow Beautiful distribute seedlings to the public on Arbor Day and maintaining more than 200 heirloom roses at Rose Lawn Museum in Cartersville. In 2011, the more than 20-member group completed 1,710 hours of volunteer work, with some of their offerings including working in community or demonstration gardens, delivering presentations to civic or garden clubs, visiting home gardens, writing newspaper or magazine articles, and operating plant clinics.

In honor of Master Gardener Day in Georgia, which is held on the third Saturday in March, the local group organized a two-day plant sale with the Bartow County Extension Office, which was expected to raise about $1,000 for the organizations. With events scheduled across the state, March 17 also served as a promotional tool for the Master Gardener program.

"The Master Gardener training program is coordinated through the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension through all the county extension offices in the state of Georgia," said Bartow County Extension Coordinator and Agent Paul Pugliese. "The intent of this program is to train extension volunteers to be able to help out with providing home gardening information, landscaping information and that sort of thing for home gardeners and residential clients. ... [Although], this is not just for anybody. We're looking for specifically a certain set of volunteers with a certain skill set.

"And I think a lot of people don't realize that that's really the intent of this training program," he said, adding the application process is very competitive and also includes a background check. "If you want to learn more about gardening or if you just want it for your own self-improvement, we do seminars on weekends or nights that you can go to that's open to the general public that has nothing to do with being a Master Gardener volunteer."

With this year's Master Gardener training wrapping up this week, the next opportunity to receive the certification will be in 2013. Typically, the classes will meet once a week for 12 weeks, with morning and afternoon lectures at the Bartow County Extension Office, 320 W. Cherokee Ave. in Cartersville.

"I tell folks it's kind of like a semester of basic horticulture in college," Pugliese said. "It gives you the basic foundation for gardening and troubleshooting insect and disease problems, weed identification, all those skills that are necessary to be a good home gardener. And then, of course, there is a midterm and a final exam. You do get tested and, of course, you have to pass that to become certified as a Master Gardener.

"Then the first year after you go through the training, you're actually considered a volunteer intern through the Extension Office, and you're required during your internship that first year to give back 50 volunteer hours to the Extension Office. ... [Along with community projects], it could also include working in the Extension Office as a volunteer as well. After their first 50 hours and passing the training program and the exam, they get certified and then to remain active as a volunteer they have to give back 25 hours every year thereafter indefinitely."

For Pugliese, coordinating the Master Gardeners and helping them learn more about their interests, are some of the most rewarding aspects of his job.

"I think one of the most enjoyable parts of working with Master Gardeners is the variety of people that we get to work with -- all different backgrounds, all different interests, all different skill levels," he said. "Some people have never picked up a shovel before. Then some people have been gardening and landscaping for many, many years. So you get all different skills and all different interests but what brings all these people together is their common interest in gardening and nature.

"So that's one of the fun things that I enjoy doing. And of course in my job, I'm a teacher. That is essentially what I am, so it's fun to watch them learn and pick up new skills. That's one of the more fulfilling parts of my job is teaching about gardening and horticulture."

For more information about the Master Gardener program, call the Bartow County Extension Office at 770-387-5142 or visit www.caes.uga.edu/extension/bartow.