Master Gardener

The Master Gardener program is a great way to learn more about gardening, meet new friends, and get involved in civic projects.  Conducted throughout the United States, the program usually is managed on a county level through state/county extension agents. Interested gardeners receive a manual and horticultural training from horticulturists and experts in the field. In return, they volunteer to assist the community with a variety of activities such as staffing plant clinic booths, answering phones, teaching, gardening in community areas, helping youth or elderly with gardening, etc. The program was initiated as a means of extending horticultural and pest management expertise of the state extension office to the general public. Usually the fee is the cost of the manual and a promise to volunteer and continue with education for a fixed number of hours annually. Becoming a Master Gardener is like joining a gardening club with many extended learning opportunities. Below is information for the Washington DC metropolitan area. More detail is given for Virginia simply to compare/contrast programs across counties and to explain the commitment in detail; Maryland and Washington DC are just as similar.

Virginia

The Virginia Tech University manages the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) program which has extension agents at every county. The extension agent manages the county Master Gardener program. The following is a snapshot of five Master Gardener programs in Northern Virginia to give you an idea of the application deadlines, times/days programs are offered, cost, and the commitment in terms of hours. For example, if you work full time and can only attend evening classes you may find a program that offers evening classes and does not limit registration to county residents. Or some programs have one class a week instead of two thus extending the education over a longer time but making it more manageable.

In Fairfax County, there are two Master Gardener programs because so many people are interested. Green Spring, part of the Fairfax County park system, manages a Master Gardener program that requires a commitment of 100 hours in the first year. The classroom training is held at Green Spring in September and ends in November, usually two three-hour classes per week. Afterward, a 50 hour internship is required (volunteer work). After the first year, the Master Gardener status is maintained by remaining active in the program as a volunteer for 20 hours per year and participating in 8 hours of continuing education in horticulture. The orientation meeting is held in May and applicants are interviewed in the summer. Contact Pamela Smith, Community Horticultural Program Coordinator, (703) 642-0128, pamela.smith2@fairfaxcounty.gov; http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring/gsg-mastergardeners.htm

The other Fairfax Master Gardener program has classes at Merrifield Nursery at Fair Oaks. The classes are January through March, one day a week for 3 hours, during the day or during the evening. To become a certified Master Gardener, one has to complete 30 hours of classroom education per year for 3 years, and 24 hours of community service per year for 3 years. Once a person becomes a certified Master Gardener, he/she has to complete 8 hours of continuing education each year and 24 hours of volunteer work each year. Contact Maryellen Leister, 703 821-1146 meleister@aol.comhttp://www.fairfaxmga.org/default.aspx

In Arlington County, classes start in the beginning of September, Tuesdays, from 9:00 am to 3:30 pm, and last 12 weeks. Classes are held at the Fairlington Community Center and other local garden venues. There is no application deadline and acceptances into the program are determined by mid-August. Residents of Alexandria City and Arlington receive preference and all training and internship hours must be completed in the Arlington/Alexandria. After 75 hours of classroom training, the trainees must complete a 60-hour internship to hone their skills in core Master Gardener educational projects within one year of training. Once the classroom program, internship, and student project are completed participants become certified Master Gardeners. To maintain certification, they must volunteer a minimum of 20 hours and attend 8 hours of continuing education programs every year.  Contact the VCE Master Gardener Horticulture Help Desk at (703) 228-6414 or e-mail mgarlalex@gmail.comhttp://mgnv.org/about/become-a-master-gardener/

In Loudoun County, the process starts in the fall and classes start in February. The Master Gardener program requires 60 hours of classroom education and 75 hours of the internship. The classes are held at the Extension office at 30 Catoctin Circle in Leesburg. Certified Master Gardeners must complete 25 volunteer hours and 8 hours of continuing education. This program has an early bird special where if you apply by November you get a discounted tuition fee. Their application form online has quite a lot of information. Call (703) 777-0373 or (703) 857-4575 for more information or e-mail at loudounmg@vt.edu; http://loudouncountymastergardeners.org

In Prince William County, 70 hours of classroom education and 50 hours of internship are required. To remain a Certified Master Gardener you must volunteer 20 hours per year and complete 8 hours of continuing education each year. For more information, call (703) 792-7747 or e-mail master_gardener@pwcgov.org; http://www.pwcgov.org/government/dept/vce/Pages/Master-Gardeners.aspx

Maryland

The Maryland Master Gardener Program is administered by the University of Maryland Extension and each county has a coordinator and its own schedule of classes. The web site for general information is http://www.extension.umd.edu/mg or e-mail jont@umd.edu. For a table of county coordinators’ contact information, see http://www.extension.umd.edu/mg/contact-information-master-gardener-programs

Washington, DC

The Master Gardener program is managed through the University of the District of Columbia at 4200 Connecticut Avenue, NW. The coordinator is Sandra Farber Bandier, (202) 274-7166, sfarber@udc.edu. Below are the links for the program description and application form.

https://www.udc.edu/college_of_urban_agriculture_and_environmental_studies/master_gardening

https://www.udc.edu/docs/cfs/About_the_DC_Master_Gardener_Program.pdf

Demonstration Gardens

Demonstration gardens are a great way to learn what works in the Washington DC metro area and how to manage our local issues, such as deer. The gardens are open to the public, every day, from dawn to dusk, free. Each county that has a Master Gardener program usually has at least one demonstration garden, managed by the volunteer Master Gardeners. To find such a garden, call your local county Master Gardener program representative (your local extension agent) and ask if they manage a demonstration garden. Some have several to showcase various environmental conditions and some use the garden as a place to teach or host workshops.

The Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia (Arlington and Alexandria) have five demonstration gardens:

  • Glencarlyn Library Community Gardens, corner of S. Third and S. Kensington Streets, off Carlin Springs Road, Arlington
  • Simpson Park Gardens (E. Monroe Avenue at the end of Leslie Avenue, next to the YMCA in Alexandria
  • Organic Vegetable Garden, Potomac Overlook Regional Park, Marcy Road, Arlington
  • Rock Quarry Shade Garden, Bon Air Park on Wilson Boulevard and N. Lexington Street, Arlington
  • Sunny Garden, Bon Air Park, Arlington

The Prince William County Master Gardeners manage a very large “Teaching Garden” at St. Benedict Monastery, 9535 Linton Hall Road, Bristow, VA. Within this large garden are mini gardens to illustrate certain conditions or issues, such as a deer resistant garden, shade garden, vegetable garden, and pollinator garden.

The Loudoun County Master Gardeners have Ida Lee Park on Ida Lee Park Drive, Leesburg, VA; which they also use as a teaching garden.

The Montgomery County Master Gardeners have a demonstration garden at the Agriculture History Farm Park, 18410 Muncaster Road, Derwood, MD.

The Prince Georges County Master Gardeners are fortunate to use the Kitchen Garden at the Riversdale Gardens and House Museum, 4811 Riverdale Road, Riverdale Park, MD.

Check out my tab “Public Gardens” on my site, http://www.pegplant.com, to learn of more public gardens in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington DC.

Written and produced by Peggy Riccio and pegplant.com. Posted September 2016; copyright Peggy Riccio and pegplant.com

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