On becoming a Master Gardener

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Someday, when I’m retired and have nothing to do, I’ll wonder why I was in such a rush to become a Master Gardener at 31 years old.

But here I am, enrolled! One class under my belt! I enlisted my friends Jessica and Jana to go through the program with me, so it’s us and a bunch of sweet retired folks with decades of experience who are probably very curious about why we are there (we want your heirloom seeeeds!).

They call us all interns. But after finishing 14 weeks of horticulture classes, passing a final exam and volunteering 35 hours in the community, my name and “Master Gardener” will be etched on a metal pin that I can wear (… where? …) and maybe the eggplant plants that historically refuse to grow in my garden will finally give me some respect. We’ll see.

The Master Gardener program is offered all over the country, and though the topics are specific to your region, the idea is to learn about horticulture and apply it to any kind of gardening: ornamental, vegetable, floral. (Ornamental and floral might be the same thing, I’m not sure. The first class was mostly about how to get your volunteer hours and where to find the bathroom.) We will learn about soil management, pests and pesticides, best practices, etc. We will not learn about mushrooms — our instructor was very clear about that.

She was also clear that becoming a Master Gardener is not a certification, it’s something you do for personal improvement. So, you know, don’t try to start a landscaping business by slapping “Master Gardener” on your business card.


On our first day of class, we did introductions. One woman said she’s increasingly concerned about the produce she finds in grocery stores, so she’d like to grow as much of it as possible for her family. Others have been longtime gardeners in other parts of the country and are used to, say, the fertile, black soil of central Illinois, but are thrown by the hard clay soil of southern Indiana. Their hairs are grey and their voices are soft. Gardeners are a gentle people.

There were a lot of jokes about clay and gumbo soil and we all had a good laugh. Garden humor!

Why am I taking the class? I have a lovely little garden and I take pictures of the plants and produce like they are my children. I want to grow the best food possible.

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Also, our yard is beautifully landscaped (and documented), thanks to the previous owner, and I want to learn to care for it, and give it my own spin wherever possible.

Finally, I hope that learning more about horticulture will help me become a better food writer. I’m pretty comfortable talking to chefs, but I think I could do better when I’m on assignment with farmers.



And, when I said in my program application that I was excited for the required volunteer hours, I meant it. I’ve tried a few volunteer organizations in the past couple of years, but I haven’t found one that I love. I hope that changes.

When I learn something cool about seeds or soil or sun, I’ll let you know, right here!



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