The LSU AgCenter offers home gardeners opportunities to develop their skills and share their knowledge with others through participation in the Louisiana Master Gardener program.
The Louisiana Master Gardener program is an LSU AgCenter service and educational activity that recruits and trains volunteers to help meet the educational needs of home gardeners in Louisiana.
Louisiana Master Gardeners get to boost their own skills by participating in specially designed educational activities that are part of this LSU AgCenter program. In return, they make a commitment to help share unbiased, researched-based information with the gardening public.
In essence, the Master Gardeners participate in an enjoyable and worthwhile public service experience by helping the LSU AgCenter to provide educational assistance and programs in consumer horticulture issues to other gardeners across the state.
Louisiana boasts more than 1,500 active Master Gardeners who have completed at least 40 hours of intensive, practical horticultural training provided by the LSU AgCenter and have committed to donating at least 40 hours of service to their communities. Started in Baton Rouge in 1994, the program was adopted statewide in 1997 and is currently offered in 25 parishes with volunteer participation in 51 parishes.
Rosemary Funk of Lafayette has been a Master Gardener since 2000 – when she retired and decided it was time to start doing something in the yard. “It’s a wonderful class,” she says. “It’s like going to college all over again.” Funk, who volunteers her new gardening skills with Habitat for Humanity and at Lafayette Community Hospital, says she enjoys “just meeting people and getting new ideas.”
The annual State Master Gardener Conference combines continuing education with opportunities for networking, volunteer recognition and communication among the conference participants. Bringing the state’s Master Gardeners together invigorates the program. Volunteers discover they’re a part of a larger unit and their impact is magnified.
Robert Usher of Luling said he became a Master Gardener because “it sounded like something I want to get involved in.” The retiree has been a Louisiana Master Gardener for several years and says he’s made a lot of friends. He’s part of the River Region Louisiana Master Gardeners – a group made up of about 50 people from St. John, St. James and St. Charles parishes. Among their activities, the group works with heirloom plants at the Vintage Garden at Destrehan Plantation, where volunteers “go at their leisure to weed and take care of the garden,” Usher said.
Experienced and beginning gardeners seeking up-to-date horticultural information can advance their gardening expertise and gain self-satisfaction through volunteer efforts. The volunteer aspect of the Master Gardener program allows individuals to offer their time and talents to enhancing the quality of life for citizens of their communities through the science and art of horticulture. It allows individuals to put into practice what they know and learn.
Colleen Scott of Independence discovered the resource nearly six years ago when she joined the first Master Gardener class in Tangipahoa Parish. Scott is from a farm background, “but it’s different in the South,” says the Pennsylvania native who’s lived in Louisiana since 1982. When she first moved to Louisiana, she had a hard time gardening, Scott says. “Master Gardeners was exactly the thing I needed. The Master Gardener program was more than I thought it would be. It’s very informative.” Scott says she enjoys the continuing education the program provides, and “learning from others is fantastic. It’s made me feel at home.” She uses her Master Gardener skills with 4-H Clubs, local garden clubs, nursing homes, community gardens and “pocket gardens” in local towns and villages.
After completing the initial course of study provided by LSU AgCenter faculty members, Master Gardeners are required to volunteer at least 40 hours of service in their parish LSU AgCenter extension office or in community activities coordinated through the parish office. They may share their knowledge and skills in a number of ways, such as answering horticulture-related telephone calls at the parish AgCenter office, speaking to garden and civic clubs, working with youth or senior groups or participating in community events. After the first year, Master Gardeners are required to volunteer at least 20 hours and attend six hours of approved continuing education programming each year to maintain the title of Louisiana Master Gardener.
“You’re closer to God’s heart in the garden than anywhere else on earth,” says Vivian Neely of Baton Rouge, who became a Master Gardener in 2002. She says she enjoys volunteering and helping make her city more attractive. Neely volunteers at the LSU AgCenter’s Burden Center – “the only place I felt very peaceful was at Windrush Garden,” she says of a difficult period in her life. She helps garden curator Peggy Cox in the Windrush Gardens – planting, trimming and maintaining the plants in addition to volunteering at the kitchen garden at LSU’s Rural Life Museum.
The Louisiana Master Gardener program is part of a larger, national program that began in Washington State in the 1970s. Master Gardeners are all-volunteer organizations sanctioned by land-grant colleges and universities in each state and function as an extension of the college or university. The parent organization in Louisiana is the LSU AgCenter.
People who have the desire, commitment and time to learn – and who want to put their knowledge and skills to work through volunteer service – may apply for admission to the Master Gardener program. Information is available through LSU AgCenter offices in each parish.
Wendy Miller, who lives in Ponchatoula, moved there from LaPlace but is still active in the River Region group. “I wanted to be a master something,” she says, explaining why she first became a Master Gardener. She says she likes the people, likes the classes and likes learning new things. She calls Master Gardeners “a wonderful resource.”
If you answered "yes" to these questions, then the Louisiana Master Gardener program could be for you. If you want more information or would like to apply for admission to the Master Gardener program, contact your parish’s LSU AgCenter Extension Office .
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