Wes Gladhart of Metairie, retired pharmacist and devout gardener, spends many a Tuesday afternoon in the LSU AgCenter’s Orleans Parish Extension Office answering gardening questions – free.
He is one of about 400 volunteer Master Gardeners throughout Louisiana trained by LSU AgCenter specialists to extend their educational services.
“Most questions are seasonal so I have many of the answers ready,” said Gladhart, 70, whose particular specialty is ferns.
Of course, there are those unusual calls, such as the woman who wanted advice on how to get the squirrels out of her attic.
“I learn a lot from answering the questions,” he said.
These Master Gardeners, most of whom are women, do this volunteer work because they love gardening. They love learning. And they like telling others what they’ve learned, said Tom Koske, LSU AgCenter horticulturist and the coordinator of Master Gardener training.
The program, which is nationwide, began in Louisiana in New Orleans about 10 years ago. It has since spread to 19 of the state’s 64 parishes with the goal to expand as needed, Koske said.
LSU AgCenter horticulture agents provide 40 to 50 hours of training for prospective Master Gardeners every spring and fall at various locales in the state. All but a handful finish and attain the title, said Koske, who developed the training manual.
Although they pay for the materials, the Master Gardeners do not have to pay for the training. Instead, they must commit to 40 hours of volunteer service for the next year in their parishes.
“Most give far more than that,” Koske said. “Some average about 90 hours. Some never stop. They’re available to help whenever they’re asked.”
Another way the New Orleans-area Master Gardeners serve is helping with the renowned fall and spring garden shows at City Park, which attract 6,000 to 7,000 visitors. The volunteers do everything from laminating signs to checking audio-visual equipment and taking tickets.
“We couldn’t do the shows without them,” said Monica Lear, LSU AgCenter specialist in Orleans Parish. She supervises about 65 Master Gardener volunteers.
Robert Turley, LSU AgCenter specialist in Calcasieu Parish, just finished his first Master Gardener class and certified eight volunteers. They will help him with the Lake Charles garden show and with his demonstration garden.
“Classes are usually bigger than that,” Koske said. “We generally have about 25. Some parishes go together to get that many.”
Master Gardeners do a variety of projects. For example, the Shreveport Master Gardeners put on a popular annual garden tour that raises around $5,000 for supplies and reference materials for their program. They also publish a gardening newsletter.
The New Orleans group hosts a website with gardening advice.
Baton Rouge Master Gardeners have formed an alliance with Habitat for Humanity to help new homeowners get established.
The Tangipahoa Parish Master Gardeners, under the supervision of LSU AgCenter agent Annie Coco, restored a camellia collection at the LSU AgCenter’s Hammond Research Station.
Master Gardener training is open to any adult available to take the classes and do volunteer work. More information may be obtained from any LSU AgCenter parish extension office or by contacting Koske at 225-578-2222, or Tom Koske.
Linda Foster Benedict
(This article appeared in the spring 2001 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)