Teenage years are a time of energy, excitement and new experiences, years of change that contribute to forming a sense of identity and purpose. The Green Spring Master Gardener (GSMG) program is 15 in 2017, and in its teen years it continues to have an enthusiasm of purpose.
The seed for the program was planted in 2002, and its identity was shaped by a partnership with the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE). The VCE is a link between land grant universities and community residents. Before the Civil War, very few college curriculums addressed the problems of citizens who made their livelihood from agriculture. In 1862, Congress passed the Morrill Act which provided for a university in every state that would educate citizens in agricultural and mechanical fields. Today, these colleges are known as land grant universities. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) and Virginia State University are Virginia’s land grant schools.
VCE created the Master Gardener (MG) program to meet increasing requests from homeowners for research-based horticultural information. MG volunteers are trained by experts in their respective fields to provide consumers with up-to-date, reliable knowledge so residents can enjoy the natural resources around their homes. Master Gardeners keep up with the latest in horticultural research and trends by putting in eight hours of training each year in order to remain certified. Green Spring boasts about 150 active Master Gardeners and 30 trainees. They contributed over 9,700 service hours in 2016. Their activities included a Speaker’s Bureau that addressed 171 attendees at six Fairfax County libraries as well as members of the National Capital Area Gardening Study School, the Azalea Society of America and various gardening clubs and groups in Fairfax County.
In collaboration with Fairfax County Master Gardeners, GSMGs brought a basic botany class to 72 fourth-grade classrooms in 21 Fairfax County public schools, homeschool groups and Girl Scout troops, teaching a total of 1,743 students. Other children’s programs include Learn, Explore and Play, an interpretive team for the Master Gardener Demonstration Gardens and Ready, Set, Grow for fourth graders.
The GSMGs man the Green Spring Gardens help desk every Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and the VCE office in Fairfax. They display educational material and answer questions at Fairfax County Farmers Markets and local green fairs, give tours of Green Spring Gardens, hold a yearly EcoSavvy Symposium, and erect instructive horticulture displays in Fairfax County libraries. The GSMGs also have developed partnerships with local organizations. Master Gardeners work with Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, organizing volunteers to work in the native plant gardens and lead tours and educational programming. The latest endeavor is a partnership with the Woodburn Crisis Care Center to improve and enhance a healing garden space and provide education.
The 15-year-old program is committed to providing gardening advice and educational programming for the community. Many of the MGs are professionals either retired or working as teachers, nurses, doctors, university professors and IT specialists. They freely offer their expertise, time and passion to the Green Spring Master Gardener Program because they believe in its value to affect the citizens of Fairfax County and the environment. Educator Lucy Wheelock always said, “The one thing that makes life worth living is to serve a cause.” The GSMGs do just that.
Author Pam Smith is the Community Horticulture Supervisor at Green Spring Gardens.