For years, I followed a Saturday morning ritual. Walk the dog and head to the Farmer’s Market. I usually walked past the Master Gardener help table. On a few occasions, I stopped and asked a question or brought a sickly leaf for diagnosis. I always got answers and smiles. These were happy people doing what they loved. Being an avid gardener, I thought I’d love to join the Master Gardener ranks, but becoming a MASTER GARDENER seemed intimidating and out of reach.
Master Gardener programs are volunteer programs that train individuals in the science and art of gardening. These individuals pass on the information they acquire during their training by becoming volunteers who advise and educate the public on gardening and horticulture. The first Master Gardener program was founded in 1972 by the Washington State Cooperative Extension in Seattle.
After years of wanting to become a Master Gardener, I went to a Green Spring Gardens’ information session on Master Gardening. I took up the pitch fork and joined. What have I learned? I learned I did not know as much about gardening as I thought. I learned you can’t be an expert on everything – shrubs, soil, fertilizer, propagation, vegetables, pruning and lots more. I learned that there are people who remember all the Latin names of plants. I’m not one of them. There are those who can identify most trees. Not me. There are Master Gardeners who are experts on weeds and native plants. I can’t say I know a great deal on these either. What I learned most is that I don’t have to have all the answers. I can find the answers, and I know where to look. Each year, I learn more and gain confidence.
When I told family and friends that I was studying to become a Master Gardener, I became very popular. Everyone has a lawn problem or a sick house plant. I got calls, texts, and emails filled with gardening questions. My most interesting inquiry came from my sister-in-law, who sent a text along with a picture and the comment, “This ugly thing stinks.”
What was it? I was an informed Master Gardener and quickly texted the answer. It was a stinkhorn fungi (Phallaceae). They pop up unexpectedly, disappear as quickly, get their nutrients from wood mulch, and smell like putrid rotting meal. I felt confident and smug. She, of course, didn’t know that just a few weeks prior, a neighbor had asked me the same question and I had researched and found the answer. She is still impressed. Dr. Joey Williamson from Clemson Cooperative Extension writes, “Mycologists (scientists who study fungi) often describe stinkhorns with adjectives such as amazing, interesting or unique. However, homeowners lucky enough to have these aromatic mushrooms suddenly appear in the yard just before an outdoor party will describe them as disgusting, shocking, foul-smelling or simply gross.” I’ve grown to like this unique mushroom. They showed me that it’s okay to learn more as I help others.
So don’t hesitate to explore the Master Gardener program if you have an interest. There’s always someone who has as much to learn as you do.
See more about Master Gardeners at https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/green-spring/master-gardeners.
Author Gioia Caiola Forman is a Green Spring Gardens Master Gardener.