The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Time to sign up for the Master Gardener program

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

Certain questions haunt our thoughts. Why are they called redbud trees when their flowers are pink? How can you plant seeds for seedless watermelon? Can dogwood trees live once they've been debarked? If you are haunted by "a need to know" and a desire to share your newly found knowledge with anyone who will listen then University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener volunteer program may be for you.

You don't have to be a gardening expert to become a Master Gardener. All you need is an interest in gardening, some time to volunteer in the community, and a desire to share your knowledge with others. The program is more about connections.... connecting people with other gardeners, with their community, and with reliable resources for information.

Master Gardeners are a vital link in getting practical research based horticulture information to the public through the local University Extension offices. The Master Gardener program is nationwide and in several Canadian provinces.

Master Gardeners participate in over 60 hours of daytime training on vegetables, fruits, lawns, diseases, insects, soils, fertilizers, pruning, trees, and flowers. University of Illinois Extension staff and Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences faculty conduct the training. Training follows a Master Gardener manual, which graduates keep as a reference.

Once training is completed, Master Gardener interns have many opportunities to complete the required 60 hours of internship to become a certified Master Gardener.

Volunteering includes answering questions from gardeners in the local extension office. Master Gardeners are not expected to know all the answers "off the top of their heads," but where to find the answers.

Master Gardeners in Champaign County may also be involved in our annual garden walk, give talks to civic groups or work with kids or senior citizens in local community gardens such as the Champaign County Nursing Home, Juvenile Detention Center, and Crisis Nursery.

The Idea Garden at the U of I Arboretum on south Lincoln Avenue in Urbana is a shining example of what volunteers can accomplish. Master Gardeners plan, plant, and maintain the garden and give workshops. It serves as a backyard demonstration garden and a place for experimenting with plant varieties and gardening techniques. It is also a great place to stroll with your sweetie.

Volunteer time fits the specific interests and strengths of the Master Gardener with the programming needs of the county residents. It emphasizes practical gardening experience teamed with the research-based information of the University of Illinois Extension to help people put knowledge to work.

Master Gardeners in Champaign County have regular monthly programs with speakers; take road trips to botanic gardens or power shop at garden centers. Good food and good fun are always a part of the mix. Each year Master Gardeners throughout Illinois get together at an annual conference to share ideas.

Training starts the end of January in most areas but applications have to be in by November 26 in Champaign. Some 2008 training sites are Champaign, Springfield/Decatur, Peoria, and Effingham. To get involved just check with your local county U of I Extension office for details about their program.

For people who have a hard time attending daytime classes, training is also available online in Champaign County.

If you would like an application and more information about the Champaign County program,call 217-333-7672 and chat with our Master Gardener program coordinator Karyn Traum. Or check out our web site.

University of Illinois Extension provides equal opportunities in its programs and employment.

Brighten Your Holidays Program

Wednesday, November 7 at 1:00 pm and repeated at 7:00 pm. Discover how to lighten holiday dishes, make lasting family memories, fashion inexpensive gifts, sample holiday treats, and learn easy flower decorations all for only $5 a person. Register by Nov 2. PH: 217-333-7672 for more information.

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