So, what do we think of “Master Gardeners”?



Recently there was a lively garden-writer discussion on Facebook that began with this question:  “I’m a member of several professional garden groups and a recurring theme that comes up is anti-master gardeners. Why?”

Boy-oh-boy, did people have answers.  One opined that Master Gardeners represent a “stale and stagnant status quo,” another had seen them selling known invasives in their area, but the main complaint against Master Gardeners was about their very name.

Bad Name

I totally agree with the commenters that “Master Gardener” is a misnomer and I weighed in to say that attending classes (where attendance wasn’t even required), completing a take-home test and then performing 40 volunteer hours does not make anyone a “master” at anything.  There were people in my class (in DC) who’d never put a plant in the ground in their lives, and after MG “training” and certification, still hadn’t.

That “master” in the name leads to problems like:

– People thinking it’s on the same level as “Master Carpenter,” a tittle that represents actual mastery.

– Apparently, it can go to people’s heads.  “Some MG’s take that title too seriously and are extremely pompous.”  “Extremely pompous about the mostly abstract info they have.”

– It makes people boring:  “They use the title of ‘Master Gardener’ as a badge of all-inclusive expertise. Plus they tend to be really really boring.”

– The name is often mistakenly assumed to indicate a higher level of knowledge and training than actual horticulturists!

– From yours truly, a complaint that America’s Master Gardener Jerry Baker is a known quack who’s made beaucoup bucks off that self-proclaimed title.  (Which I ranted about back in ’06.)

Better Name?

Garden writers seem to agree it’s time for renaming. “If they’d rename the program to something more honest, that made it clear that the level of education is meant for homeowners and not as a professional certification, I’d have fewer sore feelings about the program.”

“Horticultural Research Volunteer” was suggested as “something that allows the public to know that they are not BETTER THAN US.”

Taking Work from Garden Writers

Some complain of MG writing columns competing with paid (hopefully) garden writers.

And a related pocketbook complaint is that you can’t use your Master Gardener credential for commercial purposes.  “A pure interpretation of this means that you can’t put MG on your resume, on the cover of your book, on a byline or author bio for a magazine or newspaper article (for which you get paid), on your business card, and so on.”

Coming to their Defense

“We are not volunteer gardeners nor do we compete in any way with professional horticulturists or designers; we provide RESEARCH-BASED gardening information to the public. We are taught during our training that it isn’t necessary to have all the answers; it’s only necessary to know how to find them. ”

And several writers sang the praises for MG programs in their area.  (And I’m always happy to hear about MG programs that are nothing like the one in DC I’ve ranted about.)

 No Surprise: It Starts in Washington

Responding to a suggestion that the garden writer group rename the MG program, one writer answered that the name can only be changed at the national level (by the Department of Agriculture, presumably) and continued:  “I think the lack of consistency form place to place is one of the problems w/the program as a national institution.”  Others echoed this complaint about the lack of consistency across the country.

And we heard from Canadians about what the program can be:  “In Ontario, we’re required to take a horticulture certificate from one of two universities (three courses, usually taking two years of distance ed) and write a qualifying exam before being accepted into the program. Each year, we have a compulsory technical update, and monthly meetings, of which we must attend at least four, include one hour of education. Thirty hours of volunteer time annually (most do more; I did nearly double that last year) is essential to remain in the program. It’s a shame there’s so much anti-MG feeling.”

What do YOU think of Master Gardeners?  And can you suggest a better name?

Weigh in, and I’ll try to get a response from the USDA folks who have jurisdiction over the program, from the Extension Master Gardener bloggers and from the Garden Professors.


  1. I couldn’t agree more that I have seen more “mis-information” coming out of the Master Gardener program than I have from just about anywhere else–and that includes the internet blogosphere.

    That being said, there are always exceptions to the rule. The person who runs the program in our state is extremely well-qualified so it’s not for lack her knowledge. It is, as you point out, the qualifications of most of those coming into the program–and the lack of time that others have to devote to the program.

    Certified amateur gardener or something like that might be a better moniker–although in some cases it wouldn’t truly be deserved.

    • I have a degree in horticulture and design as well as 20 years experience running my own garden design/plant/build business and two years of organic farming and before that trained as an integrated pest management (IPM) scout.

      And I’ve had the experience several times where an MG asks if I’m a Master Gardener, as if that was the pinnacle. When I tell them “no, I’m a horticulturist” they sadly didn’t know what to do with that information yet I could see the wind come out of their sails. From that I gather that the MG training does not address where MG’s rightly fit in the hierarchy of gardening skills or knowledge. And I’ve had people–MGs– who know my background apologize for what they believe to be their own, undeserved title.

      My recommendation and desires:

      1) Don’t put the term “Master’ or “horticulture” or “certified” in the title due to the modest amount of education provided in the US under the present program. It’s generally a good program that rises and falls with the quality of the ext. agents responsible for it. But none of the above three terms actually fits if one is honest.

      2) I think a new title like “Garden Volunteer” is more than sufficient and certainly more accurate than most suggestions I’ve heard over the years.

      3) The training should include much more info about scientifically proven organic options. There’s plenty of data to support the effectiveness and reduction in hazard in employing many organic methods.

      • I’m a Master Gardener, and what I’ve been taught is from horticulture professionals from our Land Grant University, which makes it research based. I also talk about the benefits of organics. Yes, a lot of MG’s take the title way too seriously, because they think far too much of themselves. When I talk to people I tell them MG title sounds a bit much, but that I love to garden and share what I know. As with all things, you will get opinions from a-z, we all have one, each is entitled to their own, just don’t cram your’s down my throat please.

  2. My problem with MG program is it is supposed to help alleviate the expense of running a county “extension service” by having a “hotline” staffed with MG’s….well I called once and recieved no call back- you can only leave a message.
    My other problem with MG’s is that they are idiots. As a professional nurseryman (I know we have a bad rep sometimes too) we mostly consider them nin-cum-poops and bored housewives! They are no help to the gardening public at all. I know because I am in the public every day answering hard questions and finding the answers on the spot.
    Another problem I have with MG’s is they mistakingly think they know something! They actually think they have a title! It’s really just a joke on these poor people who have an interest in horticulture.

    • Monica,
      As a garden retailer in a semi-rural area (read, not much highly sophisticated inventory or demand for “fancy pants” goods) we are inundated several times a week with requests for cultural advice and identification of plant problems…as a trained MG myself (who is restricted from advertising this fact) I know the drill of how to refer folks to the local extension office, and for tougher problems either one of the regional specialists or the state pathology lab etc.
      However, when I do that, the majority of the customers give me the look that says, “are you kidding” and I find out they have tried to get an answer from our local MG’s thru the extension but they either were either given conflicting or useless/vague info or were ignored. So, they end up on my plate and as a good retailer, I do try to give good customer service w/o “giving the store” away, in the hopes of making a sale. But I am beginning to find that some customers are abusing my help in that they always ask and then never buy…so for those folks the “free” pipeline is shutting down.
      This spring I have again been asked to give a talk at the MG spring seminar. I do it as it is a great way to get our name out there marketing-wise, but it does require alot of prep time (handouts, Powerpoint).
      When I was in the landscape trade (designing/estimating), if a client dropped the info that she (I’ve only known 2 MG guys) was a MG it usually would set bells off: uh oh, here we go….and I’d have to get my MG “game face” on and also have to forewarn and appease the landscape job foreman as the MG’s could sometimes drive them a little nuts. And yes, we would add-in the PIA factor into the job cost to cover the extra time that would result in what at some instances could become a MG initiated Landscaping Spanish Inquisition.

      • Kmac, don’t give up on those people seeking free advice- it is our policy to treat them as any others in hopes they will come back and buy something at our store- heck they have already set foot in your store, and they must realize the value of your shop over say Home Depot or wherever they get cheap plants from. With repeat offenders or one-time obvious abuse (never seen them before, and they are very demanding of me to explain their problem etc etc) I usually try and steer them in the direction of add-on sales of fertilizer and natural pesticides to fix their problem. I think they feel a little guilty when I make them tell me where they got their plant- and I can use this to get a sale- ever so subtly… But your reputation as the person with some answers far outweighs any abuse suffered in the process.

    • “My other problem with MG’s is that they are idiots. As a professional nurseryman (I know we have a bad rep sometimes too) we mostly consider them nin-cum-poops and bored housewives! They are no help to the gardening public at all. I know because I am in the public every day answering hard questions and finding the answers on the spot.
      Another problem I have with MG’s is they mistakingly think they know something! They actually think they have a title! It’s really just a joke on these poor people who have an interest in horticulture.

      Really Monica??

      ‘They’, like myself, are for the most part hard working VOLUNTEERS who are trying to HELP people. Sure, we all have varying levels of knowledge, but so do people in the nursery industry. Bad advice can be given regardless of whether or not the person giving the advice is being paid or not. One thing I’ve never done is made sweeping generalizations or resort to insulting people, especially people who aren’t doing it for a living, just out of their love of gardening.

      “We mostly consider them nin-cum-poops and bored housewives!”: First, I am not stupid, and second I am a male in my mid 30’s.

      “They are no help to the gardening public at all.”: Honestly, think before you type.

      “Another problem I have with MG’s is they mistakingly think they know something!”: Well Monica, maybe I don’t know as much as you or most who work in the field, but what I do know I am more than happy to volunteer my time to convey that information to those that actually think we are a help to the gardening public. I ask nothing in return. You ask for a sale. You look at your advice as an “add-on sales of fertilizer and natural pesticides to fix their problem”.

      Think first before you indiscriminately trash a group of people. I, like many MG’s, take time from my schedule, take time from work, and drive long distances only to try to convey what knowledge I have, and to learn in doing so. Is that so wrong?

      • Brian, you took the words right out of my mouth and I’ve been on both sides of the fence. I worked at a nursery and garden center for ten years and I am a master gardener. I tried to be honest to customers when giving advice but there’s no getting away from the fact that I’m trying to make a sale. As a master gardener I don’t have to worry about making a sale and can be completely blunt. I would put my knowledge base up against most nursery owners, even Monica, brilliant though she may be 😉 None of the people in my MG class were professionals but they were all dedicated volunteers eager to learn as much about gardening as they could. We all had areas of special interest and learned as much from each other as from the wonderful extension agents that ran the program. I would also like to know what special skills it takes to be a garden writer or nursery professional………is there some kind of special certification for that?

      • As a Master Gardener in the Midwest, I am appalled at all the insults hurled our way! The group I attend class and volunteer with are passionate hands-on gardeners! We put in countless hours at garden related functions and work in public gardens, answer questions, help wherever we can. Many of us work full time at other jobs and fit this all in our spare time. We don’t expect thanks or accolades, just a little respect!

    • Monica,
      If you want people to take your opinions seriously, you shouldn’t speak in such absolute terms as “they are idiots,” and you should be so sexist as to refer to them as “bored housewives.” You must have a really big chip on your shoulder. I don’t like the term “Master Gardener” but I’ve met all kinds of people who are Master Gardeners and whose opinions I respect. I know Susan Harris who asked the original question. She’s a Master Gardener, but I don’t consider her an idiot or a bored housewife.

  3. Let’s look at how Master Gardener programs work in an ideal world (okay, my ideal world). University Extension specialists (faculty with PhDs in their specialty) would develop and maintain peer-reviewed, science-based curricula in *current* and *relevant* plant and soil sciences. County programs would use this curriculum and apply it to projects of interest in that county. Any additional educational material suggested by counties would have to go through the specialists for approval. Yes, it’s top down, but if you want to have a uniformly credible program you have to have expert oversight.

    In Washington State (where Master Gardeners were “invented”), university support of county extension programs has been gutted over the last few decades, thanks to state budget cuts. The quality of the county programs is completely dependent on the counties; those counties that use WSU specialists and other scientists for their programming (and fact checking) have better programs.

    I’ve spoken to Master Gardener volunteers all over the country and in Canada. They are tireless, enthusiastic, and by and large really want to know the science behind gardening. Yes, there are probems (mostly caused by lack of public university funding), but the value that these *volunteers* bring to their communities far outweigh the drawbacks.

  4. As a county horticulture agent, I have run the program for the last 12 years in my county. Yes, there are some MGs that come away with little actual knowledge. But some of those people are the very ones, I’ve come to find out, who are movers and shakers.

    Two of my MGs developed and got built (using no university or taxpayer money) a Children’s Garden at our local library.

    It’s fantastic — my MGs had the right people in the room and got a tremendous little garden completed with money from all local businesses. Now, that to me is what being a Master Gardener is all about.

    I’d like them all to be able to man hotlines, but it’s a hard job trying to get people to tell you the truth about a problem they’re having. I have to do it all the time and I wouldn’t feel comfortable letting my MGs do that kind of consulting.

    Lastly, I love my MGs. They make our community better, no doubt about it.

  5. Master Gardeners can do a lot of good, and I’ve met many worthy of the name. But when I took our state’s MG class, I found that it focused heavily on “conventional” gardening practices. For example, we spent roughly twelve hours on how to use synthetic pesticides and herbicides, and only three on how to vegetable garden. And the recommendations for veg gardening—kill, till, amend, till again, etc.—were largely make work that could be completely replaced in a more holistic system.

    The issue with MG is less the volunteers, many of whom are truly love to garden and to share that love, and more the curriculum and system itself. I was already a passionate, self-educated gardener, and I learned very little that was new to me in the MG class. As an organic gardener, I found 1/3 of the curriculum to be straight-up worthless. The “science-based, best practices” come from large land-grant universities, many of which are heavily funded by old-guard agricultural and chemical companies.

    Gardeners who truly wish to “master” the field know that it’s a lifelong pursuit, one that involves reading, experimentation, and ongoing love of working in the dirt. You just can’t do that in a short-form class and 40 hours of volunteer work.

  6. I have been involved with the master gardener volunteer program in my state for the past 32 years. Several years ago we decapitalised the title and added volunteer at the end to emphasize the volunteer aspect of the program. Once it is understood that this is a University Extension volunteer program, it should help with the image that master gardeners are not in the same business as professional horticulturalists.

    There are no degree programs for garden designers, nor garden writers or many of the landscape businesses for that matter. The training for master gardeners varies wildly throughout the country. However, it is always a University Extension program, and the quality of education I have observed has been extremely high.

    • The degree program for garden designers is a degree in horticulture.
      Writing is a degree in journalism or English.
      Business is a Bachelor’s or MBA

      To say there are no degrees for gardening based careers is not true.
      Just because you are a writer though does not mean you know gardening.
      The TROLL

      • Dear Greg, a horticulture degree is about the practical knowledge of how it all works….a Designer is looking at the natural world as an artist. Designers look at overall lines of the garden, traffic patterns, and what we would like to see and feel whilst in our gardens. A good designer will have the practical knowledge of a horticulturist, and hopefully some hands-on experience with installing gardens so the designs actually make sense on the ground. There is nothing in a horticulture or even a typical Landscape Architect degree that trains us for designing; the ideas behind some garden styles(art history), the feeling of certain elements(feng shui),the chosen colors and textures & their effect on a person (psychology) the plant choices (practical & artistic) etc etc. These are lofty artistic ideas that escape most practical horticulturally minded people. I believe this is why we have such poor & boring gardens…but this is another subject all together.

        • and you’re saying that all professional nursery people have these kinds of educational backgrounds………I beg to differ…… my years as a nursery professional, I’ve known many “horticulture professionals” and the vast majority don’t know squat!!! You cannot make assumptions about any group of people!!!

        • I do need make comment on this.

          Garden design can be taught in both horticulture and Landscape Architecture Programs, this is dependent on the head of the Hort. department and the focus of the faculty(some can be very research driven while others are practice driven; some are production and breeding driven others are design. In my personal case our Hort department had a huge turf program, green house, production hort, research, and a small but growing landscape design/business program, that focused on gardens and residential design and the LA program focused on the broader art of design and development of space and unfortunately minimally on specific characteristics of plants and actual installation.

          I see this within the green professions frequently. Hort people don’t think LA’s know anything about plants, LA’s don’t think hort people should call themselves landscape architects. Urban foresters aren’t consistently recognized by traditional foresters and urban foresters pull there hair out over what Landscape architects and planners do to trees in their designs. Organic specialists don’t always like research hort. I could go on….

          So to have a volunteer program imply that their body of volunteers are masters just adds one more layer of competition/ conflict. I like the idea of “Master Gardener Volunteers ” a small change that communicates a large difference. As an ISA Certified Arborist I appreciate Tree Stewards, Tree Keepers, Tree Tenders and all the other tree based volunteer orgs I’ve met. They understand that they know the basics but that a Certified Arborist, climber, consulting Arborist or Masrer Arborist will have the grater knowledge and skill base (usually).

          It takes training, passion, personal experience/mistakes and continuing education to become a master of anything. I think the real masters are humble and don’t tote their mastery.

          That being said I have seen both extremes in my experiences with volunteer training. The amazing and the down right frustrating. I still remember sitting through a MG Arbor Day presentation that must have been developed in the early 90’s. The information was horribly out of date and it hurt me to have that misinformation shared to a large audience. subsequently I tried to make some comments after the presentation in private that the presentation may need some updates…. I was blown off and scolded. (my personal horror story)

          On the flip side I have seen fantastic volunteers at the Morton Arboretum plant clinic who could ID “insect damage and slimy things” faster than I could. but I know they have great leadership and training from dedicated professional staff at the arboretum.

          In my personal case I did not make time to become a master gardener as I was earning degrees in horticulture and Landscape architecture in college (trying to become potentially “more valuable” in either field). After passing the certified Arborist exam and practicing I had, had enough experiences with other professionals in the field frustrated with master gardeners that I realized I had passed the point of needing the class or the title.

          I still volunteer a large portion of my free time with local orgs here in Indiana.

          I am happy to see this discussion.

          I hope my insight and anecdotes were helpful in this conversation

    • Hi Anna. I’ve found that, in general, not many folks seem to know about the Masters of Landscape Architecture (MLA) degree programs offered all over the country. I’ve heard some misinformation or partial information in some of these comments, and so I wanted to offer some information,for clarity. These programs are accredited, and graduates who wish to advance in their field study for and take exams (similar to the process required for a lawyer, architect, doctor, etc.) for the priviledge of being legally able to call themselves LAs–they also are required to earn continuing education credits. This title is regulated by states. I believe this is one reason why people who may be highly educated in horticultural/landscape design, but who have not graduated from an MLA degree program, call themselves landscape designers. Legally in most states you cannot claim to be a Landscape Architect without being registered as such. In fact, even if you have an MLA degree, you can’t legally call yourself a Landscape Architect before you have that exam under your belt. Landscape Architects are required to study some kind of garden/landscape history–similar to an art history class–as part of their training. Classes differ, but that’s part of the training at all accredited schools. I’m biased (yes, I’m an MLA, I work at a landscape architecture firm, I have not yet passed the exam), but I do think there is value in such a degree. Even a degree is not a guarantee of expertise, though it can be a pretty safe indicator. If people are attached to the title of Master Gardener, perhaps requirements such as continuing education (I think this is especially applicable in the gardening/horticultural world, where new information and scientific advances are coming out all the time) and accreditation are warrented. I thoroughly agree with Linda Chalker-Scott’s stance on curricula developed by PhD-holding experts.

      • And obviously, I don’t know a lot about MG programs, but I’ll stand by my comment that being reviewed and accredited might be helpful… it sounds like there is a lot of inconsistency in MG programs, and perhaps not a lot of resources for oversight…

  7. Aa faculty member of a “large land grant university” I am really tired of being tarred with the “funded by old-guard agricultural and chemical companies” label (I have no such funding, for the record). Please note that my comment refers to *current* and *revelant* plant and soil science. This means information geared towards home gardens and landscapes, urban greenspaces, and other *non-agricultural* sites. (The book I developed on sustainable landscapes and gardens, for instance, has a chapter on Urban Soils, which are entirely different from either agricultural or native soils.)

    Finally, there are many, many garden products and practices out there which are neither science-based nor sustainable, but have the patina of being “natural” or “environmentally friendly”. That’s another body of information that well-run Master Gardener programs can impart to their volunteers.

    • We have a neat call in show here in Nebraska that airs weekly on PBS. It’s staffed by hort profs and extension folks. But 95% of what they advise has some chemical application. Got a pest? Spray it. Having a bad day? Spray it. Hardly ever any talk about more sustainable methods for this region. That’s a problem — especially as they train master gardeners to go forth and spread the good word on 1960s points of view. Amen.

  8. I know it’s all individuals and there are some marvelous Master Gardeners out there, but man, I have seen too many cases of “Well, *I* am a Master Gardener and *I’ve* never seen this be invasive,” with the air of one playing a trump card. Yeah, well, I’m NOT a Master Gardener, but I AM pulling out Leatherleaf Mahonia all over my woodlot, so maybe you could listen to the person talking and not plug your ears with your own credentials? (True story. All I could do was snap “Then consider me your first data point!” which undoubtedly did nothing to educate the MG in question. I was gratified to see it classed as invasive in many states just south of us not long after, but I imagine dude is still recommending it to all and sundry.)

    I think the problem really is the name–“Well, I’m a Certified Horticultural Volunteer!” doesn’t give one nearly the same ring of authority when you’re trying to claim your own experience trumps everybody else’s.

    (Mind you, it’s plants–if I live to be a thousand, I expect they’ll find ways to prove me wrong every year, so you’d think anybody who actually KNEW plants wouldn’t be surprised by anything…)

  9. Most Master Gardening Programs these days SUCK. Ulster County NY has a good one DUTCHESS COUNTY the worst IMHO.

    Found out from a professor of hort who told me the program has become so de-centralized that the shots are called at the local level. So bad is the Albany County NY program that an extension agent on a call in radio program would tell callers to “go to a garden center and ask for insecticide” or fungicide etc for every problem. he said he was forbidden to recommend specific names.


  10. My brother gave me the MG class for Christmas the first year I moved to Montana, and I was stoked to learn about our local climate, and about gardening here in the high desert. I was so disappointed. It was essentially a basic botany course (I did environmental bio as a minor in college, so that wasn’t useful), the guy teaching it just dripped with contempt for the people who’d called him for help in the past, and for all organic practices. I didn’t even take the exam. It might be better now — the guy who taught it has, sadly, died — I think maybe his wife took the program over.

  11. My main point of contention is the pointed question that comes up every so often at an intial client meeting (I’m a Horticulturist/Landscape designer with 20 plus years under my belt). It usually goes like this…as we’re walking the gardens, discussing plants, care & problems “Yes, but ARE you a Master Gardener?” *grrr*

    At times, I feel that the general public’s opinion (at least those who have horticultural leanings) of the Master Gardener title is so heavily weighed that it devalues the degree of Horticulture.

    • Anna,
      I can relate to your post. I’m a landscape designer, and also a gardening coach who helps people one-on-one with their gardening issues. And I do also, occasionally, get questioned if I’m a Master Gardener. Yes, I reply, but then I inform them as to what EXACTLY an MG is/does. Not that we are MASTER gardeners (the skill level we’d expect of a master carpenter, master plumber, etc.), but that we are trained to be master researchers and information distributors about horticulture issues that affect residential gardens. We may not be actual gardeners (though many of us are), we are more like librarians.

      MGs are trained, essentially, be residential horticulture reference librarians. And unfortunately, the ‘approved’ reference materials which each program’s volunteers are authorized to consult are often outdated or incomplete or organized so as to make it very difficult to find. I believe this is a budget thing for the most part.

      Yes, a name change would be very helpful. Off the top of my head, how about something like: ResHort Resource Program with a tagline something like — Your Gardening Library or Residential Gardening Reference. Which leads to another possible names: RGR Volunteers, Residential Gardening Resource Center, Center for Gardening Knowledge, GardenSmart Volunteers.

      GardenSmart Volunteers — We’re horticulture info nerds. … speaking for myself, of course. 🙂

    • Truly, though, Is it a problem with the master gardener title being well-known, or is a problem that your titles are not well-known and understood by the public? Perhaps the title is so well known because master gardeners do tend to be involved in their communities?

      This whole discussion – complaining about “Master Gardeners” who run around and act like jerks – well, you all kind of sound like pots calling the kettle black.

      Honestly, I have found the gardening industry is full of jerks – and a lot of really really mean people and pompous people and people who act like jerks – no matter what their titles are. In general – garden-people are not people-people. A quick read of this thread will show you that. But that has nothing to do with what training anyone received. This issue of fuzzy qualifications/titles is not unique to gardening – just about every industry has these sorts of issues; in healthcare, look at the issues between Physician’s Assistants, Nurse Practitioners, midwives & doctors. Or in pet care- the issues between Behaviorists, Veterinarians, Accredited Dog Trainers, and Certified Dog Trainers – KA, and Petco Dog Trainers. Nowhere else do these groups of people gang up on and PERSONALLY ATTACK volunteers in their industries. …Although I hear Candy stripers are real a-holes and the folks walking dogs at the humane society are just housewives who regret their life choices.

      PS: I would really like to know which retail shops you all work at…

  12. I think we’ve found out that all MG programs are not created equal — and that’s a shame. That’s one of the definite downsides, the dilution of the program to such an extent that there are no teeth. Even in my own state, I know this occurs.

    What should they be called? They are volunteers. Extension Volunteers. They are definitely not my assistants (I am a county hort agent), they volunteer when they can. Volunteer has to be part of a new name, if it comes to that.

    All MGs must pass a test (at least that’s supposed to happen). Volunteer hours are required (at least that’s supposed to happen). And yearly CEUs are highly encouraged (required in my county). A program run the right way is a good program…call volunteers whatever you like. That’s immaterial to me.

  13. The overwhelming majority of these VOLUNTEERS are pretty amazing people who give back to their communities and are doing so through gardening. Look past the name “MG” and learn about the program on a broader basis (not just in your neighborhood), and understand the training, and the fact that they are volunteers who are excited and eager to learn more about horticulture. I’ve not seen anything in any literature that classifies these volunteers as “experts” and the majority of them would definitely shy away from that notion. The EMGV program is a name for an Extension program, just like 4-H, Master Composter, Master Money Manager, etc.

    I recently spent aweek with 18 EMG volunteers in a small village nursery in Ecuador, collecting seedlings, weeding, planting trees at a school, and other tasks in order to help the area protect their water supply. These volunteers paid their own way and committed their time to this effort (which you can see @

    Overall, I would say that EMG volunteers are pretty amazing people. Pam Bennett, State MG Volunteer Coordinator, Ohio State University Extension

  14. Well I am a master gardener in that I’ve taken the course (mandatory attendance) and a test and I do a minimum of 12 hours of continuing education and 25 volunteer hours (every MG I know does many more than that), but I am hardly a master at gardening (is anyone?). In fact when I have friends ask me a gardening question that I don’t know the answer to and tell them where to find the answer or offer to look for the answer for them, I get a certain amount of grief about how I can be a master gardener and not know the answer. So then I have to explain that that’s not what it means.

    Anyway … it’s good program with the potential to be a great program depending on the people involved in it at a regional level with a very bad name. I actually wouldn’t mind the term being used but reserved for a very specific and high level of education, etc. For general people who have taken the program and continue to volunteer/take additional courses like myself, a new name is needed. And here’s where I’m supposed to throw out a really great idea for what that name should be. And I have none.

  15. Let’s keep in mind that judging people as a group is rarely, if ever, a good idea. Master Gardeners are a large and diverse group. Some are humble, some are snotty. Some know what they are doing, some don’t know which end of the plant goes in the ground. Most are a combination of these two extremes. The one thing that is true about Master Gardeners is that they are people. Painting them all the same color, be it gold or black, won’t present a clear picture.

    That said, I went through the Master Gardener program, and the main thing I learned is that the title is meaningless, yet it carries with it some implied, hyperbolic authority that is most likely at the root of many of the problems people have with Master Gardeners.

    Sincerely yours,
    Master Commenter

  16. Extension Master Gardener Volunteers are people who have chosen to seek out additional training in order to volunteer to help others. In North Carolina alone in 2012 they logged 160,792 hours and documented in-kind contributions of $1,410,559. This “Train-the-Trainer” program was created to extend the outreach of Cooperative Extension Horticulture agents enabling them to have a broader impact in their communities. Extension Master Gardener Volunteers serve in a variety of capacities including answering questions, hosting events and garden tours, creating and managing demonstration gardens, leading youth gardening programs and many more.

    Certainly we could come up with another name, however this name is 40 years old and quite an investment has been made in marketing and developing name recognition.

    I am sorry that some of you have not had great experiences with your local program. I encourage you to share your concerns directly with your County Extension Agent so they have an opportunity to address them.

    I have been involved with the Extension Master Gardener program in two states for almost 25 years as a volunteer, a county agent, and as a state coordinator. The vast majority of my experience has been outstanding. I have tremendously appreciated the opportunities to grow and to serve.

  17. So far I have scheduled 10 master gardener groups on my 3-month book tour around northern and central Florida in April through June. As a group, master gardeners are enthusiastic and receptive to new information. I love speaking to them and they purchase a lot of books.

    I also think that my talks further their education and they may be less likely to spread those old gardeners’ tales to the public. Several times on my previous tour, people have told me afterward that they learned more from my talk than the rest of their program, but my reply is that all the training they’d received before has prepared them for my material.

    So I think many of you are asking the wrong questions. Why not ask what you can do to tap this amazing resource of enthusiastic gardeners who are willing to volunteer their time? Why not ask what you can do to make your local programs better? Why not ask how you can partner with them to accomplish something great for your community.

    • As a “Master” Gardener of 10 years, I appreciate Ginny Stibolt’s comments about asking the wrong questions. I have had many people come up to me and ask me just what is a Master Gardener?? My answer always surprises them because THEY think I’m this expert on all things gardening (which would take several lifetimes to learn, as the more I know about gardening, the more I realize I have so much more to learn). I always tell them we’re volunteers trained by the University (UCDavis in our case) to be of help to the Cooperative Extension’ staff by aiding the general public in home gardening questions and concerns. This always baffles them as they thought we had degrees in all aspects of gardening.

      I agree that the name is at fault, especially since Jerry the quack can use the name at will (they didn’t patent the name when they designed the program back in the 1970’s). Yes, there are ‘snobs’ and other negative personalities in our group, but there are different personalities in all organizations, especially those that are as large as the Master Gardeners – we have over 3,500 in California alone!

      I do believe our program would be better served with an overhaul, but with all the cutbacks in funding that has been happening for years, I doubt this will even be considered let alone implemented. I suggest that if anyone has a negative encounter with a Master Gardener, that they contact their County Extension office and talk to the Farm Advisor that’s responsible for the program and let them know your thoughts. You don’t have to name the individual Master Gardener, but let them know your dissatisfaction as that’s the only way change might occur.

  18. Garden Mentors?
    Community Gardeners?
    Community Garden Volunteers?

    Any free resource for community gardeners should be welcome. The “Master” in the title does imply something beyond volunteers completing a short course though. So change the name.

  19. There is SUCH a wide variation in programs and like Steve A. said, it’s rarely a good idea to paint such a large group with a broad brush. I would be curious to know how many of us garden writers, landscapers, designers, garden center owners, etc., are MGVs or have gone through their own local programs.

    Very few industry professionals or others outside my home area know that I’m a MGV because none of you have need of a MGV’s services. No MGV in our local program thinks we are in any way MASTER gardeners. Perhaps it’s an issue of semantics – like the terminology in The Apostle’s Creed which states, “We believe in the holy catholic church,” where “catholic” doesn’t mean the Roman Catholic church, but the universal church of believers. (Rough analogy, I know.)

    I think a name change would go a long way toward resolving the misunderstanding about what MGVs really are and what they do (and DON’T do).

  20. I am a self-taught gardener who thought about becoming a “master gardener” but was turned off when I met a few. They didn’t seem to have anymore knowledge than me.

    • I agree with the article because it’s true that once you complete the course, you called a “Master Gardener” and frankly, it’s kind of embarrassing, because people assume you are the last word on gardening information and it’s just not true. I, too, was a self-taught gardener when I took the course, and really did believe my knowledge would be ramped up after the educational piece, but it’s not so.

      That being said, my fellow MG volunteers log LOTS of hours tending public garden areas, helping out with food pantry gardens, helping to create rain gardens, staffing the children’s area at the state fair and working with seniors at the nursing home on gardening-themed projects. Meanwhile, it’s really hard to get volunteers for the Help Line because we pretty much recognize the limits of our knowledge and feel uncomfortable with this. So, go easy on us. We joined up because of an enthusiasm for gardener and a willingness to devote many hours (100 initially, 25 each year afterwards minimum) of labor. Please remember that the volunteers didn’t name the program.

  21. Here’s a comment from Raymond Eckhart that wasn’t allowed (too many links?) so I’m trying:

    My recommendation to all those out there ragging on volunteers, is to take the plunge and become one – you might learn something, and have a different perspective. And if we’re going to question motivations – how about paid garden writers writing reviews of gardening books because they share the same book agent, or publisher?

    Even a respected (and wonderful regular read for me) garden writer of the caliber of Margaret Roach still recommended putting coarse material like pebbles in the bottom of containers to improve drainage.

    The garbage coming from natural organic enthusiasts about compost tea and its magical unicorn benefits is baffling to anyone who also reads the Garden Professors, and I’ve yet to hear natural organic enthusiasts ever acknowledge that “natural” pesticides (or fertilizers for that matter) can be more toxic and polluting for people AND the environment than their synthetic counterparts. Master Gardeners are taught, and try to provide to the public the science of integrated pest management, or IPM, not a gardening philosophy of naturalness, in all its Hobbesian savagery, which starts from the unassailable axiom that natural and native is better, regardless of any evidence to the contrary.
    And one of the biggest promoters of planting invasive species are the Permaculture enthusiasts as Dr. Chalker-Scott noted discussing the highly praised book Gaia’s Garden. (See here, here, here and here).

    And there are plenty of independent nurseries out there still making a profit from selling Butterfly Bush, as well as the Barberries, Japanese Spirea, and Burning Bush. And I’ll note, that the science of invasiveness is hardly settled, nor as black and white as some of the native-only, anti-immigrant fundamentalists would have you believe. I believe even Dr. Gillman and Dr. Chalker-Scott take different positions on the issue, as they’ve shared with the rest of their readers.

    And while I share the snicker at Jerry Baker, the lone reference to Biodynamics on The Rant I could find, is hardly dismissive.

    Pot, Kettle, folks.

    So, I strongly urge you Susan, to try again in the University of Maryland system. Jon Traunfeld is an excellent manager of the program, and I’m sure your experience will be quite different than the DC one you’ve ranted about several times now.

    • Ray, sorry your links didn’t work when I pasted them.

      Now a question – what do you mean by this? “And while I share the snicker at Jerry Baker, the lone reference to Biodynamics on The Rant I could find, is hardly dismissive.”?

      I regularly praise the MG programs in Maryland and am working with the PG County MGs on a project to teach gardening in my town. I’m busy enough without transferring my MG certification to Maryland.

  22. If Master Gardener was always followed by Volunteer, I think it would better clarify just exactly what it is. No major name change required, but no more thinking that Master Gardeners are actually professionals.

    • I agree with Liz. Add “Volunteer.” And hopefully change it to something other than “Master” (too male in etymology–and most in these program are women volunteers).

      I went through the program, about 15 years ago, and it was EXCELLENT (in Colorado). It was a huge amount of work, which I was thrilled about. 13 weeks, one very intensive day a week, (we were told NOT to miss a day!), tests every week, 40 hours volunteer time, etc.

      We got an overview of everything (starting with climate) and we learned that most every “problem” stemmed from climate, poor soil, wrong plant, wrong cultural practices–usually a combo of the above. Even back then they were beginning to get away from offering chemical solutions to problems (and this is something I personally refused to promote, ever, in the office, though I kept that to myself). I discovered that with our “land grant university” a lot of their “research-based information” was funded by the big chemical companies. I learned this on my own when we were studying pesticides, and other -cides (and noticed all the information sheets had a certain chemical company’s name on them!)

      Don’t lump everyone together–I devoted my life to promoting gardening after going through this education. The first day in class I told everyone I wanted to be a garden writer, and I was there because I wanted to do one thing–learn.

  23. People become Extension Master Gardener Volunteers to give their time to helping their communities connect with university horticulture resources. They like the lifelong learning and the community of gardeners. They form friendships. They like to help. For some, it’s a goal they have had in their lives for many years.

    In 2009, the USDA conducted a survey of the Extension Master Gardener programs across the US. At last report, there were about 100,000 individuals across the USA who donated just under 5.2 million hours of their personal time annually to help kids get into gardening and put home gardeners in touch with university gardening and hort resources (

    5.2 million hours …. that is the equivalent of almost 2500 full-time employees. At $21.79 per hour (, this volunteer time has a “street value” to our US communities of over $113 million. Pretty valuable.

    None of us in the program today (I think) chose the title “Master Gardener” and, knowing my colleagues on the Extension Master Gardener national committee, I doubt any of us would have gone this route if it were up to us. However, as Lucy Bradley stated, a great deal of time, effort and funding has gone into making “Master Gardener” a very well-known and popular Extension resource. Changing it would require a national – and international – commitment. (Incidently, it comes from the German title “Gartenmeister” –

    As far as the quality of the curriculum? No one sees the need more than those of us who are state coordinators. On a positive note, we collaborate across state and county lines, sharing resources and expertise as well as our educational materials. In my opinion, this has been one of the most valuable growth spurts in the program in recent years.

    And … running a horticulture volunteer program is not all about horticulture. It involves the many facets of volunteer management and not a lot of staff. Likewise, counties are strapped for cash – who isn’t? For various reasons, we no longer have county agents in every Minnesota county and only 6 FTEs (full-time equivalents) of extension educators and program coordinators to help run the MG program. Thus we rely on over 35 MG volunteer leaders. These are people who – as volunteers – have taken on the responsibility of leading their local county group and serving as our connection

    • Continuation …. (sorry about that)
      Thus we rely on over 35 MG volunteer leaders. These are people who – as volunteers – have taken on the responsibility of leading their local county group and serving as our connection in the state office. These people are giving their time because they see the positive impact of the program on people’s lives and those of the individuals involved. That’s admirable.

      People who give of their time – at any level – deserve our respect for their contribution whether you agree with them or not. Before being critical, remember that in the end, we are all trying – the volunteers, university folks, the industry – to better the world and people’s lives through with gardening, horticulture and science. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail, but we are all on the same side.

      • Well I have to agree Julie, that any effort towards a horticulture education should be applauded and supported- we need more people to be involved in their landscapes. It is not perfect- (nothing in horticulture seems to be unless you look at it through a macro-lens like God himself!) but at least it IS.

  24. As a long time gardener, and short time Master Gardener, I have to say I agree with many of the points already made. The title is terrible, and many MG’s know very little about gardening. But then I also know quite a few who volunteer to share their considerable expertise tirelessly, and humbly. So I would think that any sweeping generalizations about the program or about MG’s themselves are patently unfair.

    I suspect there are about as many snooty, pompous and boring garden writers as there are Master Gardeners. I actually know one local MG who writes a weekly column for the local newspaper. Her column makes for good mulch in the garden, but usually not for good reading.

    Humbly, as always.

  25. As a master gardener, note the non-capitalized title, I am glad to hear discussion on the subject. I finished the course amazed that they would call it that. I went for the wrong reasons I soon found after joining. I was new in the area, did extensive gardening, sometimes designed gardens and was an herbalist but wanted to meet people of like mind. I did not realize the program expected exhaustive hours of unpaid labor to the community. Although that is a beautiful idea, those of us who were working a full week were incredulous. Perhaps the title Gardner’s Friend would make more sense.

  26. Interesting topic. I think the problem comes with assumptions of what a Master Gardener is and isn’t. The training is basically to serve them well when answering the garden advice hotline and regards pest, plant disease, trees, and lawns.

    I have on dozens of occasions been asked whether I am a Master Gardener. “No, but I’ve gotten past my 20-year apprentice gardener stage!” is my response, I don’t have that sort of time, but ask me ANYTHING!

  27. I am not a gardening professional nor a master gardener. Recently, I’ve come to believe that the Master Gardener moniker means participants must be over the age of 65. The program certainly caters to those who are retired. In my area all master gardener training programs the past few years have only been offered during the day when most folks are working. The program in my area seems outdatedly antiquated and administered by an underfunded government agency that is slow to embrace change.

    Before I became obsessed with gardening I didn’t realize Master Gardeners was a volunteer program. I assumed it was a post degree advanced certificate program for horticulturists. It wasn’t until I was desperate to learn all I could about gardening that I researched and discovered it’s true mission. I was shocked. I had no idea a county Extension office existed and I certainly had never utilized their services. No one else my age (under 40) had ever heard of the office nor the services they provided either. I do not know the demographics of clients served by Master Gardeners and the Extension agents but I suspect them to be agricultural professionals and folks over forty. Right or wrong folks under forty turn to the internet for their horticultural information. The volunteer efforts of Master Gardeners are virtually unknown by Generation X, Y and younger.

  28. I was amazed at the amount of spirited dialog in the comment section – both positive and negative. I’ve enjoyed Extension services since before I became an MG when my boys were in 4-H in California (Nevada County). I got my MG and Master Composter through the Cornell Extension in ‘95 and then had the opportunity to connect with Extension and volunteer my services in New York (Tioga County), Utah (Cache County), Connecticut (Tolland County) and now in North Carolina (Johnston County) – and I was learning and growing all along the way. I helped plant wildflowers on Hiway 17 in NY, I helped students at the Utah State Student Gardens learn how to plant their vegetable plots. I volunteered at the Auerfarm Education Center in CT and worked on a creating a children’s garden there. I worked at county fairs and other projects too numerous to mention. I got an advanced MG certificate in sustainable gardening through the Univ. of Connecticut Extension. I went on to get a Sustainable Landcare Professional Certificate through the Northeast Organic Farmers Assoc. I’ve taken special classes on Rain Gardens, Plant Pathogens and many, many more. So many opportunities to learn and grow!

    My point is that in every place I went I learned through Extension, met wonderful people (gardeners are the nicest people), got to take part in so many different interesting projects and had the opportunity to connect with my community in so many ways. Like Beth said, Master Gardeners can be dedicated, hardworking, innovative and totally invested in their projects. In Wilson County, near me, the MGs have raised funds to create a Botanical Garden and most recently added a Children’s Garden. My most recent volunteer experience has been volunteering for the Extension Social Media Project which has opened up a whole new world for me. I’ve learned so much over the last year that it seems impossible that a little over a year ago social media was an enigma to me. The number of volunteer hours donated to a variety of projects across the nation numbers in the millions. If translated into money the figure would be substantial – even in today’s inflated monetary terms. The mission of Extension to disseminate research information to the public is still vitally important. It’s much more than bored housewives or professional pride.

    As for the financial gutting the program that Linda mentioned, here in North Carolina, MGs love their program and, working through the North Carolina Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Assoc., have banded together to create an endowment fund to help grow and support our MG program here. I talk to people all the time who are looking forward to taking MG classes once their children get into school or go off to college or they retire and finally have the time to devote to it. It’s a vital program with many good projects still ahead of it.

    Like the comments before mine have said, all the programs are different, different requirements to acquire and maintain MG standing, different agents, different interests, and different problems. I like the idea of pre and post tests – not so much for use as a pass or fail – but to gauge the effectiveness of the educational program or teaching methods. As for the name Master Gardener, as Shakespeare said, “What’s in a name?” Yes, I like the MG title but, as it’s been pointed out, it’s only as good as the person behind it and that, I think, can be said of everyone.

  29. This is such a depressing conversation to me. I am 35 years old, and decided to become a master gardener a few years ago because I was/am obsessed with learning all I can about the topic.
    I agree, I am definitely no expert, but I am a passionate gardener who is eager to learn. Last year I became co-lead of the native gardens at our extension center just so I could learn more about gardening with natives.
    The point that the mg’s cater to an older demographic is so true–I’m pretty sure that I’m the youngest mg in our group. However, it’s been such fun getting to know other people who share my same interests, and I feel that working in the extension center gardens and getting to know my fellow mg’s is a great way for me to learn even more.
    Because I’m enthusiastic about being a master gardener, it’s depressing to learn that mg’s are perceived to be know-it-all’s, pompous, arrogant, or basically “idiots” when it comes to gardening. Sharing that I am an mg has always been something I’ve been proud of because gardening is so important to me and I feel that being an mg volunteer shows my commitment to the subject. But after reading all of this, I’ll be hesitant to “proclaim” this so-called “title” anymore, for fear that the person I’m talking to will be inwardly rolling their eyes and, like the commenter above stated, thinking, “Here we go.”

    • I agree, Nicole. It’s no fun to hear people think we are pompous idiots, but not everyone thinks that — and maybe some of us are. I guess it’s a good reminder to keep humble and keep learning so we can keep sharing what we do know with the public and not be ashamed to say, “I don’t know, but I will find out.” Keep up the good work!

  30. Here in the Monterey Bay area of California the MG’s are a force for good.
    The MGs run a well attended Smart Gardening Fair in the early Spring that provides a venue for local gardening groups to show their wares and attract new members. The Fair is open to local vendors – mostly smaller nurseries and and garden related business to show their wares. The Fair has a Speaker’s Tent where local experts provide sound ecologically sensitive advice to a large and receptive audience.
    Later in the Spring the MGs organize a popular Gardening Boot Camp, where for a very nominal fee you can learn real gardening skills from knowledgeable experts.
    In the Fall the MGs stage a Garden Tour – probably the premiere gardening event in the area. For a fee – it’s the groups principal fund raiser – you can see some very attractive and successful private gardens that are normally not open to the public.
    With the money they raise the MGs provide grants to local social support groups and local schools with gardening activities.
    All of this takes a lot of time and effort – and the activities listed above are not all that they do. And while it’s true that MGs sport a lot of gray hair, but they are the ones that have the time and are willing to make a committed effort to spread the gospel of good gardening. They also know a hell of a lot about how to make things grow.

    • I agree, the Smart Garden Fair is outstanding! Have attended several times with permission from my manager to leave work on a saturday (required working hours in the nursery biz). We have a very enthusiastic gardening culture on the Central Coast of California- and everyone seems to be expert at some level.

    • Ed- Kudos to you for stepping in this mess. I am shocked at some of the posts, although others are right on the money. The title Master Gardener comes from the land grant universities, who apparently care enough about community outreach to support these programs.
      I know many garden center employees, organic growers, garden designers, landscapers, and horticulture educators who proudly include earning a Master Gardener certification as part of their education.
      While it’s true that some extension Master Gardeners are true “masters” of gardening, others merely have a drive for volunteerism and a desire to educate the community as to research-based practices.
      For those of you who don’t agree with the scientific information, you are, of course, free to do whatever you want.

  31. Wow – where to begin with this? First, I completed the MG program here in my county in NY 12 years ago, and at that point in time, at least, it was a very diverse and dynamic group of people. We all learned (and still do) from each other. I will agree that in some instances the courses were somewhat outdated even then, but I did learn nevertheless. Unfortunately, because of repeated budget cuts, the phone desk was discontinued, and now the focus seems to be almost entirely on 4-H, agriculture and gardening with kids (most definitely NOT my area of interest), so I maintain only the loosest association with the MG program now.

    In general, I feel that Cornell’s educators were pretty top-notch. While we were encouraged to regard ourselves as educated and knowledgeable, we were also kept on a fairly short leash. We were strictly cautioned against recommending ANY products by name, or any treatments or home remedies for pest control that didn’t get OK’d first by the powers-that-be. In fact, it’s been my understanding, and perhaps this is incorrect, that if I drop out of the Master Gardeners permanently, I would no longer be able to use the title, despite having completed the training.

    As far as the issue of snobbery goes, I take strong issue with the people here who have tarred the MG’s with that brush. I’ve experienced very little snobbery from most gardeners I come across, but what there is has come from the “professional” class – and these folks also seem to have the attitude that if you’re not getting paid for what you do, it counts for nothing. I’ve also seen the complaint from these folks that MG’s are taking paid gigs away from them. Not necessarily – perhaps if you people were more approachable and less condescending, you might get more jobs. As it happens, I write a gardening/green issues column in my small local paper – and I don’t get a dime for it. I talked my way into it because I saw a need for it and no one was providing it. I also give talks to garden clubs and other civic groups for little money, because they can’t afford the “real experts”.

    Having said all that, onto the name. I agree, the name and quite possibly the entire concept needs revamping and standardizing. While something like “Extension Volunteer Horticulturist” and some of the others suggested are cumbersome, they might be a bit more accurate – and take the twist out of the knickers of the professional class.

  32. IMHO: stop snipping at other people. Instead, go out and do something worthwhile in your community.

  33. I am a Master Gardener. I have always felt the term “Master” was a little pretentious, but WE didn’t name the program. Our training is 12 days of 6 hour classes, one day per chapter. We are required to pay for the training. We are also required to take 10 hours of continuing education and volunteer a minimum of 30 hours per year. We have our experts at our University to call on using our digital diagnostic system. It is often difficult to answer the questions “what is this insect and what is wrong with my plant” over the phone with only a verbal description. We sit at our local farmers market to answer questions, we grow food for the food pantry and senior center. We grow plants and take divisions using our own funds for a plant sale with the proceeds going back to the extension to fund future projects and the 4-H. While there may be some people who are “know it alls” aren’t those people in every walk of life? I also volunteer for the local conservation foundation, my forest preserve and Cantigny. The extension offers Master Naturalist classes, again for a fee, to teach more organic and environmentally sound practices. As a Master Naturalist you are also required to volunteer 30 hours per year.
    I have also continued my education personally by obtaining an Associates Degree in Horticulture, and certifications in sustainability and design. I believe that 99% of the Master Gardener volunteers are well meaning people who are trying to be helpful. As far as all MG’s being over 40, when you are working full time, and raising a family you are volunteering for your children’s interests and don’t have time for gardening. After I retired, I threw myself into all things Horticulture with a focus on sustainability and environmentally sound practices. I grow my own food, don’t use chemicals, grow natives and try to conserve water. I feel that these practices are more beneficial to the planet than ornamental horticulture that uses 60% of our water resources.
    I appreciate a spirited debate, but this just seems to be people sitting at their computers criticizing other people for volunteering??????

  34. I have a degree in Ornamental Horticulture and have been doing landscape design, installation and maintenance for 25 years. My only interaction with master gardeners has been the Haywood County, NC program in the last few years since I moved back to the mainland. The most general thing I can say about them is that I consider them my peers.

    I have several master gardeners who are my clients. I help maintain and improve their gardens. Initially I was a bit shocked by some of the questions they asked me, but once I learned what the program really was it made sense.

    Overall what I saw were avid happy gardeners who were willing to volunteer their time to help other gardeners. That is a good thing. They put on a local garden tour every other year that I enjoy attending. Of all the volunteer projects they may do, the garden tour is mainly what I see.

    My experience is that by far the number one gardening question people are going to ask is, “What is wrong, (eating, won’t bloom, dead) with my plant and what should I douse it with to fix it?” I have a degree and 25 year of experience and I don’t always have a pat or good answer to that question. There are too many environmental factors to consider and the problem isn’t always obvious. It could take major detective work to figure out sometimes. Often the best answer may be, it doesn’t matter. Toss it and plant something else. Why should a master gardener know any better than me?

    My own dear mother is always tormenting me with these kinds of questions. This is a woman who was born to gardeners, married a gardener and has been gardening the current garden we share for 25 years longer than I have. When I have to say I do not know why this particular hosta is failing to thrive, her response is, “You should know. You went to college and have a degree.” Aargh!!!

    If I was a master gardener I would be better trained to direct her to sources of information that might answer her questions.

    Gardening, horticulture, growing vegetables, forestry, etc., is all about a complex, interactive, dynamic living system. No person can have all the answers. I learned a long time ago I am no expert. And that is why master gardeners are my peers. They are gardeners just like me.

    The one common complaint I have heard from them about the local program is that they really wanted to learn more plant ID skills and were disappointed when that didn’t happen in the classes. My plant knowledge is one of the key things that makes me valuable to them as a gardener they can trust in their gardens.

    To all the master gardeners reading here, what you do is good and valuable work. Don’t give up or be hurt by the discussion. Just heed what I think is the main problem being pointed out and that is a misunderstanding by the public and clearly the horticulture industry as well of what you do and the skill set required for the job. That isn’t an insurmountable problem to fix.

  35. Well, the comments seem to be drifting into topics I have no experience in, but as to Master Gardener, I think the basic premise is a good one, but it seems the training is obviously very uneven. I took a class from a local MG and came away feeling like I or some of the other attendees could have done a better job of answering the questions that other students asked. But she was sincere and helpful, and had a genuine concern for learning as well as teaching about gardening in our local climate. I like the idea of “Garden Guide” . . . the idea that anyone is a Master of something should be held to a higher standard.

  36. My main complaint with master gardeners is that many of them feel compelled to give definitive answers when people ask them questions (maybe because of their title). Those answers are are often either definitely wrong, probably wrong, maybe wrong, or sometimes wrong.

    In other words, they should be trained to first ask lots of questions about the site or plant in question, and then, most importantly, to say “I’m not sure. Let me take your name and contact info and get back to you.” Then they should ask an expert, or consult an expert resource to get good information.

    If they must give an answer on the spot, at least have reliable website links handy to offer as part of their immediate replies. These days most people have smart phones with tag apps which can scan a direct link to the state or county extension office or extentsion “pamphlet”.

    • “In other words, they should be trained to first ask lots of questions about the site or plant in question, and then, most importantly, to say “I’m not sure. Let me take your name and contact info and get back to you.” Then they should ask an expert, or consult an expert resource to get good information.”

      That’s exactly how I was taught during my MG training.

  37. Clearly, the term “Master Gardener”, with respect to having put in a few hours in a classroom and community service, is a misnomer. Since it can take many years of experience through trial and error and/or apprenticeship to truly ‘master’ any endeavor – some say 10,000 hours of practice are required – a truer ‘title’ might be “Gardener Apprentice”.

  38. going to be the fly in the ointment here. There is SO much variation in what a title confers. How about those who actually have the sheepskin aka ASLA and don’t know doodly about plants? They have the title but, when it comes to plant knowledge beyond the plant database they use in their CAD drawings they have no actual garden experience. Master Gardener is a bit of a pompous title. Having taught the herbaceous ornamental section to MGs in PA, some are vegetable gardeners and others are more focused on ornamental gardening. As long as we all “fess up” to what our strength/weaknesses are and don’t go beyond our true skill set, nomenclature is beside the point.

  39. When I start to see, as a rule, landscapers not applying mulch volcanoes or taking proper care of trees being held for planting, nurseries selling containerized trees and shrubs that aren’t rootbound, and landscape architects providing specifications and inspections that don’t allow trees to be planted in what should have been soil but ends up being construction debris, then maybe I’ll be a little bit critical of people who might not have as much experience as I’d like but who put in large amounts of volunteer time each year to educate gardeners to the extent they can, plant ornamental gardens at libraries and senior centers, and raise vegetables for local food shelves.

    • Bravo, Brian. I would add to your list the instant death so many beautiful 1 gallon nursery plants suffer upon being planted in a typical suburban garden after growing up in designer container environments filled with fancy soil and frequent nitrogen baths.

  40. Something struck me when reading the initial rant and subsequent rants in these comments. It is so sad to brand such a large group of well-meaning, and, overall, quite knowledgeable, people with stereotypes based on some memorably negative interactions with a few people. In 2009 there were approximately 95,000 active MG volunteers in the US and thousands are added yearly. They have donated 5.2 million hours of their time.

    I’m sure many of those 95,000 are ‘pompous’ ‘boring’ and just dense people who couldn’t retain the technical information they were given, don’t answer email, etc. You’ll find these people in any large group. It’s not because they are Master Gardners, it’s because they are human beings. I’m sure there are some bad apples among the 1800 members of the Garden Writer’s Association, too.

    The vast majority of MGs I’ve met are nice, outgoing, friendly people totally committed to spreading good, science-based information in accordance with their volunteer committment to the program. Often they are people who have time on their hands either because their schedule is flexible or because they’re retired. Sometimes they are ‘bored housewives’ who want to pay a $200 application fee, compete by written essay just to qualify to enter, listen to dozens of hours of science lectures, write exams they must pass and give up 50 hours of their time in the first 6 months of their volunteer committment. They must be very bored.

    I attended MG training in Orange County, CA where the program is well administered by the University of CA and our training did require testing (70% to pass) and full attendance but it certainly wasn’t a four year degree in botany or bugs or plant diseases. However it was taught primarily by PhDs and researchers in various subspecialties and I continue to learn an extraordinary amount from these experts. I also am sometimes appalled at the information given by the mainstream gardening press.

    As was noted earlier, we were told not to give advice on subjects with which we have no knowledge, but to refer to places or people with the appropriate knowledge. Our county’s MG website is an excellent homeowner resource. We are also not supposed to deviate from the approved MG materials when giving talks to the general public. I’m sure some people can’t stop themselves from being know-it-alls. This is a personality trait not exclusive to garden lovers, and I acknowlege that it might be more prevalent among those with a leaning toward volunteerism.

    One thing that was and is truly valuable about our particular program is its emphasis on the impact that homeowner gardening practices have on our local ecosystem. This is a significant focus of our group – educating homeowners on the impact of runoff into the ocean, responsible irrigation practices, invasive pests that could harm local farms and orchards, etc. I don’t know who would chat with interested homeowners in malls, at garden shows, in school gardens, in HOA meetings, at local museums and heritage sites, if MGs didn’t do it.

    I would agree that maybe the name inflates people’s expectations of the breadth of any individual’s knowledge. Gardens and horticulture are vast subjects.

    I’m wondering if the name originally implied that it was an ‘adult’ activity, like Masters swimming or bicycling (just a wild guess) and didn’t suggest holding a ‘Master’s’ degree or imply complete mastery of all aspects. Maybe it should be changed to Occasionally Competent Gardener, so as not to offend anyone.

  41. I am a Master Gardener. I am a regular volunteer at the UNH Cooperative Extension. I regularly volunteer 100 hrs or more a year at the call center.

    We are trained to provide information and answers to our callers and Email inquires. We are not expected to be a Know it all we know how and where to find information and answers for our customers. I have worked the call center for about 3 years now and have not meet any one that does not apply to the Guide lines. When at the Call center and other events we work as a team helping each other find answers and direct the inquirer to appropriate a answers an or places to find the answer..

    Yes we have had some who did not like our answer to their question or problem and told us that we did not know what we where doing or some other comment. So be it we did not say what they wanted to here. We told them the way it was.

    At the call center we take call for many kinds of inquires. Some we can’ t answer and some we can refer to a County or other Extension Personnel.
    Whatever the question is we provide an answer or a n avenue for the inquirer to peruse for a answer.

    Don’t know how other Extension’s control who and how questions are answered but at UNH cooperative Extension we stride to provide informative and appropriate answers.

    Just to let you know in New Hampshire the Master Gardeners are very active.
    New Hampshire Master Gardeners Association runs a symposium ever spring and all are invited. The county’s also have active Master Gardener Programs supporting things like public gardens, school gardens, and other events. Many of us volunteer at the call center as well as in the various county activities.

    Enough of that as far as I am concerned Master Gardener programs are good in the overall situation. Some may need a little guidance to help improve how they operate. but on a whole Master gardener volunteers are doing a good and wonderful service to their communities

    That’s it: Enough of my comments, have a great day and let me know if you disagree with what i have had to say.


  42. Methinks you can group Master Gardeners with Landscape architects and unfortunately many landscape professionals….a mixed and inconsistent group that too often cannot live up to the professional knowledge standards that the industry would have us believe that they represent…”Master Gardener” is not a guarantee of expertise or a marker of professionalism any more than membership in any professional designation green industry group, whether it be GWA, ASLA, APLD, WALP, WSNLA or the local garden club…

    Regardless, we need industry standards and these professional organizations, discussion forums and licensing regulations to give form and substance to the green industry. I believe that there is an unnecessary fragmentation within the industry – between design groups (and within the landscape trade at least – a major disconnect between chemical-centric landscape “trade” publications and the industry that they claim to represent).

    These days the public has tools that we could only have dreamed about years ago to discern an individuals professional merit and to gather information and measure individual credentials and a body of work – with online reviews, articulate blogs and FaceBook pages dedicated to individual approaches to the craft. Folks should use Agricultural Extension research and other professional tools to learn about horticulture and quit listening to knee-jerk opinion, anecdotal evidence and advice from the front of the big box store…

  43. I agree that as a Professional Horticulturalist, I have met some dumb Master Gardeners. But on the other hand, there are some very professional and smart ones.
    Here is my idea for names. The designation ‘Master Gardener’ is so entrenched in the public’s mind, I think we should keep it. But how about different levels of competency for more education and experience? For example, I am a Flower Show Judge with National Garden Clubs. You start with being a Student Judge and until you have been to classes spanning 2 years, passed a test, and entered and judged at least five different flower shows and gotten blue ribbons, then you move to the next level of Consultant. Then after taking more classes, entering and judging more shows, you can progress to Master stage. The entire process takes at least 6 to eight years of constant learning with practical hands on experience.

    So, why not – Master Gardener Student, Master Gardener Consultant, and then finally Master Gardener?

    • In the state of Alabama, we do have differing levels of achievement and certification in the MG Program. The “Interns” are going through training and can begin volunteering during this time. The program is not intended to grant a “degree-level” certification, but a training certification. The information provided is research based (extension) and provides our interns with a broad base of gardening knowledge. It also teaches interns to actively and independently research all gardening topics. They are in no way expected to know everything about horticulture, plant genetics, or plant pathology. We know where and how to contact those professional when needed. It is my hope that those professionals are an integral part of MG Training. Level 2 is a certified Master Gardener, someone who has completed the course of study, passed all exams, and completed the required volunteer hours. The Advanced Master Gardener Certification is met when a certified Master Gardener has completed an individualized curriculum, designed in a specialized area by an extension professional. This curriculum includes teaching other groups, community volunteerism and earning CEUs. I earned a BS degree from Auburn University in Natural Resource Management in 1980. For the next 26+ years I served my country as a military family member, volunteering to improve the lives of military families. During that time, I chose to become Master Gardener certified in order to integrate myself into each community. Of all the awards for volunteerism that I have earned, and all of my professional accomplishments, becoming a MG is one that I am most proud of. I feel like, even with some folks within the groups lacking people skills, it is one of the most wonderful and giving groups of people I have ever had the chance to work with. I hate it that so many want to degrade those who really want to do so much good in their communities.

  44. Suggestions:

    Volunteer Garden Consultant

    Complimentary Gardener

    Garden Info Helper

    Garden Troubleshooter

    Helpful Gardener (is there any other kind?)

  45. I am in the middle of my 1st year of education and volunteer hours to become a Master Gardener in Iowa. I didn’t realize the program in general was such a hot button topic! I signed up because I wanted to break out of my comfort zone, learn stuff and meet people who love plants as much as I do. Also, my grandma was an avid gardener and the MG program was always on her bucket list but she never did it. I suppose I’m doing it for sentimental reasons too. My impressions so far…

    Sure the title is a little puffed up, I like the idea of “volunteer” added to it as someone suggested. However, splitting hairs over the name is missing the point.

    Retirees and housewives, yes, there are some? They have time. What’s wrong with them doing something fun with it? I wish I had that much time. I am 35 years old and have a full time job and am very passionate about my career. I am busy! I make time for this because I feel it’s worth it and enriching my gardening life. I am definitely not the minority in my class in terms of age and privilege (for lack of better word). Honestly I was surprised to see as many people like me involved.

    I am a self taught gardener, and am always starving for more information. In class I am learning so many things that I will apply to my own discipline. Most of it is common sense based. Some things I will never bother with because I’m committed to an organic approach, but knowing the conventional way is still really informative.

    To sum up, I have exposure to experienced gardeners and gardens I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. And that’s what I wanted. Sure, personalities are wildly varied, but it’s not a deal-breaker for me.

    It makes me think of that saying… ***holes are like opinions, every body has one.

  46. I am a Master Gardener. I am a regular volunteer at the UNH Cooperative Extension. I regularly volunteer 100 hrs or more a year at the call center.

    We are trained to provide information and answers to our callers and Email inquires. We are not expected to be a Know it all we know how and where to find information and answers for our customers. I have worked the call center for about 3 years now and have not meet any one that does not apply to the Guide lines. When at the Call center and other events we work as a team helping each other find answers and direct the inquirer to appropriate answers a or places to find the answer..

    Yes we have had some who did not like our answer to their question or problem and told us that we did not know what we where doing or some other comment. So be it we did not say what they wanted to here. We told them the way it was.

    At the call center we take calls for many kinds of inquires. Some we can’ t answer and some we can refer to a County or other Extension Personnel.
    Whatever the question is we provide an answer or a avenue for the inquirer to pursue for a answer.

    Don’t know how other Extension’s control who and how questions are answered but at UNH cooperative Extension we stride to provide informative and appropriate answers.

    Just to let you know in New Hampshire the Master Gardeners are very active.
    New Hampshire Master Gardeners Association runs a symposium ever spring and all are invited. The county’s also have active Master Gardener Programs supporting things like public gardens, school gardens, and other events. Many of us volunteer at the call center as well as in the various county activities.

    Enough of that as far as I am concerned Master Gardener programs are good in the overall situation. Some may need a little guidance to help improve how they operate. but on a whole Master gardener volunteers are doing a good and wonderful service to their communities

    That’s it: Enough of my comments, have a great day and let me know if you disagree with what I have had to say.

    John Williams

  47. Well, kudos to you – Ms. Harris for stimulating such a heated discussion on the proper title for an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer (EMGV).

    As one of NC Cooperative Extension’s flagship programs, the EMGV program struggles to gain the recognition it deserves for the great service that each chapter provides. Unfortunately, it appears that some participants in the program and other recipients of information have had a negative experience – and for that I apologize. As the Extension agent in Edgecombe County, NC I want to know these concerns and encourage any impacted by my volunteers to contact me directly.

    On this Sunday morning when we should be counting our many blessing, let us accept the program for what it is – a diverse collection of people, personalities and proficiency. While the EMGV name may not suit all of our volunteers, it is an important brand that enables Cooperative Extension to shatter the reputation of being one of our nation’s “best kept secrets.” So, I thank Ms. Harris for bringing our program into the light it so deserves.

  48. Gardening is a discipline with multiple ways to do everything. It is also heavy in folklore since plants have been grown since the dawn of homo sapiens. When someone does it differently than us we are bothered. Give that person a title and it really gets up our noses.

    I’m a U of Illinois Extension master gardener. I can see where removing “master” and somehow incorporating “volunteer” would help, however there will always be differing ways to garden and therefore conflict.

  49. To be fair, I met some of these “Master Gardeners”, and they are well-knowledgeable when it comes to gardening. But of course, I haven’t met all of them so who am I to judge? All I can say right now is the title “Master Gardeners” could be a little over-rated.

  50. Wow, a lively discussion. I coordinate the Ulster MGV Program in New York. In the past thirty years I have worked for and with all sorts of volunteers, Schools, environmental, and churches. The master gardener volunteers of Ulster County are the best folks I have ever worked for. We consider them volunteers first. They train from Sept.-Feb. and they must contribute 100 hours in their first 2 years. They are smart and dedicated, (okay enough bragging). We use the word volunteer along with the master gardener title.
    Maybe Community Horticulture Volunteer is more appropriate because that’s what they do so well.

  51. As a former MG coordinator and teacher ( 14 years) I have seen the good and bad side of the MG program. Like many have said there is a wide range of people with a wide range of experiences and abilities and the whole program shouldn’t be judged by an obnoxious few. The volunteer requirement does insure that MG’s get some hands on training. Most MG’s aren’t obnoxious about their “knowledge” in fact most need to be encouraged to impart what they have learned to others.

    Many MG teachers do try to integrate all types of gardening practices into their teachings, I know I did. We try to give both organic and conventional solutions to garden problems. We stress there are many kinds of gardens and garden objectives. We try to make learning comfortable for adult learners who have often been away from a classroom for many years and we have to work with a wide range of skill/knowledge levels.

    I think many MG programs in many states though, including my own,(Michigan) have strayed away from the original concept of MG program and are using the program to rake in money. Extension programs are suffering from a lack of funding and use classes like this to make money. In our state
    classes are expensive, offered only in highly populated areas and the students have no guidance or oversight by the University once the program is over.

    Michigan only offers diagnostic services by MG’s in a few counties and for limited times each week, and since many counties don’t have access to MG classes most Extension offices have no one at the county level that helps consumers. Yet the program continues to churn out large numbers of MG volunteers in the same counties where there are many well to do people who can afford the class. ( I realize that in other states the program is more affordable and more equitably distributed.)

    That said, I think land grant Universities should always be willing to educate the public on various topics that the University does research on without expecting anything other than knowing that they have done what they were set up to do- bring research based knowledge to the general public. Extension services are mandated by the government to teach the public. Making people pay large amounts for a class and then asking for volunteer labor is not what Extension programs should be about. If the class is free, or just charges minimal costs to cover materials then asking for a bit of volunteer help is justifiable. And classes should be offered in every area, not just where there are wealthy people to pay for them.

    It’s a shame that more land grant Universities don’t offer the classes for free and actually concentrate on training the MG’s to help in Extension offices, whose relevance to the public is rapidly declining in a changing world. Often people only know about Extension through 4-H or the MG programs.

    Getting an answer to a plant or pest problem is so much better when you can walk into a local office with your sample and get help. Even if that person accepting the sample doesn’t know the answer the person needs, he or she can be trained to get help from people at the university that do have the answer.

    MG’s have done marvelous things to help their communities besides be spokespersons for Extension. In Lapeer County, Michigan you can visit a huge, beautiful garden developed, paid for, installed and maintained by local MG’s at the county Medical Care facility that is handicapped accessible for the residents. These volunteers have learned a lot about gardening, from planning, laying bricks and irrigation systems, choosing, installing and maintaining plants and trees, improving the soil, dealing with pests and even fundraising!. They have both book and practical knowledge.

    Other Michigan MG’s volunteer at community food gardens, the Detroit Zoo gardens, and beautify rest areas along Michigan highways, to name just a few projects. Those who embrace the volunteer portion of the program learn a lot and indeed over the years do become experts or “Master” Gardeners.

    Should the name be changed? Maybe. Most states actually do put the word “volunteer” after Master Gardener. Maybe the word Master should be dropped and just( name of university) Extension Garden Volunteer used.

    As for Jerry Baker, I knew him from when I managed a garden shop for Kmart back in the 70’s. He had just been hired as a “garden expert”and spokesman by Kmart and since our store was close to headquarters he was brought in by buyers occasionally. He was a joke. I liked to trip him up with garden questions. I often told my buyers about mistakes he made in pamphlets giving garden advice and they listened and even made changes- I think most of them knew he was not very knowledgeable. Somehow he had the advertising appeal they wanted I guess. The guy’s made a good living off it, so he can’t be totally stupid.

  52. I don’t disagree, Alan. I think the bone of contention, is when well meaning purveyors of philosophies proseltyze by abusing the mantle of science to advance their agenda to try to win converts, without adhering to the rigors demanded of the discipline.

  53. When I was actively doing clinics as a master gardener volunteer, I realized that most people coming in wanted a quick, simple answer and that most of the time the problem was with the questioner’s horticultural practices. I felt good if I just got someone to read the label on the slug bait and not put it on their veggies – when the label clearly stated “Not for Use on Vegetables”.

  54. I am a 67 year old man. I have been gardening since I was 9. The older I get, it seems the less I know. I do understand a lot of stuff. The word volunteer – I was a Peace Corps volunteer and am also a Master Gardener, both retired titles. During the course I took, many things were covered. Everyone in the class had gardening experience, all of it in different areas. Landscape gardners, nursery folks, backyard gardeners, ornamentals, fruit trees, vegetables, green houses, hydroponics – you name it, some one is growing it.
    What I liked the best was the discussion on insects. I have a degree in Biology and learned that I knew nothing about common garden insects. Fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, rototilling, etc, etc. Nobody can have all the answers without looking up the facts. THAT is what the course is about.

    By the way, there are still of lot of idiots and nicompoops out therre in every field, even writing.

    My two cents.

  55. I like Master Gardeners or at least those I’ve encountered in Central Texas. I don’t have a problem with their title or their knowledge.

  56. Something that has not been addressed in this discussion is how “Master Gardeners” are perceived by people of color. It was pointed out to me that the term “Master” implies superiority and that when I am volunteering in a minority community that I will be better received if I approach things humbly. I had to think about that a bit, but then realized that that was good advice. In many communities my grey hair is treated with more respect than my education, so I try to engage people by asking them questions as opposed to making pronouncements.

    I do make a point of telling people that I am a volunteer and that I don’t know all the answers but I do know where to find them. As in all of life, we have to tailor our approaches (and what we call ourselves) to the people we are dealing with.

    I took my Master Gardener training in 1983, a point at which I already had 40 years of experience (including ten years of 4-H gardening projects). My learning certainly did not stop then. If anything it has accelerated in recent years as I prepare Powerpoint presentations to present to various audiences. I dare say that this is true of most all MG volunteers. Certainly I am better able to give good answers to questions now than when I first took the training. The MG training is intended to get people off to a good start, not be the sum total of their learning.

    This is not all book learning. As I tell people, when we try new things we are being true scientists–we experiment, we observe the results, we modify our experiments until we obtain a satisfactory result. By engaging people’s imagination we help them to learn new things ( even if some University has been saying the same thing for years). Some times you have to be sneaky to teach new practices.

  57. My own perspective on this matter is that it doesn’t really matter what your title is, what do matters is the love for nature. I would easily give up a title of master gardener for a gift of green thumb.

  58. Tim
    The name? Really? I feel so bad for all of you who are stuck on a name! The fact that there is someone out there who is willing to help me, and not charge me for the info is priceless! My question would be whats wrong with you folks, you get good scince based information from people who paid to get the information(did you all get that part) these people paid out of thier own pockets, they didn’t get a grant or a welfair check no one paid them to take the course, They did it because they want to help us all at no cost to you! And you want to bash them for it? There is something wrong alright, but its not with the name or the people running the programs or those who give of them selves freely. The real problem is in your own head no one is on this planet to serve you, you didn’t do anything to warnet the help so don’t sit there with your nose in the air and tell everyone oh those mg’s are a bunch of idots, maybe it was you who was being unapprochable. I work at a greenhouse My District Mangior tells people to come to me for answers people call me at home to tell me thier problem, I am not an MG but I help floks out the best I can, I do landscaping and I have never charged anyone and thier yards turn out wonderful I help out others because I love my fellow human and you can’t put a price on that! Most of what I know I learn thru trial and error, I looked it up in books,and on the internet So I would say this get off your duff and look it up and if you need help ask an MG because if they don’t know it they surely can direct you to it.

    • ” if you need help ask an MG because if they don’t know it they surely can direct you to it.”

      Tim, I think you have boiled down the entire organization’s purpose in one sentence. We are volunteers, dedicated to helping our Extension service by providing the support they need to help the public with home gardening questions and problems.

      As with any organization, there are different personalities and not everyone will see eye-to-eye. That’s a given.

      My question and problem with this whole conversation is the idea of changing the organizations name. Obviously most of us that are Master Gardener Volunteers now weren’t around when the program was founded. The name must have been chosen for a reason, and was given value by the work that was done under that name. Changing the name won’t fix the problems that have been voiced here, it will only confuse the public that is used to the name. (remember “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince” ?)

      Where I hail from the MG’s have earned their respect by providing positive support to our communities with various activities that include telephone hotlines, Q & A clinics at local events and farmers markets, and public outreach programs like Garden Discovery Day intended to educate the public on best practices for sustainable gardening.

      I never assume that the training I received as a MG could replace someone that has been working in the field a lifetime, or someone that has University credentials in horticulture. I really believe it takes all of us as a community to reach out to the public with scientific and researched based info. And just remember that even the methods Thomas Jefferson practiced in his day were cutting edge, our world is continually evolving. Today’s best practices may not be tomorrows.

      So much of what is right with this crazy world we live in is provided by the people that take their time to volunteer in their communities. Instead of bashing the organization as a whole, why not take the time to improve it if you are a member, or if not become a member and walk in the shoes of those of us that have given of our time (which is not renewable) and money (to become Master Gardener’s), in the hope of helping to create a better world for our kids and grand kids, as a way to become involved in our communities, and a place to make life-long friendships.

      And for those of you who came before me as Master Gardener Volunteers, Thank you for your time and service to your communities.

  59. I took the course years ago in Clatsop County and found it very disappointing. At the time it was heavily oriented toward using Round-up and the like. I have heard that organic methods are more accepted now, but at the time, a couple of organic gardeners left the class because their ideas were ridiculed. When I did my volunteer stint at a Q and A table, I was told we were required to recommend Round-up, etc. (I didn’t, though.) I never felt comfortable calling myself a Master Gardener after the classes and an open book test, and left the group after I had fulfilled my volunteer hours.

    • P.S. Integrated Pest Management was not particularly taught at that time, either. I hear from someone who took the class more recently that it is now.

  60. A little late to the party as usual, but here’s my two cents’ worth. I obtained my initial MG training in Anchorage, Alaska in 1989 and felt it to be comprehensive and progressive for that time. IPM was being taught; in fact, one of the first classes I taught to repay my hours was on IPM. Double-digging was already being questioned based on soil science. We had a student in the class who was interested in hydroponics and shared his knowledge with the group who found this “new” method interesting. The class I attended was diverse in age and occupation. I was 26 at the time and a “bored housewife” who had gardened next to my farm-raised father since childhood. Among the many others were professionals who were novice gardeners that wanted to learn and be more active in their communities. A fellow classmate remarked that nowhere else in society would you see lawyers and and fast-food workers connect on a personal level over a common subject as you would gardening. The large group was very active and involved in the community and maintained a high profile manning tables at events and garden centers, giving classes, creating display gardens, etc.

    Fast forward 26 years to the other side of the continent and the story is very different. At 52, I’m the next-to-youngest member in the group. While I truly enjoy the time I spend with my fellow members in this rural area, I feel our program is very outdated and ineffective. Our university website is a nightmare to navigate – I’m a seasoned web surfer and I have difficulties finding the information I need. I resort to other university sites in my region and that shouldn’t be. Our mostly-retired members admit they don’t really want to nor feel comfortable with giving talks, answering hort line questions, or starting programs. They just like to garden and like to get together once a month to talk about gardening. And they like to have the title MASTER GARDENER attached to their names. We have intermittently tried and failed at publishing a monthly newsletter, giving yearly seminars, creating a display garden, manning the hort line at our extension office, all petered out due to lack of participation and interest. Not from the community – from the members! After every meeting I throw up my hands in frustration and tell myself to just let it go and quit already. I think the last straw was at a recent seminar in another county a state hort agent advocated double-digging.

    After reading some of the comments here, I agree. The program is only as good as its members and its leadership. I am indifferent to the term Master Gardener and rarely identify myself as such. Heck, I hate wearing the stupid badge (and rarely do) at official events! I just have a love of learning, have put in many hours of study, and like to inflame interest in gardening in those around me. For that I stay…

  61. I have a BS in Horticulture and decades under my belt and Master Gardeners will tell me that I am “doing it all wrong”. The Master Garden program’s purpose (IMO) is to provide money for the state extension programs. Our state had a Master Naturalist program too that sounds like a lot more fun!

  62. I agree with just about everything you stated. I am master gardener in Fairfax County Virginia. Yes, there is a wide range of abilities and knowledge. Change the name – fine – it lessens the confusion to the public on what master gardeners do v. other gardeners: volunteer their time to help others.

  63. Susan,
    Thank you for taking my initial question on facebook and continuing the discussion. It’s fascinating to receive such feedback on this topic.
    I have an advanced degree in another area of study and cringed when those who attained ‘specialist’ training after a few weeks entered the job market claiming the same level of knowledge as those with advanced degrees.
    Though I have attained the MG status several years ago, it was for my own benefit. I enjoyed the training and the classes because they made me a better gardener. My teaching was limited to my friends and family and my volunteering was limited to helping at events, church and community gardens.
    No matter our training, education and experiences, we need to be aware of our limitations and not be afraid or ashamed to say we ‘don’t know’. That is the issue with MG vs Horticulture degrees and other professions.

  64. Extension Home Gardening Volunteers: that describes exactly what they do.

    The only thing lacking is a catchy acronym.

    Maybe VEG: the Volunteer Extension Gardening program.

    Or PLANT: Plant Lovers And Neighborhood Teachers. Plant-based Learning and Advocacy for Natural Things.

    One of the first master gardeners I met was teaching a class at a flower show. She was a landscape contractor who passed out her card, on which the title Master Gardener was prominent. She actually said that she liked to use the title because it impressed people more than anything else. I’ve met other mgs who seem to have joined mostly for the title, or because it’s a great social club.

    In pre-internet days, I called the mg hotline with questions I couldn’t answer myself a few times. In every case, I did not get a good (or any) answer.

    But in my area, a lot of the free public talks about gardening are given by mgs. Usually it’s one person giving the talk and 5-6 mgs at the back of the room handing out info on their hotline. It tends to be pretty basic information, some of which (of course) I don’t agree with, but the person giving the talk is almost always great. Often the talks are followed by access to a demo garden that is otherwise behind a locked gate, so it’s worth going to see the garden. For anything longer than an hour or two, they’re charging a fee. Or they use their title to give a class at a non-extension venue and charge a fee. Their tours are not open to the public, and they have other mg-only events, so it tends to be a cliquey bunch. But they are not the only providers of garden info.

    The native plant society is very active in this area, and their volunteers tend to give even more free public talks than the mgs. The speakers range from self-taught do-it-yourselfers to landscape architects, and attract a similar range of attendees. Their tour is free and open to all.

    Numerous other local garden groups charge a small fee to nonmembers for their monthly meetings featuring a speaker.

  65. I am a Virginia Master Gardener intern who has just completed her requisite 50 hours of classroom based training, two rigorous exams, and many volunteers hours. I am also a professional writer with over 20 years of experience and an organic gardener who has transformed five acres of nearly barren, lifeless soil into a productive fruit orchard, vegetable, herb and flower garden. My horticulture articles have appeared in The Herb Companion
    and Albemarle Family magazines, I run a gardening blog and website, and I wrote an organic gardening column for over 3 years. I am also the former marketing manager for Martin Viette Nurseries on Long Island, one of the top 10 nursery and garden centers in the country.

    Would you care to rethink your broad, sweeping generalizations about how Master Gardeners are nincompoops who steal writing work from poor, struggling garden writers?

    I had to go through several steps to even be admitted into the MG program here in south central Virginia. This included several rounds of interviews with current MG; classes at the Extension office, some taught by Extension agents but others by botany professors from our local university; and I have volunteered countless hours and look forward to volunteering more.

    To call MG bored housewives is idiotic. I am a professional woman with two Masters degrees, a successful writing and consulting practice, and a lifetime of experience with plants. And while married, I’d hardly consider myself a “bored housewife.”

  66. As a college-degreed designer with over 33 years design experience and more than 40 years of gardening experience, I find that too many “master” gardeners think they are also garden designers. So if you haven’t heard this before, hear it now: just because you have master gardener training doesn’t make you a garden designer!

    • Right on Vanessa! The one class/chapter MGs get on design in their training does NOT equal what we designers get during our 4 years of college coursework in design… not to mention our further years of design experience.

      When I first became a Master Gardener, I was amazed and baffled at why on earth my fellow MASTER Gardeners were asking me to design for them. They’d say, ‘Well, we know plants, but not design.’ There ya go. 🙂

  67. Well there is certainly a lot of crappy advice out there and you can get it from anywhere including “professionals”. I’ve known designers (with degrees) that don’t know anything about plants and have certainly read more than my share of stupid gardening articles written by professional garden writers. I’m sure I have given my share of bad advice as well over the years both as a MG and a nursery professional. Lets share the responsibility, there’s plenty to go around…..

  68. I am currently in the MG program (FYI, I am 44) in the Chicagoland area. And while I can’t speak to what people learn and where, I can tell you that this course has been kicking my ass. The botany section alone made me question my ability to finish the course. My learning process is no joke…and I have a Master’s in another field from the University of Denver, so the educational process is not unfamiliar to me.

    I remember thinking in the beginning that I had severely underestimated the amount of learning that MG’s do…and 3 months in to it, I feel the same way. I don’t really care what we are called…I did this because I wanted to learn…and that’s exactly what I am doing. I have been a gardener for 15 years…even written a book…and I can say with all honesty that I severely underestimated how challenging this would be for me. I thought I knew a lot…but I didn’t know half of what this course is teaching me. I am grateful for this opportunity.

  69. Wow. . . just, wow. In the 10 years since I completed the MG program in my area, this is the first time I’ve ever actually felt bad about it. . . .

    • I agree with Sandi…. WOW. I’m 4 years in and I’m only 45… accomplished professional both in gardening industry and medical industry. I have never felt bad about taking the Master Gardener course until now. I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard anyone speak about “me” with such malice as Monica did above, and a few others. I think the danger comes with generalizations. I’m fairly certain that Monica would be shocked at some of the educational backgrounds of “Master Gardeners”. I’m sorry that she’s had a bad experience, but what she’s saying is appalling. Maybe Monica needs some therapy… or a good look in the mirror.

  70. This discussion is silly and some responses a little disappointing. I’m a master gardener volunteer in Madison WI and help make our local community garden happen; no big thing but it feels good to have a foot print on a small positive thing.

    I rarely tell people I’m a master gardener (I figure, who cares?). And it took me a few years to find out that my co-volunteers at the garden are also master gardeners. Those of you who’ve had bad experiences with the “loud” master gardeners have probably also had plenty of lovely experiences with more humble master gardeners. You just didn’t know they were master gardeners.

  71. This discussion has many posts already but as someone who became an MGV 12 years ago I had to defend my MGV program here in Maine. Among the program’s activities: a children’s gardening program where kids are paired with an MGV mentor and grow a vegetable garden, a garden angels program where people with physical or health challenges are paired with an MGV to help in their gardens, gleaning excess produce at local farms for local food banks, creating/maintaining gardens at senior centers, nursing homes, schools and libraries, maintenance and planting of native plants at a permanently protected open to the public saltwater farm. It is all about service and volunteerism. Yes, there was coursework and an exam (I understand it is open book these days – mine was not) and you must volunteer 40 hours the first year and 20 thereafter. We host a plant sale each year and use the money to fund our program. I like the camaraderie at the events and some of my favorite plants came from other MGVs. I’ve learned a lot over the years and made a lot of friends through the program. Please don’t judge every MGV by a few you didn’t care for.

  72. In the volunteer and community spirit a better name would be Extension Community Garden Resource.

  73. The “title” Master Gardener always bothered me. I felt like it was a bunch of elitist old ladies (and gentlemen) getting together each month to talk about their own beautiful gardens. Then I found out about that it’s actually “master gardener VOLUNTEER” and I got more interested. I’m still uncomfortable with the “master” part – not sure what would be a better way to state it. I think our communities are in more need than ever of the information mgv’s have access to. We’re not just a group of delicate flowers that volunteer to weed the garden at the local community center. We are the fascilitaters of information/education about growing and caring for our environment, our food supply and our changing climate. We can be a driving force in our communities to improve the lives of those in need and provide a glimpse into a sustainable future for the generations to come.
    OK, I’m stepping down from my soapbox now.

  74. Perhaps I am not qualified to comment, but I would like to add a little different perspective. I am retired, recently bought a semi-rural home on an acre, and want to be the best conservator of my plot that I can. I don’t claim to be an expert on anything, but the Home Horticulture Certificate course I took (online) at Oregon State U required me to read, contemplate and complete projects that I otherwise might not have studied. And, because it piqued my interest, I’ve signed up for two more water-wise courses. More than curating my own plot, though, I am committed to sharing what I’ve learned with other gardeners who are not lucky (or persistent) enough to complete the courses and volunteer work (66 hours during our internship in our county). We must identify ourselves as ‘volunteers’ but are really unpaid employees of OSU. Whatever we’re called, we are dedicated to sharing the wonders of the horticultural world with any interested ‘plant person’ who needs help. For those of you who regret increases in revenues to fund governmental services, this should be the answer to your prayers!

  75. Wow. Tons of generalizations flying around. FWIW. I’ve seen a lot of what many folks have mentioned. Yes, some MG believe they know it all. Some “experts” make the general public feel the same. I have a forestry degree, have gardened all my life and just recently became a MG. I avoided taking the training because of some of the negative comments I heard regarding organic gardening. I believe in organics and I’ve mentioned to more than one MG that given, A) people are interested in organics and, B) organics are a very successful business, I believe MG should learn more about it. Organics is science based. Second, in my short experience with the public, I get frustrated with people who insist, yes, insist on being given information on how to “kill bugs” or kill a particular insect even though this creature is doing no harm. The fact that it is an insect and may be too numerous in the home owner’s opinion, is sufficient in their eyes to kill everything in close proximity. And finally, I make it very, very clear to anyone I advise that I am giving them researched based information. I may have a different experience or there may be more recent information out there. If I include this information it is as MY opinion, and based on MY readings. I understand I am a volunteer who agreed to follow this program and who does not have any financial gain in the client following my advise. People are more than able to find all the information the MGs give out. If they need advise they can call their MG program or they can research the problem themselves. Most chose to ask a MG volunteer.

  76. I found my local group of MGs to be a closed system, and that was such a disappointment. No matter which way I turned, I found already established mini cliques within the membership and there were no places where a newcomer was made to feel welcome. The way “in” was to already be a buddy with a member. Too bad. We both lost.

  77. “Of course she’s a master gardener, have you seen her yard?” When someone says this about me, I laugh and share that actually, being a Master Gardener with the Extension Service means I’ve paid hundreds of dollars for training on how to research answers to garden questions so I can work for the university for free.
    Often I refer people to garden centers, arborists, landscape designers and garden coaches, etc. (though never a specific one because that isn’t allowed), and I hope in turn, those professionals don’t talk me down.
    How to come up with a better title for the program is difficult. “Community garden” here in the Portland Oregon Metro area means a place where community members have a garden plot. That rules out using “Extension Community Garden Resource” in my area, though I like Mary’s suggestion.
    I suppose we are stuck with “Extension Master Gardener Volunteer”, and continuing our effort to define the title to the public. If a university refuses (or can’t afford) oversight of the group and it is behaving badly, that group should be disbanded. Don’t throw out everybody nationwide.
    (And shame on the fuddy-duddy and closed-clique groups, though it can happen any time humans gather.)

  78. What if the Extension Service did 10 week classes for volunteer: Master Nutritionist, Master Nurse, Master Painter, Master Woodworker, Master Accountant, Master Organizer, Master Stager, Master Party Planner, Master Engineer, Master Small Engine Repair, Master Social Media, Master Decorator, Master Home Economics………….

    Those designations will never happen. Why did Master Gardener happen?

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

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