Stebbins: Become a Master Gardener through once-a-year courses

Stebbins: Become a Master Gardener through once-a-year courses

December 3rd, 2011 By Tom Stebbins in Life Entertainment

A new slate of Master Gardener classes will start in January. The classes have been very popular over the years. There are numerous reasons people enjoy the program and suggest it to their friends.

You don't have to be a gardening expert to become a Master Gardener. The program is about connecting with other gardeners, with community and with reliable resources for information. Master Gardeners use trees, flowers and veggies to impact the lives of people in Hamilton County.

Fun classes

Master Gardening classes are offered only once a year in Chattanooga. There is a choice of a Monday night (6-9 p.m.) or Tuesday morning (9 a.m.-noon) class this year. The separate classes start on Jan. 9 or 10. There are 30 students in each class. Classes meet at the UT Extension Building off Bonny Oaks. Each class goes for 15 weeks. Topics include soils, trees, perennials, vegetables, fruits, insects and lawn care. Sessions are taught by experts in each area. Students get a huge Master Gardener manual, which they keep as a reference.

The students enjoy the classes and the people they meet. They really like the food feast that occurs during break time. There are many door prizes and free plants given out to make the class fun.

After completion of the training program, individuals become Master Gardener Interns. They are promoted to the title of Master Gardener upon completion of their 40-hour service commitment. The local Master Gardener Association of Hamilton County is very active. The group organizes continuing educational events for the graduates of the class. They have monthly events and help mentor the new students.

Research-based information

Master Gardeners are individuals who have an interest in gardening and nature. They have taken the Master Gardener training and then share their time and expertise with other gardeners. It is the attainment of knowledge, then giving back to the community, that distinguishes a Master Gardener from other gardeners. Master Gardeners are a vital link in getting practical, research-based horticulture information to the public through the local University Extension offices.

The Master Gardener program is nationwide and in several Canadian provinces. Statewide, there are 3,000 active Master Gardeners in 46 counties.

Master Gardener volunteers also grow personally through the expansion of their communication, management and leadership skills. Tennessee Master Gardeners are trained volunteers who are part of the University of Tennessee Extension System. Master Gardeners can use their title only while performing unpaid volunteer work.

Community service

Take the class, and then give the gift of your knowledge back to your community. You will get to network with many other plant lovers.

There are about 10 ongoing group projects. The Hamilton County Fair exhibit is the biggest effort, with about 60 people helping every year.

Numerous Master Gardeners now are active with the Chattanooga Area Food Bank Demonstration Garden. They help in the greenhouse or in the raised-bed garden.

Many give out gardening information at Chattanooga Market. They assist organic vegetable gardeners at Crabtree Farms. Another group teaches lessons at the Siskin Children's Institute gardens. A large group helps with indoor and outdoor gardens at the Tennessee Aquarium. Other partners include the Chattanooga Nature Center and Habitat for Humanity.

There are many smaller projects in area schools and neighborhoods. Several Master Gardeners answer questions from callers each Monday morning at the UT Extension office. Master Gardeners are not expected to know it all. They learn where to find the most accurate answers for their clients. More than 15,000 volunteer hours are given annually on these and numerous other projects in Hamilton County. Sign up soon since classes usually fill up before January.

The total fee is $150 for the class, a huge book and other materials. For an application form, call the UT Extension office at 855-6113 or go to www.MGHC.org.