The Hermitage in Nashville, Tennessee

Master gardeners have a love of gardening and a passion to share it with others, but despite the esteemed title, they don’t have master’s degrees. “I don’t really like the word ‘master,’” says David Cook, UT Extension Agent for Davidson County. “With gardening and horticulture you could and you should learn something every day.”

The lack of an extensive time and financial commitment is exactly what makes the master gardener program so popular. Though programs vary from one extension service to the other, enrollees take approximately 40 hours worth of classes—often once a week for about three months—and are exposed to basic knowledge in every aspect of horticulture from soil science to botany and entomology. “People get whole college degrees in soil science and we try not to scare students off with too much chemistry,” Cook says. “But we cover a lot in these classes and by the time it’s over people always want to learn more.”

Belle Meade Plantation

A master gardener talks to schoolchildren about heirloom vegetables at the Harding Garden at Belle Meade Plantation. Photo courtesy of Pam Swoner.

Just like every other aspect of gardening, the most important part of the master gardener program is getting outside and making things happen. Though students have the option to take the classes solely for their own benefit, certification is only awarded upon completion of 40 hours of volunteer hours over the course of one year. “The second year it drops to 25 hours a year,” Cook says. “People waste 25 hours sitting on the couch in a month. When people choose this program, they’ll be productive is more ways than one.”

How are master gardeners making your community a happier, healthier place to be?

No Stupid Questions – Though it boggles the mind, Cook says he gets more than 2,000 garden-related phone calls a year from citizens in the community—everything from “what’s the best type of apple tree to plant?” to “how do I grow grass where it’s never grown before?” Master gardeners man the phones at extension services, armed with their trusty handbook and plenty of support. “In a way, they’re training themselves,” Cook says.

Nashville City Cemetery

History looks at lot nicer at Nashville’s City Cemetery thanks to master gardeners. Photo courtesy of Pam Swoner.

Keep History Alive – Historical sites often have a large need for grounds maintenance but not the budget to match. Cook’s master gardeners donate their hours to beautify Nashville’s city cemetery and the Hermitage, the home of former president Andrew Jackson.

Spreading the Word – Master gardeners man demonstration gardens and educational booths at field days and fairs in their community to connect with the public on a one-on-one basis.

The Hermitage in Nashville, Tennessee

Some of the plants in the early 19th century flower garden at The Hermitage, the home of president Andrew Jackson, are the originals from Jackson’s era. Photo courtesy of the Hermitage.

Bringing the Outside In – Outreach doesn’t have to be outside. Master gardeners create projects and programs for special needs children and adults, senior citizens and other special interest groups.

master gardener at work

Master gardeners plant seeds in the community, both literally and figuratively. Photo courtesy of Pam Swoner.

Heal the Sick – Master gardeners hold community plant clinics and diagnose all kinds of diseases. No appointment or insurance required!

“A lot of my students tell me, ‘I wish I’d learned this earlier in life,’” Cook says. “It’s never too late to learn and this is an exciting program. We don’t hand out the title ‘master gardener,’ our students get out in the community and earn it.”

Visit this site to find a master gardener program in your area.