"Gardens, scholars say, are the first sign of commitment to a community. When people plant corn, they are saying, let's stay here. And by their connection to the land, they are connected to one another."

— Ann Raver, garden writer and columnist for the New York Times and Newsday

 

Soon after moving to Southern Oregon six years ago, I contacted the OSU Extension Service to find out when the next Master Gardener training program would begin. Up to that point, I had grown plants in some capacity — in raised beds, borders, pots, even on windowsills — in Florida, California, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Hawaii. But I wanted to learn what it was like to grow plants here in the Rogue Valley, and I wanted to meet like-minded plant enthusiasts.

I guess Ann Raver got it right. By participating in the Master Gardener program, I was saying, “I want to stay here. I want to connect with the land and with the people in my new hometown.”

The 13-week Master Gardener certification course was a real eye-opener for me. My laid-back gardening philosophy has always embraced the adage, “There are no mistakes, just experiments.” By that definition, my gardens have been grand experiments, indeed! It didn’t take long for me to realize how much about gardening I didn’t know, and that some of the things I thought I knew weren’t true. (For example, earthworms don’t really grow their parts back after an encounter with a garden hoe.)

Somewhere amid the readings and group discussions, the presentations by knowledgeable gardeners, and many hours of hands-on experience in the greenhouse, plant clinic and demonstration gardens, I quietly metamorphosed from a gardening hobbyist into a gardening scholar. I’ll never master all there is to know about the art and science of gardening in our area, but for me the Master Gardener program stimulated what I hope will be a lifelong study of horticulture.

I still experiment quite a bit in my vegetable and flower gardens. But now I have a better understanding of how everything is connected, and the important role I have in safeguarding nature’s finely tuned balance.

Surveys of Master Gardener graduates repeatedly show they increase their use of sustainable gardening practices after training. They choose more drought-tolerant and native plants to conserve water, they use gardening practices that better protect and enhance local pollinator habitat, and they choose less toxic methods of controlling plant pests and diseases. More than half of the graduates surveyed said the program helped increase their belief that they can make a difference in their community.

I asked landscape designer and past president of the Jackson County Master Gardener Association, Sherri Morgan, why she became involved in the program in 2008. Like me, Sherri wanted the opportunity to connect with other gardeners and to learn the latest, science-based information about soil, amendments and growing techniques for our area.

“I was excited to have the chance to ask questions about gardening subjects, with the knowledge that the person answering has experience and knowledge to back them up,” she said.

The three-month-long course and follow-up volunteering require a considerable time commitment; however, Sherri said it’s been rewarding for her to teach what she has learned to other gardeners.

Rhianna Simes, OSU Master Gardener coordinator for Jackson County, is accepting applications for the 2017 program, which will begin Jan. 18 and continue from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with one hour for lunch, every Wednesday until April 19. Participants also work in the greenhouse for a few hours a week. Cost of the program is $300; scholarships are available. For details, see www.jacksoncountymga.org or contact Simes at Rhianna.simes@oregonstate.edu.

 

— Rhonda Nowak is a member of the Jackson County Master Gardener Association and teaches writing at Rogue Community College. Email her at rnowak39@gmail.com.