First Experience with a Master Gardener

paste592(6bMD)September 5, 2004

It's taken me this long to sign up for the MG classes; I'd wanted to for years, but a negative experience with the first MG I met gave me the wrong impression. Thanks to Garden Web, and you nice people for changing my mind. Here's the story:

We had a cabin in another state, and became friends with the couple down the road. Both were avid gardeners, and we often swapped plants, gardening advice, sources amd the like. Then over one winter, Jimmy (we'll call him) took the course and became a MG. He became an insufferable garden snob! Heavens, nothing I'd learned in decades of gardening was worth anything, no plant had a common name, my plants were declined because of possible diseases, and we eventually had to avoid the subject of gardening as though it were politics or religion, just to remain friends.

Thank you all for reminding me that MGs in general are just folks who love to garden -- class starts in 10 days!

Anybody know someone like Jimmy?


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mesquiteent(z6b WestTX)

Wow! If I had met a MG like Jimmy, I wouldn't want to take the course, either! So glad you met some good ones. All the MGs I know are great, friendly people, not snobs.

It's silly to act that pretentious about being a MG. So many of the best gardeners I know never took MG training.

~Mesquite Ent~

    Bookmark   September 5, 2004 at 2:54PM
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andie_rathbone(Tyler, TX - 7B)

I've known several people like Jimmy, but none of thm are Master Gardeners, but unfortunately there have been several like him on various gardening forums that I've frequented over the years.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2004 at 3:32PM
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As a master gardener I only want to be recognized as one when engaged in a Master Gardener program.Here we are only allowed to wear our identification when in such a function. I would be wary of anyone acting differently. Al

    Bookmark   September 5, 2004 at 4:57PM
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I second all the comments from Mesquite. We have a local garden club of which many members are Master Gardeners. Every one is treated equal and we have such a grand time together! I have had to set a few people straight (non club members) as to what we are and do and that we do not know everything there is to know about horticulture but are willing to learn and to find the answers to their questions.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2004 at 10:18PM
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coffeemom(Broward z10)

I agree. The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know. Somehow people will ask my opinion at a HD or Lowes. (Is it because I look like know something or just have a plant in my cart?)I can offer advice to a neighbor, but never say I'm a MG. No garden snob here. And I can never remember the scientific names anyway!

    Bookmark   September 6, 2004 at 10:46PM
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little_dani(9, S. Tex Coast)

I'm sorry you had such an awful experience! I don't know many MG's who know anything but the common name. LOL

If you have excess plant materials, I have a good place for them. My place!


    Bookmark   September 6, 2004 at 11:10PM
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Lol, Janie! I wish I had the excess now I had then! Our old house had well-established gardens, good soil, full-sun areas, as well as some nice part-shade. Then we moved (we raise and show dogs so had to have more land for a kennel license). Awwwk! 4 acres, 1.5 cleared, and not one single thing planted, not even foundation plantings, much less a garden. And the soil is 75% rock. Even the things I brought with me to transplant failed to thrive until we brought in 20 yards of composted topsoil. Two and a half years later, I'm still struggling with making even one of the perennial gardens look fully planted. (I can report that the hosta garden is gorgeous). All divisions will have to stay here for awhile to fill out the measly gardens! Thank heavens for sprawly messy shrubs like weigela and buddleia -- they're making the edge of the clearing look almost good!

Haven't seen "Jimmy" in some years since we sold the cabin -- I expect he has mellowed by now.


    Bookmark   September 7, 2004 at 8:32AM
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I have a MG friend and she is also a Jimmy. I walk away most of the time when she talks gardening with others (she usually says that she is a MG). I'm not a MG, but I feel that I am equally knowledgeable (maybe more so about some things).

    Bookmark   September 9, 2004 at 9:11AM
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I reckon it's just a particular personality type that does that -- I should have realized at the time that Jimmy was the exception, and was just an insecure kind of guy who needed that MG title to feel important.

I have to admit to a weakness for botanical names myself -- ever since I began looking for a shrub from my childhood that my mother called "Kiss-Me-At-The-Gate". I searched for ages for the thing under that name, and finally knocked on a stranger's door and asked the name of the shrub in her yard. I have an abelia now, too.


    Bookmark   September 9, 2004 at 11:08AM
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Well, as you can see none of us are like Jimmy! Glad you've found this forum, and that you kept your sense of humor after he became Frankengardener....!

p.s. I only use my MG designation to impress my parents.... ; - )

    Bookmark   September 10, 2004 at 12:17PM
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Frankengardener!! I love it!

    Bookmark   September 10, 2004 at 12:25PM
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the_dirty_hoe(z8 columbia)

i was always tell people that i am a master gardener. they are always interested and usually want to know how one goes about becoming one, and i explain the process. i also explain that i probaby dont know the answer, but know where to look.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2004 at 11:28PM
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Every time somebody finds out that I'm a MG, they automatically assume that I know a lot about gardening. Not true! I have to explain then that MGs are just volunteers, not necessarily gardening experts (altho many are experts). We just know how to look things up.

I fulfill my volunteer hours by creating our monthly newsletter and writing articles for our Web site. And that's because I don't know a lot about gardening, but I do know a lot about writing and editing. And I avoid answer clinics like the plague. In fact, I don't even want other MGs coming to my house, because my garden usually looks like cr@p! ;-)

It always bugs me when people think that Master Gardener=gardening expert. Most of the great gardeners I know aren't MGs. They'd rather spend time gardening than volunteering. And I'm living proof that you don't have to know a lot about gardening to be a MG. Call me the anti-Jimmy! :)


    Bookmark   September 14, 2004 at 11:58AM
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Re: the Jimmy's of the world - sometimes a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. All of a sudden they are experts. I used to be married to someone with just that type of personality - LOL!

I work in a nursery that holds MG clinics and I'd have to say that I have unfortunately enountered a few other MG's with similar tendencies. They DO seem to be the exception rather than the rule, but they can leave one with a bad taste in the mouth for what is overall a very worthwhile program.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2004 at 10:45AM
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mesquiteent(z6b WestTX)

Kathy, I don't know alot about gardening, either! When I met my first MGs, I asked if you had to already know alot about gardening to become one, and they said no. Of course, now I know its because it's a volunteer organization, not a Mensa meeting for gardeners:). I don't answer the phones in the office for that reason; I volunteer by helping in the gardens. I am learning more all the time, though, and one of these days, I'll know as much as anyone. I think the important part of being a MG is the willingness to learn, and to share what you do know with others, not how much you already knew when you took the class (although I imagine it's very helpful to already know alot). I try not to mention the MG title much, because I don't know more than anybody, and I wouldn't want anyone to assume I do:).

-Mesquite Ent...the other "Anti-Jimmy"

    Bookmark   September 23, 2004 at 12:11PM
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I am in the process of filling out an application for our MG program. I love to garden, both vegetable and flower, and work in my yard. The more I thought about it, I was hopeing some people would not think I knew everything about gardening, landscaping, etc. after the program. Reading this forum, I feel better about applying for the class. I won't know till November or December if I am accepted but I am keeping my fingers crossed.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2004 at 12:15PM
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Irish_Terror(z9 CA)

I've been an MG for five years now and as time passes I find out that I seem to know less and less. I organize our farmers market info booth-plant clinic, coordinate our conitnuing education project, write for the local newspaper on a monthly basis and am still stumped by lots of questions and problems in my own garden, like why my tomatoes failed this year.
I've got to say MG has opened my mind to a lot of new things that I'm trying out for the first time-lasagna gardening, growing potatoes in barrels, soil solarization, etc. MG gave me the tools to look for answers, but there are always so many new questions!

P.S. For anyone just signing up to become an MG-it's really nice to walk into your first class, meet a room full of strangers, and know that you all have something in common!

    Bookmark   September 23, 2004 at 1:15PM
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sanden(z5 MI)

Sorry guys, but this seems to be the only kind of MG I've ever met. They identify each plant by a botanical name and seem to be very pleased with themselves for it. I've even met two that told me they took the course and were experts,
but have gardeners who take care of their gardens! That would be like loving the way your spouse looks, knowing the scientific names for his body parts but hiring a .......You get the idea. The meetings with these folks left me with the notion that I would just as soon garden as spend the time getting the designation. Also, in my area all the classes are during the day and a working person could not attend anyway.

K. Sanden

    Bookmark   September 23, 2004 at 2:20PM
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sleeplessinftwayne(z4-5 IND)

I have to smile at Kathy's reason for not answering phones. I don't know how her program handles it but here, answering the phones is better than reading a textbook or two. All the calls are routed through a voice mail system. The callers record their questions and the volunteers are then able to research the answers before they talk to the caller. I've been an MG for a while and I still have to research some problems. It can also be great entertainment and a big boost to your ego when you are credited with helping someone solve a BIG problem. Until recently the biggest problem with the system was the caller not speaking clearly or forgetting to leave a name and number. Our new system uses a form of caller ID that gives us a correct number even if it is a hangup. This whole summer I have been returning calls to numbers recorded that way and no one has thought to question how I was able to call back since they never said a word. While most of the questions are pretty straightforward you can get some strange or weird ones such as the man who wanted to know how to kill a tree in a neighbor's yard because it shaded his yard and used the water and fertilizer he put down for his grass. Someone else wanted to know if he could use a shotgun to destroy a tent catapiller nest he couldn't reach. Then you get the especially nice ones like the man who brought in a basket of English walnuts because we told him how to save the trees during a drought. So if you are a new MG, volunteer for those phones. It is an experience you won't regret. Sandy

    Bookmark   September 24, 2004 at 3:36AM
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Our secretary puts calls through to the MGs as they come in. We sometimes get hit with the weird or difficult, but I've only had one caller who wasn't satisfied with "I'm not sure of the correct answer to your question and would like to do some research. May I call you back?" That person expected an instant answer to a rather technical question. Sorry, nobody knows everything!

I've found the phone work to be the best part of the education process for this old gardener. I think I've learned more by finding answers to the callers' questions than I could have learned in the same amount of time in a college course. And the added bonus is the satisfaction of helping others.

Try it. You might find you like it!

    Bookmark   September 24, 2004 at 9:54AM
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joanmary_z10(z10 Fort Lauderdale, Florida)

I have to admit when I first started answering the phones I had many colly-wobbles in my stomach, as I KNEW I did not have enough knowledge to answer many of the calls! Coming from the North and being quite new to the South, well I was the one who really wanted to ask many of the questions, despite my most enjoyable many weeks of classes!

The phone calls come to us directly. More often than not I have to call them back, as I'm not always sure of the answer. We are obliged to pass information on that only comes from the university research which means I am constantly in the library finding another answer! And here in Sourthern Florida the rains, humidity and Everglades bring some very strange conditions, plant, soil, insect, rodent,snake and alligator-wise!

I do use botanical names as there is confusion if the common name is used as all our library files are in the botanical names. Sometimes the 'common name' may be mentioned in brackets in the flyer! Besides, when we do exchanges on the GW, we HAVE to use botanical names or we may never get the exact plant we are searching for!

When I call the customers back I offer to send them the material from which my research has come and I have never had anyone turn my offer down. In this way, I make sure they have the information at their fingertips and that there has not been any misunderstanding re the answer to their problem.

I am always so pleased to hear the person saying 'thank you' and expressing pleasure at being able to have someone to speak with when trying to find an answer to a problem they have! And of course, I am constantly learning, which hopefully keeps my brain healthy - I hope!

    Bookmark   September 24, 2004 at 11:57PM
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jeffahayes(8a Upstate SC)

MY next-door neighbor is just about to start the program and I graduated 1.5 years ago, but while I've done some limited gardening off and on much of my life, he's been an avid perennial gardener all his life who learned from his mother and grandmother, as well (and my mom had little in the way of a green thumb).

The point of all this is that ever since I graduated and got certified, I've kept telling him he should take the class and get certified since he already knew way more than me or most other certified master gardeners I know.

I see it this way: Master Gardeners don't have the answers, they just know which questions to ask and have a better idea where to look for the answers.

And knowledge is like a balloon... ever notice that the bigger you blow it up, the faster its surface area grows? The more you know, the more you know there is to know. And those who think they know it all usually know the least of all.

Happy Gardening!

    Bookmark   September 27, 2004 at 1:22AM
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botanybob(Northern Idaho)

Well, this has been a very interesting thread, hearing what MG's think of their role as a MG. I am a MG program coordinator and I found everyone's comments very enlightening. I agree very much with MesquiteEnt's comment that it is not what you know but your willingness to learn. I realize a lot of people take the course to learn how to be better gardeners, but what really makes the program such a gem is the community service part of it. Your willingness to help others and to put time into educational activities, demonstration gardens, and plant clinics is really the heart and soul of the program.

I have had a couple people call me this summer who wanted to talk to me because they didn't think that Master Gardeners knew anything. They were not happy that a MG couldn't answer their question off the top of their head, and what business do they have calling themselves Master Gardeners. This really gets my hackles up because it is such a cheap shot.

Despite the few bad apples, MG's as a whole are a tremendous asset to many communities across the country. Keep up the good work.


    Bookmark   October 1, 2004 at 5:14PM
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I'm not a MG, but I can relate to the experience. I used to work at a garden center, and a lady once asked me a question about a certain plant, and I gave her an answer. She wanted to argue with me and very condescendingly with a smirk on her face, told me she knew she was right because she was a master gardener.

I smiled back and said "Really? How long is that course? 6 weeks? Well, I have a degree in horticulture and you are misinformed, and whoever gave you that information is misinformed."

It shut her up. I bet she never threw that in anyone's face again.

But I have to say that I came to this forum because most of the MG's I've met are longtime gardeners with a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience to share. Most of what I've learned about plants, I learned through experience, and most of it long after I got my degree. In fact, I got my degree in another state, and it's taken me 7 years to learn to garden competently in Florida, and I'm still learning.

I just disagree with the name "Master Gardener". I don't think anyone should be given the title of "master" anything unless they have a master's college degree and many years experience.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2004 at 7:52PM
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My first encounter with a master gardener was a nice lady who has a plant sale every year. She was both informed and helpful but she lives far away.

The next 4 MG's I've encountered have not been informed or helpful- in fact if it hadn't been for a friend telling me about GW and me getting the info here to diagnose my own plant problem I would have lost every iris I own.

I met 2 others MG's this year one fantastic and knowledgeable and the other very pleasant but doesn't even know the names of the plants in his own garden.

So I guess there the term "master" seems a misfit the average ones I've come across in my area. I have met a few nice ones tho. Here if you need info- go talk to the guy at the florist shop. Don't know or care whether he's a MG. He knows his stuff and he helps. That's a "garden master" to me.


    Bookmark   October 13, 2004 at 10:49AM
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Blond_Bimbo(5 OH)

My first experience was right at the extension office. I didn't know anything about the mg program and asked if anyone knew if there was a difference between wild elderberry and cultivated elderberry if one was poisonous to eat or if I could eat the berries on both. A man walked around the corner and said that's elderberry. I smiled at him and said I know. The secretary explained what I was asking and he was stumped but would find out. When he was done explaining what he had found, he asked if I was interested in the mg program. I told him yes I was and he said well welcome to the program. I had not yet interviewed or been chosen or anything. That was our advisory board chairperson and when the panel interview time came, I was already chosen. He always kids the agent that he was the one who "found" me for him.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2005 at 5:43PM
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blueheron(z6 PA)

When the MG program was started in the state of Washington, they already had Master Knitters and Master Canners, so the term Master Gardener was used, also. It denotes a degree of proficiency in the subject.

(I wonder if people object to the terms Master Knitter and Master Canner if the people don't have a master's degree? :^)

    Bookmark   October 5, 2005 at 8:58PM
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