“If you wish to make anything grow, you must understand it, and understand it in a very real sense. ‘Green fingers’ are a fact, and a mystery only to the unpracticed. But green fingers are the extensions of a verdant heart.”
― Russell Page, The Education of a Gardener
A person could spend a lifetime learning in fields, gardens and forests and always find something more to explore, absorb, pursue. And it is a very basic human trait to share the wonder and discoveries.
Defined by the American Horticulture Society, a Master Gardener program is typically offered “through universities in the United States and Canada, provides intense home horticulture training to individuals who then volunteer in their communities, giving lectures, creating gardens, conducting research, and many other projects.”
The UConn Extension Master Gardener Program is an educational outreach program that started in 1978 and consists of horticulture training and outreach component in the community.
Master gardeners are enthusiastic, willing to learn, and share their knowledge and training with others. What sets them apart from other home gardeners is their special horticultural training. In exchange for this training, they commit time as volunteers working through their local UConn Extension Center and the Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford to provide horticultural-related information to their communities.
Signature outreach projects are determined by the County Master Gardener Coordinators and are carried out by certified master gardener volunteers and interns. Through these outreach programs, the UConn Extension Master Gardener program has a tremendous impact on the communities across Connecticut.
In 2013, more than 23,500 hours of community service were donated at a value of $664,110. Here’s some of what’s growing on:
In Fairfield County, installation and maintenance of exhibition gardens, primarily native trees and shrubs. Plantings were selected to attract birds and butterflies. The garden includes foundation plantings, a pollinator garden, a vegetable garden and orchard. Master gardeners provide docent walks and special events. Signature outreach includes initiatives and activities that help preserve, restore, maintain and protect the natural beauty of the grounds as a cultural and ecological resource to the community. Other events supported include the Bethel Garden Fair and the Farmers’ Market Mini-Plant Clinic.
At the Bartlett Arboretum and Gardens several teams of mentors run the perennial, herb, cottage, sundial and vegetable gardens. The native plant garden and fern garden have been designed, installed and are maintained by dedicated crews of master gardeners. In the larger community, they provide support for the Gardening Initiative in Vegetable Education (GIVE) program to set up and maintain vegetable gardens in schoolyards. A master gardener started it four years ago at one school; now there are 19 schools with vegetable gardens in Stamford. In Norwalk, Ryan Park was renovated by a few master gardeners and developed into an urban oasis. Gardens are flourishing and activities for children and parents are held to offer the community an outdoor place to play, gather and learn.
In Hartford County, master gardener volunteers helped plant and maintain a garden on the grounds of the Burgdorf/Bank of America Health center, a clinic for the underserved in Hartford’s North End. The garden is used to teach nutrition to clients and also provides healthy produce for residents living in a food desert. Along with keeping the garden healthy and productive, master gardeners also help educate area residents about the ability to grow their own healthy food, even with limited space.
Master gardeners also helped start the Community Court garden in Hartford. The 100-by-100-foot garden is part of the court diversion program, working with first-time and non-violent offenders to keep them out of the larger court system. As part of their community service, these individuals help maintain the production garden, providing food for area organizations and learning horticultural skills in the process. They also assist with crop selection, garden maintenance practices and problem solving.
At Brooker Memorial Child Care in Torrington, a multi-generational group worked with Litchfield County Master Gardeners to install a raised bed children’s garden. The garden had been a goal of Brooker Memorial’s for years, and the help of the master gardener program saw this realized in 2014. The children are very interested in watching the plants grow and take their jobs, like watering, very seriously. Parents and community members are also involved with the garden. Other signature outreach programs in Litchfield County include the Northwest Conservation District Plant Sale and the Master Gardener booth at four local fairs.
Middlesex County Master Gardeners have a focus group and community garden. The focus group presents opportunities at all levels to teach and learn in a collaborative environment, provide forums for researching and experimenting with organic gardening, and enhances sustainable living practices through community outreach and education. The model community garden delivers all fresh produce to community food banks and soup kitchens during the growing season, and offers the community an ongoing teaching and learning tool for organic horticultural practices throughout the year.
Master gardeners in New Haven County focus on two different signature projects. They maintain the shrubs and perennials on the grounds of the UConn Extension Center in North Haven, and revived an herb-teaching garden. Interns and volunteers are also providing maps and cultural information on the plants, and work on the insect collection and other office projects. An umbrella project, New Haven Urban Agriculture covers a group of interrelated activities in the city of New Haven. Master gardeners collaborate with the New Haven Land Trust Community Gardens, New Haven Department of Parks, Recreation and Trees, Marsh Botanical Garden, New Haven Farms, Urban Resources Initiative and Common Ground High School. Each volunteer is asked to devote at least five hours of their time commitment to one or more of these signature projects.
New London County Master Gardeners have their signature project at Camp Harkness in Waterford. This educational outreach project puts into practice the concept of horticultural therapy. Every summer the camp welcomes adults with disabilities who participate in activities such as planting and maintaining planters, working with herbs, and more, working with a dedicated group of UConn Extension certified Master Gardeners and interns. During winter months they work with seniors in the greenhouse. Master Gardener and Horticultural Therapist Julia Griswold established the program, which has been ongoing for many years.
Nine different signature outreach projects keep master gardeners in Tolland County engaged in community activities that include: the Tolland youth garden, Belding Wildlife Management Area, Wasp Watchers, Strong Family Farm, Wind Hill Community Farm, Hartford Summer School Garden, Pascal Lane Community Garden, South Windsor Farmer’s Market and the Hebron Harvest Fair. Each of these projects provides opportunities for children, youth and families to discover the joys and benefits of gardening, environmental stewardship and community service. Produce that is harvested through the Tolland Youth Garden is donated to the Cornerstone Soup Kitchen in Rockville.
At the Wind Hill Community Farm in Glastonbury, produce from one 40-acre field is donated to Foodshare.
People’s Harvest in Pomfret is one of the signature projects in Windham County. This half-acre vegetable garden and educational project has been run by the Master Gardeners for more than 10 years. The produce is donated to local soup kitchens. Many area youth groups visit People’s Harvest to learn about their connections to the environment, raising vegetables using sustainable techniques, and food security issues. Master gardeners are also active with: a demonstration garden at the Extension Center in Brooklyn, the Palmer Arboretum in Woodstock, Our Companion Animal Sanctuary in Ashford, and Goodwin Conservation Center in Hampton.
To find out more about the program and outreach efforts, visit www.mastergardener.uconn.edu or call State Coordinator Leslie Alexander at (860) 486-6343. Each state in the U.S. has a program; here is a link to find yours.