Wondering what it is like to be a Master Gardener, or what a "day in the life of a Master Gardener" might be like? I remember what I was thinking when I first heard that my dear friends' mother was a Master Gardener... I thought "wow! That's amazing...and what does that mean exactly?!" I also thought "wow! She must know everyyything!!!" She knew the botanical names of plants and spoke with an intimate knowledge and passion about gardening that I so admired, and seemed like she had been gardening for many lifetimes! Time passed and, as a lover of gardening and someone who grew up in a family where everyone valued gardening, it just sort of stuck with me, this amazing accomplishment and title of "Master Gardener (cue impressive sounding music!)."
Master Gardener Coordinator, Maggie O'Neill
After years of thinking about it I decided to apply for the program in San Bernardino County, and I was accepted! Yeah!! Now what?! Can I do it? I was a little nervous about what I had gotten myself in to, did I have what it takes to be a Master Gardener?! I had worked several jobs….one as an insectary manager, another as a scuba dive guide on the small, but beautiful, island of Palau, where the people still fish and farm, living very close to the land. I also spent many years caring for my grandmother who lived on an old citrus grove…. what did these things have in common? Not a whole lot, I thought…an odd, but wonderful, assortment of life experiences…. but how would they help me become a Master Gardener!?
Maggie teaching children at a Master Gardeners event
I remember the first day of class, when we started going around the room introducing ourselves and why we were inspired to take the Master Gardener program. The stories we so varied, people from all walks of life, with a wide variety of backgrounds….but I started to notice a theme…they all spoke with such a passion for what the garden had meant to them in their lives. How it had uplifted them; given them improved health, physically and mentally; been a place of healing; was a connection they had with their families and communities; connected them with the earth and guided them to steward the land; and how they loved sharing and teaching what they knew. That's when I realized the common thread was passion and belief in all that gardening gives back to us (aside from great tomatoes and beautiful flowers!). Over the next 18 weeks our passion became backed with knowledge…about all aspects of gardening, and about what the Master Gardener program was able to give back to the community. It was heartwarming and so inspiring. I begin to see how my own unique and diverse background experiences as an insectary manager with a fascination for entomology, as a dive guide living on a small island, where people still followed traditional farming practices and as a caregiver for my grandmother (who lived to 100, she said "thanks to gardening!") all helped me to become a better Master Gardener!
It's been several years since I first began the program, and two years into my job as the current Master Gardener coordinator for San Bernardino County, and I can say that my pride and passion for being a Master Gardener has just continued to grow every day. I love meeting our new trainees, and getting to know our seasoned volunteers better, seeing how their own unique and varied backgrounds all come together to make our program strong and multifaceted.
You can find our Master Gardeners at events all throughout the county, teaching people about sustainable landscaping, growing food and healthy living through gardening, sharing research-based peer reviewed information with the public. They are working with the community to help them protect their citrus trees from Huanglongbing disease (https://ucanr.edu/sites/ACP/) and the pest Asian Citrus Psyllid. They keep you up to date on the latest emerging pests, like have you heard about the Gold Spotted Oak Borer (https://ucanr.edu/sites/gsobinfo/). They can be found staffing info tables at events and farmers markets, answering questions about what might be ailing someone's favorite tree (http://ipm.ucanr.edu), or what time of year should they plant tomatoes (anytime now is a great time to get seeds started!! And soon it will be time for transplants! See free UCANR publication 8159 “Growing Tomatoes in Your Home Garden” https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/Details.aspx?itemNo=8159), or giving information about how many chill hours someone might get in their area (http://fruitsandnuts.ucdavis.edu/Weather_Services/chilling_accumulation_models/) so they can decide what types of fruit trees they should plant in their yard.
Our Master Gardeners work with organizations all over the county to help them plan gardens that will work in their location and microclimate, and they demonstrate to the public planting techniques, and more, to enable people to garden for themselves. They teach people how to garden successfully in small spaces, and how to manage pests with least toxic methods. We work with our many county partners and local agencies to bring education on all things garden related to you. Another amazing contribution our Master Gardeners make to the community is our knowledgeable volunteers who staff a helpline where you can call or email us all of your plant related questions (I tell people “we are like batman waiting by the phone to answer all of you plant questions! Well…..Sort of, we generally do some research and then call or email you back within a day or so …)! We also have "Ask a Master Gardener" times throughout the county where you can come a talk with us personally and bring your photos and your plant/insect samples (sealed in a bag!). We have two seed libraries in Montclair and Yucaipa where you can come and "check out" free seeds, but also learn all about the seed harvesting and planting part of the growing cycle that so many of us are not sure about! We work with many healthy cities programs throughout the county working to improve the health and wellness of the region though gardening. Our Master Gardeners offer assistance and information at mulch giveaways and community events and give free talks throughout the county on all aspects of gardening. The list goes on and on, your counties Master Gardeners are working constantly to empower the public to get growing and give them the resources and knowledge they need to keep growing!!!
Goldspotted oak borer (GSOB)
Master Gardeners Class of 2020
If you are interested in becoming a Master Gardener in our county, we would love to have you join our next Master Gardener class and see what it's all about. Or if you just want to learn more from our great volunteers look for us at our many events, follow us on social media and check out our calendar of events on our website. If you would like to invite us to speak to or work with your clubs, organizations or communities we would love to do that too. With our passion for all things gardening and your knowledge of the needs of your community we can do great things in San Bernardino County together!