In the early 1970's a re-generated interest in home gardening spread through the United States at an unprecedented pace. Gardening became America's number one hobby, and extension offices everywhere were overwhelmed with requests for horticultural information and education. In Washington state, Dr. David Gibby, a WSU AgriLife Extension agent, and Dr. Arlen Davison, a WSU plant pathologist, saw the need to expand their information outreach, and had the idea of equipping volunteers for this task. The plan was for Extension to provide applicants with extensive horticultural training, and, in return, the Master volunteers would assist Extension in their outreach, providing the general public with information and education. Thus, began the Master Gardener program. The first Master Gardener class was trained in 1973 in Washington state.
The Texas Master Gardener program began in 1978 at Extension horticulture training at Texas A&M University when Dr. Sam Cotner, Extension vegetable specialist, described the success of the movement in Washington. The first Master Gardner class in Texas was held in 1979 in Montgomery County with 25 applicants. The first training class in Bexar County was held in 1989, and, as of spring 2011, there have been 52 subsequent classes. Due to the popularity of the program, three classes are presently held each year: fall, spring, and a summer class which trains teachers to implement Junior Master Gardener training in their schools.
From the start, the program has been richly diversified, reflecting the skills and individuality of each volunteer. Volunteers bring a vast array of skills and talents to the program, and Master Gardeners use these skills to contribute a myriad of programs for our community. Educating homeowners and answering their questions is at the heart of the program. In Bexar County, this is best shown through the Master Gardener Homeowners Hotline—manned daily by volunteers who research and respond to hundreds of questions each year. The Classrooms Gardens programs focuses on education, teaching children how to garden, emphasizing environmental stewardship, and encouraging good nutrition. Teachers in over 250 participating schools use the gardens to teach math and science in a hands-on, non-traditional setting. The Junior Master Gardener (JMG) program offers horticulture and environmental science education through fun and creative activities. JMG introduces young gardeners to the art and science of gardening, and helps them develop life skills, leadership, and responsibility, enabling them to become good citizens withing their communities, schools, and families.
Master Gardeners address meaningful social and environmental issues in Bexar County through their partnership with San Antonio Water System (SAWS), various Xeriscape programs, educational events, and demonstration gardens. Other Master Gardener programs include group presentations to garden clubs, civic groups, and homeowners associations; information and educational booths at local events, a major display for children and adults in The Texas Experience at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, and participation in special events at San Antonio Botanical Garden.
As you can see, the Master Gardener program is much more than a horticulture class or garden club. It is an educational/volunteer program conducted by Texas AgriLife Extension that enables participants to serve their community. The program is designed to increase the availability of information and extend projects throughout the community. Master Gardeners provide valuable information that improves the quality of life for residents of Bexar County.
David Rodriguez is your local gardening expert for Central/South Texas and the Texas Hill Country. He represents Texas Agrilife Extension as an Extension Agent-Horticulture. To have your questions answered, call the Bexar County Master Gardeners Hotline at (210) 467-6575; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org .
Extension programs serve people of all ages regardless of socioeconomic level, race, color, sex, religion, disability,or national origin. The Texas A&M University System, US Department of Agriculture, and the County Commissioners Courts of Texas Cooperating.