August 13, 2016
After moving from England to Northern California, I found myself responsible for a two-acre hillside garden in West Marin. The previous owners had not been gardeners, so the few paths that existed were badly overgrown. My husband and I worked on weeding, terracing and otherwise upgrading the garden as best we could for a year or so, but because it was on a steep hill, it continued to be a challenging enterprise. All changed for the garden and for us when a friend and I were accepted into the UC Marin Master Gardener program in 2004.
What I learned was the program (MMGs) is an integral organization within the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) and provides research-based information on horticulture and sustainable gardening practices to Marin residents. To promote healthy homes and gardens here, we reach out through newspaper articles, timely and informative public garden seminars, farmers markets, demonstration gardens and by answering questions and diagnosing plant problems at the free help desk in Novato.
We also offer free garden walks in which we visit residents’ gardens, answer questions and promote bay-friendly gardening practices while helping them improve their irrigation practices to reduce water waste and conserve Marin’s precious water resources.
Becoming a MMG is a rewarding experience. The training program is an intensive, yet highly interesting, 18-week overview course that covers a multitude of horticultural practices and topics such as beneficial insects, irrigation, soil amendments, fire-safe planting, considerations for garden designing, plant propagation, and pests and diseases of plants and trees. Classes meet Thursdays from January to mid-May. Before classes begin in January, each trainee is introduced to a mentor who guides them throughout the training and familiarizes them with the organization. University of California faculty and staff, landscape and nursery professionals, local horticultural educators and certified Master Gardeners teach the classes.
MMGs include men and women of all ages and all walks of life and backgrounds. They share an enthusiasm for gardening, some knowledge of plants, an interest in local food sources, a willingness to learn and help others, and the ability to communicate with diverse groups of people. Members of this all-volunteer organization develop long-term friendships and strong working relationships in their joint effort to promote healthy gardening practices.
MMGs make a strong commitment to volunteer their services and knowledge in exchange for the UC training and materials. After completing the program and meeting its requirements, MMGs are required to complete MMG-sponsored volunteer service and continuing education yearly. In 2015, 354 active MMGs donated more than 25,046 hours to community service projects in Marin.
Since my training, my home garden boasts productive raised beds, several varieties of fruit trees and multiple beds with an ever-changing panorama of blooming, drought-tolerant ornamentals. The changes were enabled by the continuing knowledge I’ve gained as a Master Gardener on the importance of soil, the benefits of compost and mulch, choosing the right plant for the right place and providing the appropriate cultural care for the wide variety of plants in our now established garden.
If you are a Marin resident and want to learn more about Master Gardeners, go to marinmg.ucanr.eduand click on the home page link to “How to Become a Master Gardener.” Applications are are accepted until 4 p.m. Sept. 9. Interviews take place Sept. 28 to Oct. 4.