With the glare of the summer sun permeating the grounds and the air practically dripping with humidity, one would almost expect the Garden to be rather empty. However, each day Master Gardeners file through its gates to cultivate magnificent plant life, no matter the weather that greets them.
Currently, 430 Master Gardeners log hours at 150 locations inside the Botanical Garden’s walls and across St. Louis; Master Gardeners even service some sites across the river in Illinois. Almost 22,000 hours have already been logged in 2017.
“There has never been a time where I asked for volunteers, and didn’t get at least one,” says Master Gardener Coordinator Holly Records.
Becoming a Master Gardener
As Master Gardener Coordinator since December of 2012, Records has assisted in fostering and expanding the fruitful partnership between the University of Missouri Extension and Missouri Botanical Garden.
“Instructors’ presentations are the basis for the sessions, with materials from the MU Extension supplementing those presentations,” Records explains.
Training lasts from the first week of January to the second week of May and members are chosen on a first come, first serve basis. The classes cover topics from plant relationships, anatomy, growth and development to landscape and garden design to integrated pest management.
Active Master Gardeners must complete 10 hours of additional education and 40 hours of volunteer work annually.
Records emphasizes that trainees are encouraged to find an interest area while in the program and to go from there when choosing where to volunteer.
The volunteer opportunities available include instruction, outdoor and indoor gardening, answering community members’ questions, and much more. In March, all Master Gardeners attend a volunteer fair where representatives of all locations provide information on what is required of volunteers who choose to complete hours there.
Jean Hunt finished her training in May and currently works as a plant doctor in the Kemper Center for Home Gardening. She selected to volunteer there as she also works at a garden shop and gravitated toward volunteering where she could use her previous experience, and new education, to help other gardeners.
“I heard about the Master Gardener program a few years back,” Hunt says. “I have always gardened and this seemed like a fun way to take that to the next level.”
Master Gardeners do not just assist when on the clock, but also on a day-to-day basis in their communities.
“When people hear that you’re in the Master Gardener program, you get all kinds of questions about tons of topics, so there’s always more to learn,” says Ned Siegel, a Master Gardener. “You also get asked to help plan a great number of community projects, such as neighborhood gardens.”
Community projects count toward annual volunteer hours as well, as the program encourages members to share their knowledge in the public whenever possible. One way many Master Gardeners reach their communities is by teaching at various schools.
Teaching the Next Generation
Margaret Grant, a chef who also has a degree in education for global sustainability, is a current Master Gardener who directs much of the youth education aspects of the program.
“Parents love supporting their kids,” Grant says. “Master Gardeners can teach the kids how to grow and maintain plants, as well as how to rotate plants to best use the soil they have available.”
Kids will often run with what they’re taught and find new and exciting ways to use what they’ve learned, as with a school group Grant instructed who saved seeds from pumpkins carved in class for Halloween. They took those seeds, cultivated them in pots, moved them outside to a plot of land, and were able to grow their own Halloween pumpkins the next year.
“This project allowed the children to see how they can grow a cycle of plants that they can use,” Grant adds.
In addition to class time teaching, events are held at multiple locations throughout the year to bring in eager students.
One entertaining event held in the Kemper Center for Home Gardening is Cultivating Young Cooks.
Held on August 19 this year, the event is intended to help kids “discover the resources and information needed to foster the development of young cooks, young gardeners, and healthy eaters.”
Activities include the chance to touch a worm, taste a mushroom, milk a goat, drink kombucha, eat a bug, make cheese, sample chocolate, and much more. The first 250 children who participate in every station will receive an ice cream treat from Serendipity Ice Cream.
The event is free with Garden admission.
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