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Maryland’s Master Gardeners

We have 1,800 volunteer gardeners helping gardeners

      Serving Maryland’s home gardeners are 1,800 volunteer Master Gardeners.
      A program of the Maryland Cooperative Service of the University of Maryland, Master Gardeners have branches in all but Caroline County. The director is Jon Traunfeld, and under his leadership the program has gained nationwide recognition.
       Each Master Gardener trains for 40 hours, attending lectures and demonstrations, studying plant identification and nutrition, cultural practices and identification of insects and disease as well as methods of controlling them.
       For every hour of training, Master Gardeners volunteer two hours of service. The service includes answering mail and phone calls, giving lectures, doing demonstrations and participating in plant clinics. Most Master Gardeners are so enthusiastic they volunteer above and beyond the minimum demanded of them.
      I started Maryland’s Master Garners program in 1980. Until then, only five counties had horticultural agents. Part of my job was assisting agricultural agents in the remaining 16 counties with home horticultural issues — on top of serving the needs of the nursery, landscape and Christmas tree growers. I could get no help because university agricultural administrators — oriented as they were toward animal husbandry, poultry or soils sciences — had no appreciation for expanding home horticulture needs. In my frustration, I complained that unless it has horns, teats and feathers, it does not mean a damn thing.
     In 1980 Dr. Craig Oliver became the new director of the Maryland Cooperation Extension Service. He had been on the horticulture faculty at Penn State and was well aware of the expanding home horticulture ­potential.
     On his first day in office, I introduced myself, my problem and successful Master Gardener programs in New Jersey and Long Island. He instantly granted me three days of out-of-state travel with a state vehicle and told me to select two horticultural agents and visit both facilities. I was also to prepare a detailed report including proposed needs for starting a similar program in Maryland.
     The visit to the Cooperative Extension office near Brunswick, N.J., was extremely productive because the coordinator was one of my old roommates at the University of New Hampshire. He provided us with copies of all training and service materials. 
      At the Extension office in Hampstead, N.Y., we watched Master Gardeners in action and were given copies of all materials on files.
      Back home, I spent the weekend preparing the report and presented it to Dr. Oliver the following Monday morning. On reading the report, he gave me the green light to initiate a Master Gardeners program.
     I invited all the horticultural agents to help organize a training program and select potential Master Gardeners. My job was to assemble a training manual and present lectures and demonstrations. By fall 1980, we began training 15 volunteers, mostly from Anne Arundel, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. The rest is history.
      The comprehensive training manual has been revised at least 10 times and weighs approximately five pounds.
     To become a Master Gardener, contact the Maryland Cooperate Extension Office in your county. There is no age limit or experience needed. Once you become a Master Gardener, you will not only enjoy gardening more but also gain great satisfaction in helping others.