If you like working with plants and people, you can become a master gardener. Master gardeners are trained volunteers who assist the Cooperative Extension Service, a government agency that provides gardening advice to the public.
As a master gardener candidate, you’ll receive in-depth training in horticulture and backyard gardening from university and extension specialists. You’ll learn about the basics of vegetable and ornamental gardening, as well as landscaping, plant diseases, and insects. A typical training program would involve 30-plus hours of training in horticulture-related topics the first year, with 8 hours of additional update training each year thereafter.
After you complete your training, you will volunteer to serve at your local extension office. The Cooperative Extension staff will help match your talents and interests with the needs of the extension office and the gardening public. You might teach small groups through classes and workshops at libraries, botanical gardens, or fairs and other events. Or you may answer individual gardener’s questions by phone while staffing a garden hotline, by mail, by e-mail, or in person. You can also assist in preparing garden-related newsletters, or work with special audiences such as physically challenged adults or troubled teens. A typical volunteer workload is 50 hours the first year and 20 hours each subsequent year.
Once you become a master gardener, you can receive updates and training through your local extension office, participate in statewide or regional meetings, and even attend a biennial national conference for master gardeners.
The Washington State Extension office developed this program in 1972 to help handle the overwhelming number of home gardening questions. Today, master gardeners can be found throughout the United States, and a similar program exists in Canada. To become a master gardener, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service office, or visit the website of the American Horticultural Society to learn about training opportunities and requirements in your state.