Spring has sprung and your garden needs some help. Your violets aren’t vivid and your beets are buggy. Thanks to the Master Gardener Program, offered through the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE), help might be in sight. Program volunteers are dedicated to supporting home gardeners through education, use of local resources, and sharing personal experience.
UCCE offices are located in Half Moon Bay and also house programs in 4-H Youth Development, Nutrition Education, and those operating out of Elkus Ranch.
Program Coordinator Margo Lark says anyone can apply to be a Master Gardener if they have the time and more than a passing interest. “They should have a deep love of gardening and willingness to volunteer and help others with an interest in sustainable garden practices,” says Lark.
After submitting an application by mail, candidates are narrowed down using telephone interviews and written questionnaires. Once accepted, a fee of $325 is collected and a 12-week comprehensive training course must be completed. This can include learning about botany, soils, plant identification, weeds, and related topics, often with UC professors and scientists lecturing. After completing the course, 75 hours of volunteering is required within a year, of which 24 hours must be spent working the Help Line phone service.
Other hours, says Lark, could be devoted to teaching at special events or supervising an information booth, among other duties. To maintain certification as Master Gardeners, volunteers meet annual volunteer and continuing education requirements, such as participating in courses selected by committee.
Cydney Sinks of San Bruno and David Martinez of Pacifica are Master Gardeners in Training. Sinks, a mother of four, had no experience but took a chance applying.
“It has been very enjoyable,” Sinks said of her experience as a Master Gardener. “You have lectures for six hours a day and are handed a tall stack of textbooks, but it was incredible, like being a sponge.” Sinks is now exploring the option of introducing a School Garden to her child’s elementary school.
Martinez, owner of Dig It Landscape & Garden in Pacifica, ended his studies in November and is now completing his hours of service, which he describes as “a piece of cake” to finish.
“I’m doing things I like to do,” says the horticulturist of almost 30 years. Martinez said his area of work and a slowing economy left him deciding between returning to school or doing community outreach work.
“With the program, I could learn and have a connection to those with my same interests,” he says. “Master Gardeners taught me how to communicate with people about my skills and share my knowledge.”
Martinez adds that besides learning how to garden chemical and toxin-free, he was able to work with the environment of his garden. “They teach you how to try to not leave a big footprint,” he says.
Besides plant sales and garden tours, Master Gardeners offer ongoing advice to locals through a Help Line, staffed on Mondays and Thursdays from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Workshops are offered monthly, with topics such as “Growing Edibles”. Free or minimal charge classes are held twice a week at Little House in Menlo Park, concentrating on topics for beginning or intermediate gardeners.
“Gardening is an activity you can enjoy from being very young to very old,” says Lark. “Here we have firm believers in environmental stewardship and I think it’s important to help people.”
Today’s Tomato and Pepper Plant Sale from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the College of San Mateo greenhouse is one of the “cost recovery” events for the Master Gardener Program, says Lark. Master Gardeners raise their own funds, and besides plants, gently used garden tools, pots, and books will be for sale. The Master Composters group will also be on hand. The event, co-sponsored by the College of San Mateo, Lyngso Garden Materials, and the Daily Journal, “has something for everyone into gardening,” says Lark.
In June, a garden tour event will also be held, featuring tours of seven Peninsula gardens, selected by a committee and each having a distinct gardening feature.
“That event will demonstrate the structure of gardens,” says Lark. “We are trying to feature sustainability--how do you go about doing it?” One garden on the tour will feature a lawn that was replaced with Pacific Beach Strawberry, a native California species producing small ornamental strawberries.
Today’s Tomato and Plant sale has free parking and free admission.
For the Help Line or program information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (650) 726-9059 x 107.
Information about the Master Gardener Program and related services is available here.
To check out materials on the practice of sheet composting, a gardening technique gaining popularity, go to David Martinez’s website.