Garden Experts Ready for Prime Time

By Mary Stewart, OSU Extension Regional Communications & Marketing Coordinator, West Central Region.

Salem, Ore.—As the soils warm in Marion County, a new class of OSU Extension Master Gardener™ graduates hits the garden ground running and ready to dig in on educational efforts that will reap benefits for home gardener and community managers alike. The new experts completed their 12-week course in mid-April at the OSU Extension Service office in Salem.

“In 2014, we trained 35 new and 80 returning Master Gardener™ volunteers in Marion County who will help people with their gardening questions,” says Neil Bell, the OSU Extension horticulturist who manages the Master Gardener™ program.  The idea behind any master training program is to provide a high level of intensive training to volunteers who pay back the hours of instruction by providing service.

The 66-hour training creates informed gardening advisors who are armed with a massive plant resource library, problem solving practice and an impressive support system of seasoned Master Gardeners, Extension faculty based in Salem and in other counties and researchers at the Plant Clinic on the OSU campus in Corvallis.


The volunteers will pay back 40 of their hours assisting homeowners with their gardening questions in the OSU Extension office in Salem or at a clinic at community events. Part of this commitment may also be fulfilled by providing horticulture knowledge to community or school gardens in the county. The remaining hours may be served in the Master Gardener demonstration garden adjacent to the Extension office, on the Master Gardener™ Speakers Bureau, providing gardening information on KBZY 1490, or at the Oregon Garden, among other projects.

Jacob Bertsch, a newly-trained OSU Master Gardener from South Salem says, “I will bring the knowledge acquired during the course to my family, friends and others interested in gardening.” His new skills will also help him keep a sharp business edge in his small landscaping firm: JB's Local Landcare & Gardening. “The OSU Extension Master Gardener™ program instruction has taught me to see how the different areas of gardening work together in a holistic system,” says Jacob.


“One of the largest areas of growth for OSU Extension Master Gardener™ service is in Community Gardens,” says Neil. “There has been a big increase in people who need help starting and maintaining community gardens—including schools, churches and public plots,” he adds. 

OSU Extension Master Gardeners have found ways to keep school gardens thriving after the school year ends and students leave for the summer.  A partnership between OSU Extension Master Gardeners, the Learning Gardens Program of the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation and Salem Harvest will provide the people and resources to bridge the long, hot summer and keep gardens tended and producing food until the students return in the fall. “The partnership is a win-win-win-win,” says Neil.

Aaron Poplack, Salem, took the Master Gardener training to prepare him for work with the Learning Gardens Program for the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation. In addition to finding value in receiving in-depth technical, science-based information about gardening, he says, “I appreciated gaining awareness of the various resources I can reference in the future.”


According to Neil, the volume and quality of current scientific information in the classes, the complete set of resource materials and the multiple levels of continuous support provided by Oregon State University make the type of information the public may receive from Master Gardener™ trainees more comprehensive than from other sources. 

However, staff members at garden centers are catching on to the fact that they will be more helpful to customers if they are also an OSU Extension Master Gardener™.  Cindy Van Dyke, Woodburn, is a retired teacher and working for a garden center. “The Master Gardener™ training will help me do a better job of advising people who come to the Garden Center,” she says. “I also look forward to answering phones at the gardening clinic in the OSU Extension-Marion County office and helping with the youth gardening program,” Cindy adds.


The OSU Extension Master Gardener program contributed 11,765 hours of volunteer time in Marion County in 2013, and served 3,416 clients directly through their various projects. Because the Master Gardeners organize their own plant sale each year in May, they are an entirely self-funded organization--all of their outreach is paid for by the volunteers themselves.

In fact, the program was recently recognized by the Marion County Commissioners, earning it the 2013 Mary Pearmine Outstanding Volunteer Group award.

For more information on the OSU Extension Master Gardener™ program, contact: Neil Bell, Community Horticulturist, Marion County and Polk County, OSU Extension Service, 3180 Center Street NE #1361, Salem, OR 97301, 503-361-2671.

Photos by Mary Stewart