New OSU Master Gardener Program manager praises power of gardening networks

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CORVALLIS, Ore – During the pandemic, Leslie Madsen decided to rip out her front yard and expand her garden.

Madsen noticed something started to change in her relationships with her neighbors.

“I had lived there a few years and didn’t know many of them,” Madsen said. “But because I was out in the front yard gardening I could chat with people, and I learned so much about my neighbors. Suddenly everyone knew me, and I knew them. It was neat to interact with other people who were interested in gardening, whether they had done it before or not.”

Madsen is the new statewide Master Gardener Program manager for the Oregon State University Extension Service. She started Dec. 29.

Madsen will provide leadership, guidance and direction for county-based OSU Extension employees who coordinate local Master Gardener programs that engage more than 2,400 Master Gardener volunteers in 27 counties.

Madsen came to OSU from Boise State University, where she was the associate director for educational development in the Center for Teaching and Learning.

Madsen said she was drawn to the position because she would be able to fuse her personal interest and passion for gardening with the power of gardening and gardening networks and their role in adult education.

She learned about the role of gardeners as she worked on her dissertation, which centered on the role of women scientists in natural history institutions, primarily in California and especially botanists. These scientists, who helped democratize the understanding and practice of science, wrote often of the work that garden clubs were doing in educating the public about botany.

“Master Gardeners educate people,” Madsen said. “They can help people become more inclusive by bringing people into gardening. Gardening has all kinds of health benefits, beautifies the community, and brings people together.”

Her initial goal is to increase the notion among OSU Extension Master Gardeners “that they’re part of a statewide community and that they are effecting real change in their communities and Oregon, and that they have a voice in helping to shape our program.”

Madsen would also like to continue the program’s efforts to diversify its volunteer corps.

“The more diverse groups of people you have working together, the better the results,” she said. “While drawing on the experiences and wisdom of our dedicated, long-time volunteers, I’d like to integrate people with different life experiences, people with different abilities and people with different ways of thinking.”

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