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Master gardeners work to create gardens in the community and educate people about plants, their community and gardening in general.

sense revolution”. Master gardeners was forced to incorporate as a non-profit group and became MGOI – Master Gardeners of Ontario Incorporated. The beginning was a very difficult time in which the newly created board (most of whom were basically skilled gardeners, not managers) grappled with managing and financing a new, large organization. In spite of the challenging circumstanc- es, they did a great job. Now, like most volunteers, members pay dues to help fund their local group and community work. Local groups also help fund the provincial organization, which does an amazing job collecting and disseminat- ing information back down the ladder, as well as advising and advocating for the local groups. To join, Master Gardeners In Train-

ing (MGITs — often referred to as midgets, making it one of the funniest acronyms ever!) must undertake univer- sity courses, originally offered from the University of Guelph, but now through Dalhousie in Nova Scotia. It is possible for applicants with previous horticultur- al experience to get permission to write an exemption exam. While the courses at the start were offered at no charge, MGITs currently must pay a discount- ed fee for the training. As an alterna- tive today a self-directed study program is also available, followed by an exam. The education program and the newly revamped Master Gardeners Reference Manual both focus on eco-friendly tech- niques, avoiding pesticides, the benefits of biodiversity in the garden, pollina- tor habitat and home-growing food, as

Master gardeners are continually upgrading their skills, here they’re learn- ing about rain gardens and native plants.

well as plant health. Master gardeners are available as a resource for the public on issues which affect everyone, such as the importance of recognizing invasive species. Each year, every member must

complete six hours of education, and 30 hours of volunteer work (including outreach to the public and administra- tive tasks). Personal education is impor- tant in order that members stay up-to- date on the newest information and most state-of-the-art techniques. Outreach into the community might

involve holding question and answer sessions or speaking to groups inter- ested in gardening and at horticultural events such as the Stratford Gardening Festival and Canada Blooms, as well as horticultural society meetings. Phone and email hotlines are staffed by volun- teers to ensure that the public can ask questions. Many groups are responsible for writ-

ing gardening columns in local newspa- pers and on-line. Master gardeners do a lot of community volunteering, often in the form of designing and oversee- ing the creation of community gardens and parks, and no-charge horticultural consulting for other volunteer groups. From an master gardener standpoint,

technical updates are the most inter- esting. They feature renowned speak- ers, on a variety of topics, and garden celebrities, (yes, cynical readers, there are such individuals). World-famous gardeners such as Allan Armitage, one of the 10 most influential horticulturists in history, and Paul Zammit, director

of horticulture of the Toronto Botani- cal Gardens, grace the symposiums, building enthusiasm and strengthening knowledge. Many master gardeners are recruit-

ed through local gardening clubs and horticulture societies. Interested folks can also participate as trainees at vari- ous events for example by helping man information booths. Often, once some- one experiences the joy of learning about gardening — or any topic — they real- ize they want to learn more, and more! One of the wonderful things about being a master gardener, about being exposed to so much new information on a regular basis, is that the conversa- tions and debates sparked by broaden- ing one’s knowledge, combined with basic companionship and camaraderie — being surrounded by like-minded people and people with slightly vary- ing interests — makes a person more complete and therefore, more satisfied, which is a rare thing in today’s world. You can find out more online about

the (surprisingly) interesting world of the master gardeners of Ontario, many groups have an on-line presence and are available via social networking. There’s a lot of information on the master gardener website at If you’re interested in gardening, or even just have gardening questions, check with the master gardeners. Then take that knowledge and pay it forward, making the world a greener place. x Sean James NPD, is a member of Master

Gardeners of Ontario and is president of Fern Ridge Landscaping.

Fall 2016 • 65

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