The University of Tennessee Extension program is often compared to the front porch of the community. By extension, Master Gardeners, volunteers with a love for horticulture, are trained by the UT Extension agents with some of the most up-to-date research.
“We’re in your communities, we’re your neighbors down the street,” said Coffee County UT Extension agent Anna Duncan. “We’re here to talk to you about what you want to know about.”
Duncan and her Franklin County counterpart have partnered to form the Crimson Clover Master Gardener Association. During a recent informative meeting, the two agents explained that Master Gardener groups were founded to help expand the mission of the extension offices.
“If we take our education and teach these groups that multiplies the benefit of that education tenfold,” Duncan said.
Education and volunteering are important to being a Master Gardener.
Locally, one Master Gardener project is the Coffee County Jail’s garden initiative, formed through the volunteer work of master gardener Annette Graham, wife of department chaplain Charlie Graham. Another project involves starting a therapy garden at a local assisted living facility.
It’s about using gardening to improve lives in the community. But first, that gardening must grow.
To earn the designation Master Gardener, volunteers must take 18 out of 22 classes (each about two hours long). The classes cover subjects like soil health, turf and lawn care, landscape design pruning and plant propagation.
Participants must also perform 40 service hours during the year-long training program. After that Master Gardeners maintain their distinction with eight hours continuing education and 25 service hours per year.
The UT Extension works with Master Gardeners, rolling up its sleeves to help with the volunteer work.
“We don’t just send (them) out into the world and to volunteer,” said Franklin County UT Extension agent Morgan Franklin. We continue to train (them) how to come up with projects so that (they) can give back to the community.”
Former Master Gardener Linda Rogers, who is interested in returning to the program, said that some of the perks of the program is invites to state conferences, a weekend of seminars, meeting fellow gardeners and plant sales.
“It really fun to get together with other people who like gardening,” she said. “With the volunteer work you get to meet a lot of new people.”
She said the program offers a comprehensive education in gardening.
One the most important things she was able to use in her home garden was learning what plant goes where.
“If a plant needs shade, plant it in the shade. If it needs sun, plant in sun. Some plants need good drainage, and make sure that if you have a space three feet tall, don’t plant something that gets eight feet,” Rogers said.
“Do some research about what that plant needs, and plant it in the right spot,” Rogers explained.
According to the local extension, The Coffee County Master Gardener Class of 2018, altogether, 12 Master Gardener interns completed 419 volunteer hours, contributing $9,292.80 in services to the local community, Based on values determined by Independent Sector.