Diggin’ it this Spring: Blount Master Gardeners honored for innovative book
By Melanie Tucker | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The best gardening advice comes from those who’ve dug and filled a few holes in their own backyards.
They don’t mind a little dirt under their fingernails.
Worms are their friends.
Plan B, for them, takes shape quickly when Plan A doesn’t pan out.
That’s the premise behind the Master Gardener program of volunteers who receive 40 hours of horticultural instruction and then share what they know with the rest of us. They are our gardening neighbors. And who knows our East Tennessee soil like they do?
Creativity gets rewarded
The Master Gardener program here is overseen by the University of Tennessee Extension office, and Blount County’s has indeed been successful. Just recently, members of the Blount County Master Gardeners were awarded the Innovative Award for Excellence by the Tennessee Master Gardener Association for one of their unique projects.
Twenty-five of these gardening experts contributed to a book that came out in 2011, called “Right Here! Plants That Thrive in East Tennessee.” The book, unlike other garden books, is a compilation of personal stories by these Master Gardeners who give start-to-finish advice on how to grow and care for 60 plant favorites. They tell us how to get along with summer’s humidity and that annoying red clay. Color photos are included.
Joan Worley, one of the first to become certified as a Master Gardener in Blount County and editor of “Right Here!” said many of those with gardening questions are people who have recently moved here. They are a great match for the teaching gardeners coming through this program.
“A lot of our Master Gardeners grew up somewhere else,” she said. “They didn’t learn to garden here in East Tennessee.
That’s why we have so much interest in helping others. Most of our questions from in-comers. We understand that.”
Ideas into projects
The book project that won the award is one of many ideas from Master Gardeners. Worley said right now, 20 projects are underway in the community. They work with school children to grow an herb garden or nurture plants in the Shakespeare Garden at the Blount County Public Library. Worley said the projects come from the Master Gardeners themselves.
One woman last year came up with the idea to host weekly informal talks on a variety of topics. Another came up with a way to work with Tremont in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The mission of Master Gardeners is education, Worley pointed out. “We think these are good ways to educate.”
And if an idea comes from the one who will be doing the work, that makes it all the more enjoyable.
“The project ends up being whatever a person thinks up,” Worley said. “It is very flexible, grass roots.”
There were two other Master Gardener programs across the state that also won awards for their creative projects. Worley said the state organization recognized Blount County and the two others so the entire state could get a look at some really interesting ideas that might work for them, too.
The Master Gardener program began in 1973 in Washington and is now in every state, 42 counties in Tennessee and fur provinces in Canada, Worley said. Blount County’s first Master Gardener class was certified in 2005. Today, there are well over 100 Master Gardeners actively involved in about 20 projects.
In 2012, Master Gardeners gave over 4,600 hours of service to Blount County.
A helping hand
John Wilson is director of the UT Extension office in Blount County. He has his hands full in this large county and said the Master Gardeners make his job easier.
They are able to present workshops and programs in the community that answer all types of needs.
“The work they do extends our reach into the community,” he said. “There is no way I could address as many questions and calls as they do.”
Once the Master Gardeners receive their 40 hours of horticultural instruction, they are expected to volunteer 40 hours of their time that first year, in the community. They are expected to work on projects each year after that and keep up on the latest information by attending workshops, Wilson said. It’s been a trade-off that has worked well here.The book, “Right Here!” is still available and has sold more than 600 copies. It can be purchased for only $10 at Amburn’s Market, the Market at High Street, Out of Eden Garden Center and Trillium Cove Garden and Gifts in Blount County.
You can also pick one up at the Extension office, located across from the Blount County Courthouse.
The authors are right here. They plant things right here. They have met with success.
“I don’t think there’s anything better than the neighbor next door,” Worley said. “This is as close as you can come to the neighbor next door.”