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Master Gardeners help Tennessee grow better communities

By Katherine Scoggins • Jul 6, 2017 at 10:30 AM

Have you ever passed by a thriving community garden in a small lot and wondered who owned it, who planted it and who harvested all the vegetables, fruit and herbs? Or perhaps you see a beautiful flower display at the entrance to your city and wondered how the city’s public works department could find the time to plant all those flowers, water and weed them. Often there will be a sign nearby identifying the owners and caregivers as garden clubs or Master Gardeners.

You’re probably familiar with garden clubs, but what (or who) is a Master Gardener? According to Jerry Ramey, president of the Northeast Tennessee Master Gardeners, “A Master Gardener is a trained, skilled, enthusiastic and dedicated volunteer member of the Tennessee Extension Master Gardeners team who provides horticultural education to his or her community.”

Master Gardeners are individuals from diverse professions and backgrounds: teachers, farmers, chefs, doctors, lawyers, retirees, computer programmers, and many, many others. This diverse group comes together because of a passion for plants and a shared interest in working to improve communities.

Currently, there are approximately 40 Tennessee Extension Master Gardener groups in Tennessee with a dedicated volunteer base of over 2,350 active Master Gardeners.

Focusing a little closer to home, what do Master Gardeners do in Kingsport?

“We have projects in seven counties here in Northeast Tennessee, and in those seven counties, we have 16 smaller projects,” Ramey explained. “People who live in Kingsport may be familiar with Darrell Rice’s Boundless Playground and Garden at Warriors’ Path State Park. There are several community gardens in Kingsport - one behind First Presbyterian Church on Church Circle, one near V.O. Dobbins, and one near Holly Hills. The Crumley House in Limestone has one, as do Healing Hands Health Clinic in Bristol and Carver Center in Johnson City. Probably the most well-known is the Hope Community Garden in Kingsport. Doug Hilton, one of our long-time Master Gardeners, has taken a special interest in that particular garden. It’s the largest garden in Kingsport, with 84 raised beds tended/owned by two churches, the Social Security Office, Habitat, Lowe’s, and other groups and individuals.”

But planting and nurturing gardens are not the only things Master Gardeners do. Master Gardeners also design demonstration gardens to educate citizens on sustainable lawn, garden and landscape practices; they answer gardening and pest management questions at the county extension office; plan and host home and garden shows, garden festivals, county fair booths and diagnostic clinics to reach out to residents; write articles or give presentations to educate the community; work with youth and horticulture through 4H and Junior Master Gardeners; support the community through Plant-A-Row-For-the-Hungry, Habitat for Humanity, community gardens, beautification projects and much, much more.

If becoming a Master Gardener sounds like something you might like, then you might consider becoming a Tennessee Extension Master Gardener. To do that, complete an application and take the classes. The 2017 Master Gardener class schedule meets from 9 a.m. to noon, Tuesdays and Thursdays, from Sept. 5 through Oct. 31. The cost is $175 (with partial scholarships available). The registration deadline is Aug. 15. Some of the topics to be covered include: Turf Grass and Lawns, 3 Season Gardening, Growing Ornamentals, Basic Landscape Design, Garden Writing, Urban Gardening and Plant Clinics. Most classes take place at the new Ron Ramsey Regional Agriculture Center.

The new center, situated on 10 acres of land, is conveniently located near Tri-Cities Airport. It includes a conference area with 300-seat capacity, a commercial kitchen, state-of-the-art audio and visual equipment, a 30,000 square-foot arena space for agriculture and livestock programs, plus office space for the UT/TSU County Extension Agent; 4H Youth Development Agent, Family Consumer Science Agent; Extension Program Assistant TNCEP; and Master Gardeners.

For more information, contact Chris Ramsey by email at [email protected] or call 423-574-1919 or 423-646-9043.

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