Archive | September 2014

Why I ‘Often’ Say Not-so-Nice Things About Master Gardeners…

“You seem to have a real problem with master gardeners. What is your ******* problem? Are you jealous that you are not one? Master gardeners are experts and instead of being a ******** about gardening you should actually learn something about gardening. You know **** and you give poor advice. I’m sick of you ******* about us. You are one of those ******** that once planted a plant and now think you know every ******* thing about gardening and you probably have to copy your blog articles off of someone elses blog and put them up as yours because you are so ******* dumb. All the comments you have up are the good ones because you probably delete all the ones that ***** at you because you are a ******* *******.  You are making fun all the time of people that actually know how to garden and you give master gardeners a bad name. I wish someone would regulate blogs so stupid ********** losers like you could not write dumb*** articles or copy other peoples articles. Why don’t  you stop being so ****** up and go become a master gardener so you are not so full of ****!



Dear Lynn,

Thank you for your comment. Your comment is proof that all comments posted on my blog are published, although yours has been edited for this post because of your use of colorful language. I made the edits equally colorful.  However, your original post on my “Post a Question” page has been left in its entirety because I do not have the ability to edit posts to my page.  My readers that enjoy the rancor of a sailor’s tongue can head over to view it in all of its explicative glory.

So, why do I sometimes say things about Master Gardeners that may indicate that not all are experts?


Real World Justification

I totally agree with other bloggers and forum posters that “Master Gardener” is a misnomer and I have said that attending classes (where attendance usually isn’t even required), completing a take-home open book test, and then performing 40 volunteer hours does not make anyone a “master” at anything.  As one of my friends, who is a Master Gardener, said of her training, “there were people in my class who’d never put a plant in the ground in their lives, and after “training” and certification, still hadn’t. One man didn’t even know that potatoes grow under the ground.”

“Master” in the name leads to problems like:

– People that know nothing about gardening think it is the same has having a Master’s Degree or being a Master Carpenter. These are titles that represents actual mastery of a subject through hard work, non-open book tests, and more than just showing up and standing around for volunteer work.

– Apparently, it can go to people’s heads (as seen in my experience).  “Some Master Gardeners take that title seriously and are quite vain about it.”  “They are quite pompous for the limited amount they know.”

– It makes people insipid:  “They use the title of ‘Master Gardener’ as evidence of knowledge of all outdoor things with all-inclusive expertise. Plus they tend to be really really boring because when you start to talk about plants they can’t say anything because they have gotten lost by your knowledge.”

– The name is often mistakenly assumed to indicate a higher level of knowledge and training than actual horticulturists with years of university training.

– Many complaints that America’s Master Gardener, Jerry Baker, is a known quack who’s made millions off that self-proclaimed title while giving advice that often kill or stunt plants. It died because you aren’t a master like him.  Ever wonder which program on PBS’s Create channel gets the worst reviews and has the highest number of complaints from non-Master Gardener garden groups and viewers? Jerry Baker’s show.


My Justification

When I was in my teens, I worked at research facility that had trial gardens. The folks I worked with all had experience with farm crops (having been raised on the farm), except for one.  The lady in charge of the gardens was a Master Gardener, and boy, did she know it all. She made sure that everyone else knew that she knew it all too (even in areas like horses, homemaking, mechanics, and more).  Even though she had gone through the classes and was her county’s biggest, best gardener (named so by the local Master Gardeners association), she still didn’t realize that you don’t plant your cole crops 4″ apart. According to her, all the package directions for the seeds were wrong, and it was the soil’s fault that her cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. heads were golf ball size or smaller. That rotten sandy soil. Really? Then why was a researcher a few plots over growing huge cole crops with the same water and fertilizer regime?

In college, I worked on campus in my department and one of the favorite major advisors for the department was a huge Master Gardener. She had landscaped an area near one of the entrances to the building. Oooohhh, aaaahhh. NOT! Apparently she had never heard of this funny little thing called ZONES! Just because it grows as a perennial in Florida where you saw it on your last family trip does not mean it will grow here.  Even at the best of times, the area was an eyesore and finally the university told her they would be doing all future landscaping in the area because it made the campus look bad.  She also wore Wal-Mart bags on her feet and nitrile gloves on her hands because she was scared of deadly soil organisms.

After getting out of grad school, I started working at Unnamed Major Home Gardener Seed Catalog and spoke with Master Gardeners daily. How did I know that they were? Well, first of all, when they called into our customer service department and got an answer they didn’t want to hear, they made sure that the operator knew they were a Master Gardener.  Of course, said Master Gardener always wanted to talk to the horticulturist. The slips that were passed along to me for call backs always noted that I should be prepared because the customer was a Master Gardener.  They would talk to me and I would set them straight. If they didn’t like what I said, they often would tell me that I was an idiot and that I didn’t know what I was talking about and that they were a Master Gardener. I would apologize for their dissatisfaction for my response and provide them with some university extension websites from their state that they could find the information on (that repeated the exact same thing I had just told them).  This usually calmed them down, but a few would threaten to talk to my boss and get me fired. I remained at my job for years after, and when I finally left the company, it was because I wanted to leave because I was starting my own business.

This past spring, my Mom was alerted to a plant sale for the Ozaukee County, Wisconsin, Master Gardener’s Association. Tons of roses, heirloom plants and more. We went, and while there were a lot of plants, most were common plants you could find at any greenhouse (even Wal-Mart) with a huge price on them. There was also a table where Master Gardeners had brought plants from their back yards. About half of them were misidentified and some were invasive species.  My Mom purchased a ‘Scabiosa’. She has wanted one for years, and since this person had had it in their back yard growing, it must be okay for the zone. It looked healthy too. Just one little problem. “Mom, that is a hardy geranium. It looks like a Geranium macrorrhizum.” Mom planted it in the garden and when it bloomed, it looked like this:

Geranium macrorhiza


That, my friends, is a Bigroot Geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum).

And last, but not least, I still enter back home at the fair.  For years, I have been thinking I will just stop entering flowers and houseplants because the entry list becomes more convoluted each year — like it was written by someone that knows nothing about flowers and houseplants. When I was a kid, we had these two older ladies that were the superintendents and they were rock stars! The entries came in by 11 a.m. and they had things ready to go for judging 2 hours later. 1000s of entries. Over the years, these ladies retired and were replaced by local Master Gardeners. First, it was too hard to get the entries ready for judging in 2 hours. They had to be entered the day before. Then the Master Gardeners could not figure out if the entry list should read stems or blooms for various flowers. And then this year the change was made that you cannot have any pot over a couple gallons in size because they are so big.  As each change was made, the number of entries dropped significantly.  Now the entries are down to a couple hundred, and it is still just so difficult for the Master Gardener lady that is the superintendent.  This year she was baffled by petunias and daylilies. She didn’t know that petunias can have more than one bloom per stem or that daylilies are open for only one day. Petunias! Daylilies! These are common, beginning gardening plants!  And yet, she is one of the top Master Gardener in the county.  Need I say more?


The long and short of it is that I hold a Master’s Degree in Horticulture, I operate my own horticulture business, I have numerous published journal articles and am a contributor to a gardening book, I am a certified horticulturist, and I have almost 35 years of gardening experience. Despite ALL of that, I would never go so far as to call myself a Master or an Expert or anything else that would remotely suggest that “I have arrived” when it comes to gardening. Any person that TRULY has a breadth and depth of their field knows that no matter how trained they are, there is always something to be learned. I learn more about gardening every day through my own hands-on experience here at my farm and through the experiences of other gardeners that I help out with consultation and advice.


But It’s Not All Bad…

While I know many gardeners that are Master Gardeners with enough knowledge to fit on the head of a pin, there are a number of Master Gardeners that don’t have to flash their credentials to the world. These are the ones that truly embody what the Master Gardener program is supposed to be about, but helping through outreach programs and 4-H, using their talents to judge at county fairs and horticultural shows, working at a horticulturally-related job, or expanding their knowledge by getting involved with companies like Seed Savers Exchange. These non-flashy Master Gardeners know a lot about gardening and have yards that show their knowledge, and they don’t have to get up on a soap box and say, “look at me” to make themselves feel better because of their inadequacy in the garden or a lack of plant knowledge. When I gripe about Master Gardeners, my issues are not directed towards those that are using the program in the way it was meant to be rather than using it as a social status. Unfortunately, when one attends an event where a Master Gardener(s) is(are) present, it is too often the flashy, ‘expert’, attention-hungry Master Gardeners that show up. And by their actions, they show how little they know and give the organization as a whole a bad name.

Maybe a more appropriate name for the program would be “Horticultural Volunteers” or “Horticultural Research Volunteers”. I wonder how many ‘experts’ like yourself would still be interested in being in the program?


Remember, Lynn, the loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room.





© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



21 More Day to Vote: American Garden Award

Reprinted with Permission of the National Garden Board:


rd 2013
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Participating Gardens:

Click here for garden details
Birmingham Botanical Gardens
Boerner Botanical Gardens
Callaway Gardens
Cantigny Gardens
Cleveland Botanical Gardens
Cole Gardens
Como Park Zoo & Conservatory
Dallas Arboretum & Botanical Garden
Denver Botanic Gardens
Domaine Joly-De Lotbiniere
Garfield Park Arts Center
International Peace Garden
JC Raulston Arboretum
Longwood Gardens
LSU Burden Center
Massachusetts Horticulture Society
Meadow Brook Hall
Missouri Botanical Garden
Montreal Botanic Garden
MSU Horticulture Gardens
North Carolina Arboretum
Oglebay Resort
Oklahoma State University
The Oregon Garden
Pier 39
Powell Gardens
Reiman Gardens – Iowa State Univ.
Rotary Botanical Gardens
Taltree Arboretum & Gardens
University of TN Gardens – Knoxville
Vander Veer Botanical Park
Zilker Botanical Gardens

Just 21 More Days to Vote!

2014 American
Garden Award 

SEPTEMBER 9, 2014 

American Garden Award is a unique opportunity for you to vote for your favorite garden flower!

In 2014, there are four flower varieties that have been recently introduced to the market so they are available at retail. All four entries (aka “Contestants”) were planted earlier this summer in thirty-two display gardens across North America. Voting is open just three more weeks until the end of September and the winners will be announced in early October. The four stunning entries are listed below and you can get in on the fun by voting in three ways:

1) Go to the American Garden Award website now and click on your favorite flower.

2) Visit a participating garden (Click here for the list) and text your vote using the special voting codes found on the signs in the garden. (Southern gardens are planted, the northern gardens will be planted at the appropriate time for their zone.)

3) Use the pre-paid postcard ballots found at the most participating gardens.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter to keep up with the voting results. May the favorite garden flower win!

The Four Stunning Contestants:

Arrabona Red

Foxglove Digiplexis Illumination® Flame

Violet F1

® Radiant Blue

What is American Garden Award?

The American Garden Award program offers a unique opportunity for the gardening public to vote on a specific flower that they think has the most appealing garden characteristics. Some of the world’s most prestigious flower breeders have chosen their best varieties to enter into this competition. Then, in cooperation with many highly respected public gardens across North America, we present the entries so consumers can view the plants in person, then vote on their favorite. For those consumers and home gardeners who are unable to view the flowers in person, they can visit the AGA website and vote there. The American Garden award program is administered by the All-America Selections Display Garden program. AGA entries have not been trialed nor awarded a winner status by the AAS Trial Judges.

Lickin’ the Cold of Winter with Garlic!

“Dear Miss Horticulturist,

A few weeks ago I purchased a large quantity of garlic from the grocery store.  I didn’t get all of it used in time and now it is sprouting.  Can I plant it and overwinter it?”


Thanks for reading and for submitting your question.  Because WordPress doesn’t provide me with a ton of information, I’m going to guess that you purchased a California White garlic and that you live in an area that gets cold in winter.

The Good: Garlic can be planted any time during the year.  You are going to want to plant the cloves down about 6 inches.  It does take some time to come up,  so don’t give up on them!

The Bad: California White types do not overwinter in colder areas.  If you were to plant it at this time of year, it would grow up until winter, but not come back in spring.  They are what is known as a ‘softneck’ type.  For garlic that you want to overwinter, you should put in a hardneck variety in northern (wintery) climates.

The Ugly: Okay, there really is no ugly, but I just was in the mood to use that analogy.  =)  For future reference, if you are planting a hardneck variety, they should be put in the ground on October 12th.  That is ‘the day’ –although, I admit, I put mine in last year on a very warm day in November because I moved in late October last year.  The varieties I recommend are:

Musik:  A hardy, high-yielding hardneck porcelain variety out of Canada that grows well in northern climates. Very large bulbs yield 4 to 5 buff-colored cloves streaked with red. Good hot flavor. Easy to peel. Stores 6 months or more.

Inchellium Red:  One of the best flavored softneck artichoke garlics, the flavor mild and long-lasting with a hint of hotness that gets stronger in storage. Large off-white bulbs blushed pale purle at the base have 4 to 5 layers with 10 to 20 cloves per bulb. Stores for up to 9 months.  (Grows really well in Wisconsin.)

Italian Late, German Porcelian, Northern White, Siberian, Spanish Roja, and Purple Glazer.  I grew each of these this summer in my garden — and have found that no two varieties are alike.

Spring Garlic Varieties can be planted at the same time as onion sets in spring.  The ones I recommend are:

Late Italian: A softneck artichoke garlic with tight, light colored wrappers surrounding fat, round outer cloves. Has pleasing rich garlic flavor. Very productive. Keeps 6 to 9 months.

Silver Rose:  This softneck silverskin garlic makes beautiful braids with its rose colored cloves encased in smooth, bright white wrappers. Widely used by gourmet cooks who know and use garlic. Fast growing and stores up to 8 months.

California White:  An easy-to-grow strain acclimated to northern conditions. The large bulbs can be separated into cloves that are planted the same as onion sets. A bulb makes 10 to 20 cloves.

Elephant Garlic: Very mild flavor is ideal for soups, salads and sauce leaving no garlic aftertaste. Actually a member of the leek family. Mammoth bulbs weigh up to one pound or more, each with 5 to 7 huge cloves.  (Note from my garden: 2009 was the first time I grew these and I didn’t have much luck.  I’m not sure if it was our very cool summer or they just need something more than the other types of garlic, leeks, shallots, and onions I grew.  I need to do more hands on research with these. =)


© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Little Tykes?

“I read your previous article and was wodnering about little tyke cukes.  I had them this year and made lots of pickles, but the bigger ones were soft.  Would that be from the enzyme too? But I had picklers?  Why did this happen?”


Although Little Tykes are a pickling cucumber, they have a different makeup than the slicers previously discussed.  Little Tyke Hybrid is bred specifically for baby cucumbers — usually about 1 to 3 1/2 inches in length.  When they get larger than that, they are starting to ripen.  While you may have Little Tyke and another variety in your garden (or are just used to growing a different variety), the ‘typical’ size for a different variety is overgrown for the Little Tyke.

Once your Little Tykes get over the 3-4 inch size, I would recommend using them like an overgrown cucumber: make yellow pickles or relish, but don’t use them for your dills, sweet, or bread and butter pickles.

© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Great Garden Books

Reprinted with Permission of the National Garden Board:


Gardening Books for Inspiration

As summer winds down, at least according to the calendar, some gardeners may find themselves with more time on their hands before fall cleanup occurs. Others look wistfully at our gardens wishing we had done more or had more inspiration. But there’s always next year, right?

National Garden Bureau members are here to help us with our garden inspiration, be it for this fall or winter, or next spring’s “fabulous” garden (at least in our minds!). Following are a number of garden books newly on the market that you should consider perusing to amp up your garden knowledge, to give as gifts or just to use as an escape to the garden in your mind during the wintery months guaranteed to come sooner than we’d like.

A Garden to Dye For
By Chris McLaughlin

A Garden to Dye For features 40-plus plants that the gardener-crafter can grow for an all-natural, customized color palette. The book is divided between the garden and the dye process, with garden layouts, plant profiles, dye extraction and uses, step-by-step recipes and DIY projects. Full-color photos throughout.

Attack of the Killer Asparagus
By Mike Nowak

Chicagoland author and radio host Mike Nowak has just written his first book…and this is not your grandmother’s garden book! Mike has been called the “Dave Barry of Gardening,” but his mind doesn’t really work like anyone else’s. With chapter titles like “Pathogens on parade” and “Attack of the Killer Asparagus,” this book takes you into a dystopian world where invasive plants raid refrigerators and birds are for more terrifying than Alfred Hitchock ever imagined.

Coffee for Roses
By C.L. Fornari

Word-of-mouth gardening tips can be a very bad idea. The age-old practice of passing along gardening tips and tricks is no guarantee you will get a good result…it might even do the opposite.  In her new book, garden expert C.L. Fornari looks at 71 common garden practices and uncovers the truth behind the lore.  With humor and affection, she goes back in time to sort out the good, the bad and the just plain silly…and tells us why.

The 20-30 Something Garden Guide
By Dee Nash

The 20/30-Something Garden Guide gives that busy, mostly urban, demographic a fun, non-intimidating introduction to the basics of gardening. This generation wants to know where their food comes from, and they’re hip to the importance of good health and the environment. Great gift idea for your children and grandchildren!

Windowsill Art
By Nancy Ross Hugo

The windowsill can serve as a stage for intentional arrangements – small, simple displays that celebrate the seasons and reflect the personal style of their creators. The author’s fresh approach uses bottles, jars and other small vases to showcase arrangements of locally collected leaves, seedpods, flowers, fruits and twigs. In Windowsill Art the reader will learn how to find and display materials, why some containers work better than others, how to combine materials – and simple techniques to enhance creative possibilities.

Have you heard?

About National Garden Bureau’s new fundraiser to build a therapeutic garden for young adults with autism? Click here to find out  more!

Let’s Go Garden!

Soggy but Tasty: Making Pickles with Slicers

“Dear Horticulturist,

This year I grew a ton of Diva Cucumbers and canned pickles from them.  The little ones turned out okay, but the spears made from larger ones had very soft insides.  The taste is okay, but there just isn’t any crunch.  What did I do wrong?  Is there anything I can do to them to make them crunchy?”


Before we delve into why your pickles are soft, let’s examine how a pickle is made:

Pickled vegetables are a great example of fermentation.  The vegetable is submerged in a brine solution.  This prevents the growth of mold while promoting bacterial growth.  Good bacteria eat the sugars present in the vegetable and, as a bi-product, create lactic acid.  Lactic acid is what gives your pickles the characteristic tart taste.

The problem that comes into play with how you made your pickles is that you used Diva.  Diva is a slicing cucumber.  Slicers are not recommended for pickling because they contain the enzyme endopolygalacturonase.  Endopolygalcturonase is created at the blossom end of the fruit and acts to soften the normally-rigid tissues of the cucumber.

Pickling cucumbers also have endopolygalacturonase; however, they also have various proteinase, and amylase  inhibitors.  These inhibitors work on protein and sugars, respectively, to prevent the softening action of endopolygalacturonase.  As a result, a pickle created with a pickling cucumber will be crunchy.

The reason why your smaller cucumbers had no problem witht he pickling process is because they were less mature and lower levels of endopolygalacturonase would have been present.

These pickles are safe to eat, but what will likely be more of an issue is just that they are not going to give you that typical pickle crunch.

© Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk!, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mertie Mae Botanics LLC and Horticulture Talk! with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.