Archive | September 15, 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.





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