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Recently there was a lively garden-writer discussion on Facebook that began with this question:  “I’m a member of several professional garden groups and a recurring theme that comes up is anti-master gardeners. Why?”

Boy-oh-boy, did people have answers.  One opined that Master Gardeners represent a “stale and stagnant status quo,” another had seen them selling known invasives in their area, but the main complaint against Master Gardeners was about their very name.

Bad Name

I totally agree with the commenters that “Master Gardener” is a misnomer and I weighed in to say that attending classes (where attendance wasn’t even required), completing a take-home test and then performing 40 volunteer hours does not make anyone a “master” at anything.  There were people in my class (in DC) who’d never put a plant in the ground in their lives, and after MG “training” and certification, still hadn’t.

That “master” in the name leads to problems like:

– People thinking it’s on the same level as “Master Carpenter,” a tittle that represents actual mastery.

– Apparently, it can go to people’s heads.  “Some MG’s take that title too seriously and are extremely pompous.”  “Extremely pompous about the mostly abstract info they have.”

– It makes people boring:  “They use the title of ‘Master Gardener’ as a badge of all-inclusive expertise. Plus they tend to be really really boring.”

– The name is often mistakenly assumed to indicate a higher level of knowledge and training than actual horticulturists!

– From yours truly, a complaint that America’s Master Gardener Jerry Baker is a known quack who’s made beaucoup bucks off that self-proclaimed title.  (Which I ranted about back in ’06.)

Better Name?

Garden writers seem to agree it’s time for renaming. “If they’d rename the program to something more honest, that made it clear that the level of education is meant for homeowners and not as a professional certification, I’d have fewer sore feelings about the program.”

“Horticultural Research Volunteer” was suggested as “something that allows the public to know that they are not BETTER THAN US.”

Taking Work from Garden Writers

Some complain of MG writing columns competing with paid (hopefully) garden writers.

And a related pocketbook complaint is that you can’t use your Master Gardener credential for commercial purposes.  “A pure interpretation of this means that you can’t put MG on your resume, on the cover of your book, on a byline or author bio for a magazine or newspaper article (for which you get paid), on your business card, and so on.”

Coming to their Defense

“We are not volunteer gardeners nor do we compete in any way with professional horticulturists or designers; we provide RESEARCH-BASED gardening information to the public. We are taught during our training that it isn’t necessary to have all the answers; it’s only necessary to know how to find them. ”

And several writers sang the praises for MG programs in their area.  (And I’m always happy to hear about MG programs that are nothing like the one in DC I’ve ranted about.)

 No Surprise: It Starts in Washington

Responding to a suggestion that the garden writer group rename the MG program, one writer answered that the name can only be changed at the national level (by the Department of Agriculture, presumably) and continued:  “I think the lack of consistency form place to place is one of the problems w/the program as a national institution.”  Others echoed this complaint about the lack of consistency across the country.

And we heard from Canadians about what the program can be:  “In Ontario, we’re required to take a horticulture certificate from one of two universities (three courses, usually taking two years of distance ed) and write a qualifying exam before being accepted into the program. Each year, we have a compulsory technical update, and monthly meetings, of which we must attend at least four, include one hour of education. Thirty hours of volunteer time annually (most do more; I did nearly double that last year) is essential to remain in the program. It’s a shame there’s so much anti-MG feeling.”

What do YOU think of Master Gardeners?  And can you suggest a better name?

Weigh in, and I’ll try to get a response from the USDA folks who have jurisdiction over the program, from the Extension Master Gardener bloggers and from the Garden Professors.

Posted by

Susan Harris
on March 1, 2013 at 9:09 am, in the category CRRRITIC, Ministry of Controversy.