Be a joiner to enjoy better gardening experiences.

Several years ago, after I had retired, I read a notice in the Linden newspaper that there would be a presentation on ‘Pruning Camellias’ at the local garden club meeting in Linden. I went because I wanted to learn how to prune Camellias. I learned much from expert, Harry Dedini, on pruning Camellias and he later became a friend and advised me on grape pruning as well. After the meeting, I was invited to join the garden club even though they had never had a male member before. Hence, I became the first male in the club and I have benefited greatly from that serendipitous joining.

The National Garden Clubs, of which Linden, Ripon, Lodi, Manteca, Modesto and Stockton Garden Clubs are members, offer many courses that enhance gardening skills. I took a 4 weekend course on Landscape Design that was taught by a Landscape Architect professor from UC Davis. We learned a lot about what Landscape Architects need to know and do to create public and private landscapes and gardens and we learned how to do the same for ourselves or anyone needing design help. I received a Landscape Design Consultant Certificate after the course, but my only consultation was for my own landscape.

My next NGC venture was Flower Show School, a 4 weekend course on flowers which I love and wanted to learn more about. I didn’t realize it in the beginning, but the purpose of this school was to produce flower show judges. So I became an accredited flower show judge after writing a flower show schedule, passing several flower show judging point scoring exercises and a very rigorous final exam. Hence, I became a flower show judge because I like to finish what I start—even though initially I didn’t know what I was getting into.

Subsequently, I have been a member of the Valley Judges Council; a new venue for friendships, learning, service and competition. We exhibit in horticulture and floral design as well as do judging exercises and we also judge at fairs and flower shows, which unfortunately are all too rare these days as it takes a lot of work to stage flower shows. Our own San Joaquin County Fair Adult horticulture show, where I collected many Best of Show ribbons, has apparently gone the way of the Dodo bird.

Recently, I was asked by someone who reads my garden column, “What is the difference between a Master Gardener and a Landscape Design Architect?  Having the Landscape Design course under my belt and being a UC Master Gardener enabled me to answer her question reasonably well. A Landscape Architect has a lot of college training in design and engineering resulting in a Bachelors degree or a Masters degree.  They are not always as knowledgeable about plants as your local nursery person might be, but they know a lot about the physical and material aspects of designing a garden to suit public or private needs.

On the other hand, we who are Master Gardeners come from varied backgrounds and are volunteers helping homeowners and communities with garden problems. We take a rigorous 18 week course through UC Co-operative Extension in a wide range of topics that cover many areas of gardening including basic plant biology and physiology, plant identification, weed management, landscape tree and turf management, as well as aspects of disease and pest identification and management. A Master Gardener is obligated to volunteer 50 hours in the first year after completing the training and to take 12 hours of continuing education.

I applied in 2007 to participate and I almost missed the deadline for the program. I was ambiguous about it, because with 10 acres to manage, I didn’t think I would have much time to devote to helping others garden. However, my wife encouraged me by reminding me that it was something I was well suited for and I had always wanted to teach. My mother was an excellent gardener and my father was a farmer so I grew up with plants and gardens. With a background in biology and ecology, it was relatively easy for me to complete the science based Master Gardener training.

As for time to devote to the Master Garden program, I apparently enjoyed it as I was the second person to complete 1000 volunteer hours. What could be better than working and socializing with fellow gardeners and helping others to enhance their gardening knowledge and skills? Joining can be a life-enhancing experience that I can attest to!  I hope you will find some happy garden joining adventures.

Recently, the deadline for applications for the 2017 UC Master Garden training was closed, but of course late applications will be kept on file until the next training in 2019.

If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website:

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