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Monday, October 18, 2021

Garfield County Master Gardeners: A Rich Tradition and a Growing Prospect

Column by Cathy Thomas, Garfield County Master Gardener

Garfield County Master Gardeners are pleased and proud to be able to share with you our experience, gardening tips, memories, and agricultural technology for the future of gardening in Northwestern Oklahoma. In the upcoming months, we will have articles about summer gardens and family fun, indoor plant tips, flower facts, shrub and tree tips, green lawn/green thumb advice, wonderful photos, and much, much more.

Garfield County Master Gardeners are one chapter of a North American program. The Master Gardeners program exists in 49 states and four Canadian provinces. Gardeners are trained and supervised by the Cooperative Extension Service. The Cooperative Extension Service grew out of the US Congress’ concern for the education of the average citizen. Before the Civil War, few college curriculums addressed citizens making their livelihood from agriculture. In 1862 congress passed the Morrill Act, which provided a university in every state that would educate citizens in agricultural and mechanical fields (A&M’s). These colleges are known today as “land-grant universities,” such as Oklahoma State University. However, many of the remote agricultural parts of the state were not near the land-grant universities. So, Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act in 1914 which established Extension offices in every county.

The Extension offices serve to “extend” information developed on campus and in the research stations of the land-grant universities to the public. Extension Educators are considered members of the university faculty. These Extension Educators administrate programs in Agriculture, Horticulture, Family and Consumer Sciences, 4-H and Youth Development, and Rural Development. The Master Gardeners program generally falls under the supervision of the Agriculture Extension Educator.

In 1972 Dr. David Gibby and Bill Scheer of Washington State University created the Master Gardener program to meet an increase of requests from home gardeners for horticultural information. It was during this era that land, once a single-family farm, now encompassed several hundred homes. With newly arrived residents unfamiliar with what would grow in the microenvironment of their new community, they would often call the local Extension office for advice. As such, the Master Gardener Program was developed to meet the needs of providing consumers with up-to-date, reliable information. Master Gardener volunteers regularly participate in educational classes to keep our skills and knowledge relevant. In addition to having fun and taking part in a useful volunteer activity, members have a sense of community spirit and accomplishment. The Master Gardener course provides an extensive overview training of gardening, identifying plants and insects, and care of plants from the roots and soil to the top of the plant in the sun and air.

The Garfield County Master Gardeners Program is a part of the Garfield County Cooperative Extension Service from Oklahoma State University. Training classes are every other year, September through December. Monthly classes cover topics such as soil preparation, insects and pest control, plant types, gardening design, ornamental bushes and trees, fruit and nut-bearing trees, and agricultural farming plants. While not every Master Gardener is an expert in every category, we know to whom and where to go to find the answers. We provide educational outreach to the community through assisting at the extension office with answering questions. In addition, our Demonstration Garden at the Extension Office grounds, workshops, guest lectures, educational displays at the Home and Garden show, field trips, gardening tips, and our annual Master Gardeners Tour keep us busy and visible in the community.

There are currently about 60 members in the Garfield County Master Gardeners and while most are retired, some of the most recent class members are in their 30’s and 40’s. A few of our members are from the first Master Gardener class in Garfield County more than 25 years ago! The generational span brings a wide range of experience and interests. Master Gardeners have a variety of skills beyond farming and gardening. Some are writers, presenters, organizers, researchers, and even some great photographers. But our love of growing plants, whatever kind, is what ties us together.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, many folks took up gardening as a hobby. Some gardeners chose to create flower gardens. Using perennials (flowering plants that come back year after year) or annuals (plants that need to be restarted every year) gardeners created colorful, beautifully textured scented displays that not only attracted the eye but pollinators such as bees and butterflies, too. Other gardeners chose to grow vegetables to supplement their pantry. Still, other gardeners decided to try their hand at growing herbs. Raised bed gardens and fairy gardens have become very popular. Some people with limited space grew gardens in containers on porches or balconies. Regardless of the plant or method of gardening, new gardeners had questions – questions about the best soil, fertilizing, watering, sunlight, proper plants, pests, and many, many more. Master Gardeners assisted the Extension Educator to answer many of these questions. Invariably, there are always questions about tomatoes!

Garfield County Master Gardeners meet monthly on the second Tuesday at 9:00 am at the Extension Center on East Oxford in Enid, pending COVID restrictions. For more information or to schedule a guest speaker for your organization, please call the Extension Office at 580-237-1228 or email Rick Nelson the Extension Agricultural Educator at rick.nelson@okstate.edu. Be sure to check out our Facebook page, too, at Garfield County Master Gardeners (Oklahoma). We look forward to bringing you lots of interesting gardening facts and tips every month!

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