By Charmaine Smith & Kristi Acuff,
We really “just happened” upon the Master Gardener course. Yet, when we took it, we found it so full of helpful information that we wanted to spread the word.
Charmaine: Kristi was retiring, and I, Mom Charmaine, was looking for a retirement gift for her. Someone had suggested the Master Gardening class as a good gift. So, guess what, we bought her a gift certificate to Bell’s Nursery instead!
But in the process of deciding on what to get as a good retirement gift, I did put her name on the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service list to be notified about the next Master Gardening class.
Kristi: The notification came that the class was being offered in person in Anchorage in October. I asked Mom if she’d join me in taking the class; thinking learning more about growing plants, flowers, and vegetables would be something fun to do together.
Charmaine: Problem. Both Kristi, her husband and I had travel plans that interfered with the October course. When we found it was going to be offered on-line in the Spring, we knew that would work for us.
Charmaine: Over the years we each had played around with gardens. Made lots of mistakes and had some successes. Had lots of questions.
Kristi: And the thought of learning more about growing healthy things to eat was really appealing to us.
Kristi: We contacted the UAF Cooperative Extension Service. Signing up for the course was simple and relatively inexpensive. For an extra few dollars we received the reference book in the mail in a day.
Charmaine: It was optional to purchase the reference book, and we found it extremely helpful to have it as we worked through the course. When the book came, it gave us the chance to review the table of contents and overview of the course. We especially liked seeing the chapters on designing gardens and landscaping and loved the thought of learning more about that!
Kristi: On February 1, we started the course through the University of Alaska on-line system. Mom and I worked together in the system in getting registered and off we went on Chapter One.Charmaine: I was lucky Kristi knew enough about computers to get me through this part of it! And the UAF Help Desk was very responsive and helpful when we had questions.
Kristi: Officially we were given four months to complete the course and final exam. However, WE really only had a little over five weeks because we had more travel plans!
Charmaine: So we started right off. The first lesson on botany basics was the toughest. Lots of scientific words and terms to learn and to understand. This lesson proved to be the needed scientific foundation and we used that knowledge throughout the course. There were twelve lessons in total. We planned to get through at least two lessons a week, which included readings and exams for each lesson, to meet our travel schedule.
Kristi: The information provided in the lessons was in-depth and we were provided incredible links and resources for additional information. Since we were taking the course in the winter so there wasn’t the opportunity to go out and practice in the dirt, which we missed. The supplemental materials like PowerPoint presentations and photographs helped out in learning the practical application of the information.
A side fun note….from time-to-time there were all-class questions posted on-line. One question that was posted went something like “why do we need to call a plant by it’s proper (scientific) name”? My answer (to Mom only) was…”Well, I don’t want to be called Fred, that’s not my name if you know what I mean”.
Charmaine: And I said, “Nor do I want to be called Mehitabel.” So, we then signed our emails Fred and Mehitabel to each other! (okay, bad Master Gardener humor, I know).
Charmaine: This was really an in-depth course. Identifying, propagating, fertilizing and composting plants were just a start. We learned about vegetable and flower gardening. Orchards and berry crops. Trees and bushes. One of the most enjoyable lessons was the one on landscape design.
Kristi: The landscape design lesson had us layout our yards or growing areas on a piece of paper and apply the things we had learned so far about soils, light and water drainage in planning for the plants and trees we wanted. That took a lot of thought and resulted in a practical plan that we could use and adjust for years to come.
Charmaine: Another lesson that was important for me was on houseplants because I live in a condo. And that covers much of my gardening. The lesson pointed out that the white stuff around the rim of the pots was SALT and we needed to get rid of it! The instructions were to run water into the plant pot until it runs out the bottom; wait 30 minutes; do it again; another 30 minutes; do it once more…voila!, the white marks were gone and the plants started thriving.
Kristi: A Christmas cactus I had been nursing along over the past couple of years, barely hanging on, really reacted well to the salt removal process. I now have blossoms and new healthy green growth. So I guess even though it was winter, we did get to do some hands-on application.
Charmaine: The last few lessons were on plant problems, identifying and managing weeds and pests. My friend Inge in Australia wrote asking advice from this “master gardener” about removing morning glory weed that was taking over her yard. I opened my reference book and quoted directly the suggestion for eliminating this morning glory problem. She wrote back gratefully thanking me for the help!
Kristi: Sure Mom, give advice based on Alaskan gardening techniques to your friend in tropical Australia! Oh my, and it worked!
Our journey continues to become Master Gardeners. We’ve finished the coursework, and the final exam. It was rewarding for us to do the on-line course together and to share and discuss what we were learning as we went. Now we’re working to complete our required 40 hours of volunteering. Once that’s complete, we’ll get our Master Gardener certificates.
Charmaine: A good share of our volunteering hours will be in the flower gardens at church. Writing this article, and maybe other more specific articles on gardening, will also count towards our volunteering requirement. And we also hope to volunteer at the Alaska Botanical Gardens. All of these opportunities are enhancing what we learned in the on-line course.
Kristi: And, in addition to what we are gaining through volunteering, we have also seen personal benefit in applying our new knowledge to our own plants and gardens. It is fulfilling to see pretty roses, begonias, and other flowers as well as eating rhubarb, zucchini, and strawberries from my garden!
There’s no way we could tell you all about the course in a short article. We hope we enticed you to learn more and sign up for the next course, whether in-person or on-line. It really is worthwhile and satisfying.
Kristi and Charmaine, Master Gardeners “To Be”
For more information on taking the course:
About Heidi Rader