Does the very thought of trying to grow anything in the caliche of the Las
Vegas Valley send you screaming from the room? Have you thought about improving
your own gardening skills?
If you have ever needed help for a difficult spot in your garden or with a
plant here in Las Vegas, there is a good chance that someone suggested you call
the Master Gardeners. If you have ever admired the native plants outside the
visitor center at Red Rock canyon, or the arboretum on the UNLV campus, then you
have already been impressed by the work of the Master Gardeners. These are
volunteers with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Since 1992, this
program has helped valley residents deal with their garden problems.
I have to admit that when I first heard the term "Master Gardener", I was
cowed. All I could think of was something like the village magician, a person
who could get any flower, herb, tree or vegetable to thrive and never have any
difficulty. Of course that isn't the case at all.
Now, don't get me wrong. Master Gardeners are very good gardeners. You know,
some of them might even be magicians. The people who can get tomatoes to
produce even when the temperature is much too high, or those whose flower
gardens always look perfect, well, they do make me wonder. But that's not the
essence of being a Master Gardener.
No matter how innately talented they are, two characteristics set Master
Gardeners apart from other excellent plant people, or village magicians.
The first is that they are trained both generally, in the fundamentals of
horticulture, and specifically in the range of concerns that affect gardening
in their region wherever the region may be. There is a Cooperative Extension
Master Gardener program in virtually every state of the union, but a Master
Gardener trained in Michigan would probably not be prepared for the conditions
that are present here in the Mojave. So, obviously, the localized instruction is
Even so, that horticultural education does not define a master gardener.
Almost anyone can learn how to grow plants correctly. What really distinguishes
a master gardener from others, the second, but more important characteristic, is
the commitment to assist other area residents as a volunteer.
Some serve as docents at the Desert Demonstration Garden while others
participate in school and community gardens. They teach, they explain, they
describe, they help. During office hours every Monday through Friday, master
gardeners staff the phones at the Cooperative Extension office and answer
questions from the public on any plant-related subject from aphids to zoysia.
But who are these people? Are they all wealthy retirees?
Among the Master Gardeners in Las Vegas, you can find people in their 20s as
well as 80 year olds. And every age in between. Some are retired. But, there are
doctors, waitresses, engineers and landscapers. They may be self-employed but it
is just as likely that they are casino workers or teachers. Both men and women
None of this is particularly important where Master Gardening is concerned.
What matters is creating a beautiful environment and helping others to do so.
Some Master Gardeners have gardened for decades, but a number have only started
raising plants in the recent past. Some don't consider themselves particularly
terrific gardeners at all, but they know that their contributions are important.
Maybe you would like to be part of developing the community of Las Vegas
working with children or in neighborhoods, or by becoming a member of a healing
garden. Perhaps you would like to be part of the team that is studying which
fruit trees work well in this region. Since every master gardener contributes 50
hours to the program every year, there are many projects to choose from, and
folks bring in their ideas for new projects regularly.
In order to become a master gardener, you need to have both the preparation
and the commitment.
The Southern Nevada program is about 70 hours long, done over the course of
two months. The curriculum covers plant nutrition, soil science, how to plant
and grow trees, shrubs, grasses, flowers and vegetables, and confronting plant
problems like insects and diseases. University faculty as well as master
gardeners and local experts teach the courses. You gain access to very good
reference texts, and the only financial outlay is to cover the cost of the books
and other instructional materials.
The commitment comes from within.
Required orientation for the next class will be held on August 8 at 9am. Why
don't you call 257-5501 to get the details?
For KNPR's Desert Bloom, this is Dr. Angela O'Callaghan of the University of
Nevada Cooperative Extension.
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