Could You Be a Master Gardener?

  • Post published:09/22/2012
  • Post comments:0 Comments
Linda Bisallion and Nancy Haskins (L-R)

Nancy Haskins and Linda Bisallion were totally oblivious to the rain sheeting off the Master Gardeners canopy as they talked with gardeners and potential gardeners at the Franklin County Fair last Saturday. Both are enthusiastic gardeners who not only enjoy working in their own gardens, they are eager to help others with their garden problems or questions. They found that becoming Master Gardeners was the way that they  could learn more about the soil, plants, and plant problems themselves and then share that knowledge with gardeners in a variety of ways.

Bisallion was a member of the 2009 class for Master Gardeners. “I love talking with the public and answering their questions. Sometimes we have to do research to answer those questions, but I like doing research.” Staffing the e-mail Hotline on the Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners website makes it possible to do that research and then getting back to gardener.

Haskins has been a Master Gardener for six years. “I’ve been gardening a long time and I wanted to become a Master Gardener, but I had to wait until I had more time myself.” She echoed what many gardeners said. Master Gardener training and the volunteer time required for working as a Master Gardener call for a real commitment of time.

The 2013 Master Gardener classes will be held on Tuesdays at Holyoke Community College from January through mid-April. Some day-long classes will be held at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge. Lectures are given by University of Massachusetts professors, various professionals, and other Master Gardeners. The course fee is $300. These training sessions are only offered every other year. Applications are due by September 27.

Linda Haskins said that the training is serious. “For a while I didn’t know if I could do it, but it has really paid off for me. We do a lot of what the Extension service used to do. I love sharing what I’ve learned.”

She went on to say that much of what people need to know is pretty basic. Sun loving plants need sun, and shade loving plants need shade. I know from my own experience that having a favorite flower on the wrong site can lead to a lot of frustration.

Michelle Delisio also noted that the training  classes are very serious. ”There is a lot of information. We have a textbook and handouts, with regular tests.” Delisio organized the Master Gardener booth at the Greenfield Farmers Market and took her turn staffing the booth. She also worked on organizing the Spring Symposium. “Next year the symposium will be held on March 16th.” I’ve already put a hold on the date.

Along with other Master Gardeners who have taken a turn, Delisio has enthusiastically shared her passion in a variety of ways, including volunteering at the Bridge of Flowers, answering visitors’ questions about plants on the Bridge, and about their own gardens.

As a member of the Bridge of Flowers committee I know that visitors to the Bridge have really appreciated having someone available who can identify plants and give advice.

After training the new Master Gardeners begin the 60 hours of volunteering required in their first year, answering questions and doing soil tests at Farmers Markets and other sites like the County Fair, giving garden talks, staffing the phone and email Hotlines, and sometimes working on community beautification projects. After their first year, only 15 hours of volunteer time is required. Currently about 200 Master Gardeners are on the job.

Maria Leblanc, another member of the 2011 class said her father was a gardener and she has always gardened. As a new Master Gardener she helped planting the garden next to the Master Gardener’s booth at the Franklin County Fair and answering questions at the farmers markets. She said that you tend to get a lot of the same questions. “This year everyone is asking about red lily leaf beetles. We tell them to hand pick them. We can only give organic answers because poisons can be so dangerous.” She said it is a treat when you get to work on a community project. Recently she worked with a group at a nursing home to weed the garden and plant spring blooming bulbs.

You do not have to be a long time and experienced gardener to apply. Young gardeners will gain a lot of information that they will be able to use themselves, and experienced gardeners know that there is always more to learn. If you are interested in becoming a Master Gardener and joining the 2013 class, you can get full information about the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association and an application form at their website, or contact Laura Dumouchel at The training is for residents of Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire counties.

Between the Rows   September 15, 2012

Leave a Reply