Dirty Little Secrets // Master Gardeners Unearth the Art of Horticulture

By Katrina Godshalk

Garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust. Gertrude Jekyll

In the pursuit of art, the journey is never-ending. And the art of gardening can be endlessly complex yet surprisingly simple, deeply fulfilling, but always challenging us to look more deeply into the complexity and beauty of nature.

One way to immerse yourself in all things gardening—and to share your growing knowledge with the community—is to take the master gardener course with Washington State University (WSU) Kitsap Extension. Held from mid-January to April each year, the master gardener program offers instruction and training in the art and science of horticulture.

With an emphasis on environmental stewardship and community education, the program teaches participants about our local ecosystem and how to successfully navigate the constraints and possibilities of Northwest gardening, including such practical skills as pesticide safety, entomology, insect pest management, weed identification and pruning.

Started in 1973 at WSU in response to a growing need for community-wide gardening knowledge, the master gardener program has spread to every state in the U.S., plus Canada. The current curriculum runs for 12 weeks, with eight classes held once a week in Bremerton and two sessions held in demonstration gardens, in addition to online coursework requirements. Local experts and WSU staff teach topics in everything from botany and pollinators, to soils and weeds.

Master gardener interns contribute 50 hours of volunteer service their first year and at least 35 in the following years by participating in local farmers’ markets, teaching in demonstration gardens and p-patches, and by growing food for food banks at those gardens. In 2016 alone, over 18,000 volunteer hours were logged in Kitsap County.

In fact, many master gardeners become so involved in community outreach that it becomes an important, ongoing part of their lives. Cheryl Bosley joined the Raab Park Youth Garden in Poulsbo. Every summer, she and a team of master gardeners run a much-loved gardening program for children.

The group helps them plant, make garden-themed crafts, harvest, and just get their hands in the soil and have fun. “Gardening is a way to be more mindful, and I love to share it,” she said. Colleen Miko has been gardeners won’t necessarily have all the answers, they are taught how to research solutions to problems to foster gardening success.

“The focus of the program is to train citizens to be effective community educators in gardening and environmental stewardship,” she explained. “You don’t need to be a gardening expert to take the training—a willingness to dive in and help people program in 2008. With a focus on succulent gardening from her previous home, she wondered, “What can I grow here?

”The master gardener program taught her about our local ecosystem as well as how to be a steward and teacher to others. Bosley, who found a diverse source of countywide friendships and collaborators, discovered her personal volunteering niche at the coordinating the master gardener program at the WSU Kitsap Extension for more than seven years. She highlights the important aspect of sharing and community outreach in the program.

“Master gardeners tend to be life-long learners who want to improve their knowledge, but are also passionate to share with others,” she said. Although master gardeners find answers to their gardening questions is the most important characteristic of a master gardener.

”Applications for 2019 master gardener training are available starting in mid-October. To get on the contact list to receive information about the WSU Kitsap program, go to bainbridgeisland.com/master-gardener or call 360-337-7157.