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Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2006 10:12 am

Sign up, become a master

Applications are being accepted until Nov. 1

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The highlight of my job as horticulture educator for Sangamon and Menard counties is providing direction for the master-gardener volunteer program. I have the pleasure of working with 125 individuals who have a passion for gardening.

University of Illinois Extension master gardeners not only enjoy learning more about gardening practices, they also have a desire and willingness to volunteer and share their knowledge with others.

Each year it is my honor to nominate a few of these great volunteers for State Master Gardener awards. This year at the University of Illinois Extension statewide master-gardener conference, held Sept. 7-9 in Moline, several Sangamon-Menard Unit master gardeners were recognized for their outstanding contributions to the program.

Statewide, 60 master gardeners, accounting for less than 2 percent of the active master gardeners in the state, received the State Outstanding Master Gardener award. Master Gardeners who receive this award must be active participants in the program, demonstrate leadership, and have volunteered more than 180 hours of service to the program.

Sangamon-Menard Unit master gardeners who received this award were Donna Christison, Diana Hetherington, and Shirley Pierce, all of Springfield; Mary Kern, of Rochester; Carl Cosand, of Williamsville; and Jim Orr, of Buffalo.

Sangamon-Menard Master Gardeners received a teamwork award for their 2005 Garden Walk. In 2005, master gardeners sponsored a garden walk of five lakeside Springfield properties. Volunteers spent countless hours researching information on all plant material at every property. Overall, 83 master gardeners assisted with the project. Statewide, 13 counties received teamwork awards.

These awards only recognize a small percentage of the many contributions that Master Gardeners give to their community.

The master-gardener program is designed to increase the availability of university-based horticultural information to local communities and individuals. Master gardeners are a vital link in getting practical research-based horticulture information to the public by answering questions from gardeners received at the local extension office.

Master gardeners in Sangamon and Menard counties are also involved in various community projects, including Plant a Row for the Hungry, teaching youth about vegetable gardening at the juvenile-detention center, and leading horticulture programs at a local nursing home. In addition, master gardeners provide education to the public in their demonstration gardens, located in front of the extension building, on the Illinois State Fairgrounds.

So what does it take to become a master gardener volunteer?

Participants in the master-gardener training program learn the basics of what it takes to be a successful gardener. Master-gardener trainees receive in-depth unbiased, research-based training from University of Illinois Extension educators and specialists. The basic training consists of 60 hours of classroom-style training in the areas of botany, vegetables, trees, small fruits, herbaceous ornamentals, insects, diseases, soils, fertilizers, and tree and shrub care.

After successful completion of training, master-gardener interns have many opportunities to complete the required 60 hours of internship to become a certified master gardener.

The University of Illinois Extension Sangamon-Menard Unit is accepting applications through Nov. 1 for the winter master-gardener training program. Classes will be offered on 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday, starting Jan. 25 and ending April 5. If you would like an application and more information about the Sangamon-Menard unit program, phone 217-782-4617. For a more detailed description of the program or contact information for other extension unit offices, go to the University of Illinois Extension master-gardener Web site, www.extension.uiuc.edu/mg/.

The University of Illinois Extension provides equal opportunities in programs and employment.

Jennifer Fishburn is a horticulture educator with the University of Illinois Extension Sangamon-Menard Unit. Contact her at www.extension.uiuc.edu/Sangamon.

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