Applications have opened for UConn’s 2024 edition of their Extension Master Gardener Program, a program which blends both educational instruction and hands-on volunteer work to instruct students in the art of horticulture. The deadline for applications is Oct. 13, 2023, while formal instruction will begin Jan. 8, 2024.
Taught throughout Connecticut since 1978, including locations in Stamford, Norwich, Torrington, New Haven and online, the UConn Extension Master Gardener program hopes to engage students of all skill levels with the process of gardening. Participants learn not just to build their own gardens, but receive a critical opportunity to spread their knowledge and enthusiasm with other would-be gardeners and perform community outreach.
Central to the experience is a community service component, consisting of applying the skills and lessons of classes within the boundaries of “community and museum gardens, school gardens, backyard projects, and more,” according to UConn Master Gardener’s official website.
“We work extensively with volunteers, with community partners, making sure that UConn has a presence where it’s got the opportunity to share knowledge,” explained Bonnie Burr, Department Head of UConn Extension, in an interview with the Daily Campus.
“People who are in stressful situations want to see the beauty, they want to smell, they want to touch. we hope they understand that a garden can be as free and wild as you want it to be, that it can be structured or organized, that every human personality and trait can go out and garden.”Bonnie Burr, Department Head of UConn Extension
UConn Extension provides outreach services for students within UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR), boasting over 100 years of experience working with communities in Connecticut. As part of the Cooperative Extension System that operates within land-grant universities nationwide, UConn Extension places climate adaptation, sustainable agriculture and the building of diverse communities at the heart of their programs, principles which the Master Gardener Program is proud to represent.
Though there are five class cohorts affiliated with in-person Master Gardener offices, the program operates largely in a hybrid fashion.
Most instruction on each topic consists of “three to four hours of online education” before a “half-day in-class session,” normally running from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., as detailed in UConn Master Gardener’s website.
The portion of the class based in Tolland County, in which Storrs and Mansfield are located, is held fully online. Burr encourages active UConn students to apply, noting that they would “absolutely” be able to meet the requirements and time commitment and come out of the experience with a variety of valuable information. Topics covered in Master Gardener classes include identifying invasive species, pest management, botany, plant pathology and information on fruits, vegetables and ornamental plants (both woody and herbaceous).
Following the online section of the class, students are provided a host of opportunities for practical application of their lessons.
“They go out into their yard, city parks, and do plant identification,” Burr explains, “It helps them again with identifying a lot of our invasive species.”
“Then they volunteer with a community service project, ranging from what we call a pizza garden… onions, garlic, basil… to people who are going to hospitals.”
“We work extensively with volunteers, with community partners, making sure that UConn has a presence where it’s got the opportunity to share knowledge.”Bonnie Burr
Even UConn students uninvolved in the disciplines of plant science and agriculture still have much to gain from the experience, Burr said, noting some students simply “like to come out and grow fruit and take Advanced Master Gardener classes online, get certificates and add to a resume.”
One does not have to enter the full Master Gardener program to learn valuable skills in horticulture and participate in valuable hands-on experience. Garden Master Classes online are available both for Master Gardeners who wish to advance their knowledge even further or for students simply interested in furthering their own horticultural development. A full course catalog can be found on the UConn Master Gardener Program’s website, including classes like “Home Canning, Introduction and Making Jam” and “Transplanting Trees and Shrubs.”
“You can be finishing up your English paper at 10 and sign up and take some of our Advanced Master Gardener classes,” Burr advises.
She recounts the story of a serviceman on a submarine who was enthusiastic about gardening and frequently took online classes, reassuring participants that the program provides the necessary accommodations and tools for success for everyone interested in their growth as a gardener.
“People who are in stressful situations want to see the beauty, they want to smell, they want to touch,” Burr said, “We hope they understand that a garden can be as free and wild as you want it to be, that it can be structured or organized, that every human personality and trait can go out and garden”.
The mission of UConn Master Gardener is to not build perfectly structured gardens, or teach students a certain formula for perfection, but to provide the necessary fundamentals for students while also giving them an enthusiastic and passionate support system in the form of their fellow gardeners.
The application and further details can be found at s.uconn.edu/apply or on the official UConn Master Gardener website, https://mastergardener.uconn.edu, which also provides valuable resources and information on Advanced Master Gardener classes.