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Tennessee Master Gardeners

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About the Master Gardener Program

Master Gardeners are trained, certified volunteers for the University of Tennessee Extension County Offices.

Quick and Dirty: What It Really Means to be a Master Gardener

By Danny Bonvissuto December 10

The Hermitage in Nashville, Tennessee


In Nashville, Tennessee, master gardeners can earn community service credits by tending the grounds at the Hermitage


Photo courtesy of the Hermitage.


Master gardeners have a love of gardening and a passion to share it with others, but despite the esteemed title, they don’t have master’s degrees. “I don’t really like the word ‘master,’” says David Cook, UT Extension Agent for Davidson County. “With gardening and horticulture you could and you should learn something every day.”

The lack of an extensive time and financial commitment is exactly what makes the master gardener program so popular. Though programs vary from one extension service to the other, enrollees take approximately 40 hours worth of classes—often once a week for about three months—and are exposed to basic knowledge in every aspect of horticulture from soil science to botany and entomology. “People get whole college degrees in soil science and we try not to scare students off with too much chemistry,” Cook says. “But we cover a lot in these classes and by the time it’s over people always want to learn more.”

Belle Meade Plantation

A master gardener talks to schoolchildren about heirloom vegetables at the Harding Garden at Belle Meade Plantation. Photo courtesy of Pam Swoner.

Just like every other aspect of gardening, the most important part of the master gardener program is getting outside and making things happen. Though students have the option to take the classes solely for their own benefit, certification is only awarded upon completion of 40 hours of volunteer hours over the course of one year. “The second year it drops to 25 hours a year,” Cook says. “People waste 25 hours sitting on the couch in a month. When people choose this program, they’ll be productive is more ways than one.”

How are master gardeners making your community a happier, healthier place to be?

No Stupid Questions – Though it boggles the mind, Cook says he gets more than 2,000 garden-related phone calls a year from citizens in the community—everything from “what’s the best type of apple tree to plant?” to “how do I grow grass where it’s never grown before?” Master gardeners man the phones at extension services, armed with their trusty handbook and plenty of support. “In a way, they’re training themselves,” Cook says.

Nashville City Cemetery

History looks at lot nicer at Nashville’s City Cemetery thanks to master gardeners. Photo courtesy of Pam Swoner.

Keep History Alive – Historical sites often have a large need for grounds maintenance but not the budget to match. Cook’s master gardeners donate their hours to beautify Nashville’s city cemetery and the Hermitage, the home of former president Andrew Jackson.

Spreading the Word – Master gardeners man demonstration gardens and educational booths at field days and fairs in their community to connect with the public on a one-on-one basis.

The Hermitage in Nashville, Tennessee

Some of the plants in the early 19th century flower garden at The Hermitage, the home of president Andrew Jackson, are the originals from Jackson’s era. Photo courtesy of the Hermitage.

Bringing the Outside In – Outreach doesn’t have to be outside. Master gardeners create projects and programs for special needs children and adults, senior citizens and other special interest groups.

master gardener at work

Master gardeners plant seeds in the community, both literally and figuratively. Photo courtesy of Pam Swoner.

Heal the Sick – Master gardeners hold community plant clinics and diagnose all kinds of diseases. No appointment or insurance required!

“A lot of my students tell me, ‘I wish I’d learned this earlier in life,’” Cook says. “It’s never too late to learn and this is an exciting program. We don’t hand out the title ‘master gardener,’ our students get out in the community and earn it.”

Visit this site to find a master gardener program in your area.


Who are Tennessee Master Gardeners?

Tennessee Master Gardeners (TMG's) are trained volunteers that help the Extension Service share the latest and greatest gardening information! All volunteers are trained with 40 hours of horticultural classes and return 40 hours of volunteer community service through their Extension office.

State-wide there are approximately 2,000 active Master Gardeners in 46 counties. Master Gardeners who continue to participate in the program return at least 25 hours of service with a minimum of 8 continued education hours annually.

Nationally, there are approximately 80,500 active Master Gardeners volunteers in US and Canada with an estimated 3,365,870 volunteer hours (2005 statisitcs).

The Master Gardener Program is offered by The University of Tennessee Extension. Its main goal is to increase the availability of horticultural information to improve quality of life with community garden/landscape programs. This could only be possible through the training and utilization of local volunteers.