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What is the Tennessee Extension Master Gardener Program?

​The Tennessee Extension Master Gardener Program is a volunteer program that serves state citizens with horticulture education!

The program trains and certifies volunteers who provide community service through county Extension offices. Master Gardeners are trained, certified volunteers for the University of Tennessee Extension County Offices.

Tennessee Extension Master Gardeners (TEMG’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.

The Master Gardener Program is offered by The University of Tennessee. Its main goal is to increase the availability of horticultural information to improve the quality of life with community garden/landscape programs.

This could only be possible through the training and utilization of local volunteers!

Nationally, there are approximately 94,865 active Master Gardeners volunteers in US and Canada with an estimated 5,197,573 volunteer hours (2009 statistics).

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

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.

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.”

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.”

“A lot of my students tell me, ‘I wish I’d learned this earlier in life,’” Cook says.

How are Extension 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.

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 main demonstration gardens and educational booths at field days and fairs in their community to connect with the public on a one-on-one basis.

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.

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