The following appeared in the February Heart of Virginia Master Gardener Newsletter. Enjoy!
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The Heart of Virginia Master Gardeners – First Impressions
by Jeanne Grunert
I was not quite sure what to expect when I approached the brightly lit Extension office building on that first Wednesday in January for my first Master Gardener class. I joined the Master Gardener program not so much to learn how to garden as to expand my knowledge of south central Virginia gardening. I felt like I knew how to garden, or at least how not to kill my plants. However, I knew there were gap in my education, and felt that this rigorous program could fill those gaps while providing me with new opportunities to set down deep roots in the community through volunteerism.
On our first night, I met my classmates and mentor, Liz. My 16 classmates are a diverse group of individuals, drawn together by a deep love of gardening and a strong desire to nurture a similar love in the community. They are teachers and landscapers, college professors and administrators, but most all, they are gardeners in mind, heart and spirit.
At our first class, Patsy and Tina distributed our textbooks, three-ring binders so thick and heavy I wondered if we could also use them to press leaf samples. Our first assignment was to read the chapter on Botany before the following week's class. Snippets and whispers of high school Biology class returned as I dutifully read the chapter, vague memories of dissecting azalea flowers and pinning them to cardboard with hand-lettered signs reading stamen, pistil, ovary.
What did I get myself into? I thought, and fretted about midterm exams and final projects as if I was indeed back in the 10th grade.
Latin names, Linnaeus classification systems, plant identification…my head swam as I returned for the second class. Greeting us was Professor Erika Gonzalez from Longwood University, curator of their extensive botany collection, and my fears of looking stupid melted away under her bubbly presentation and enthusiasm. Peering through a hand lens at the mysterious heart of a carnation, I felt awe stirring deep within. I wanted to learn more.
Fears melting aside, I warmed up enough in our second class to pluck up a soil sample and squeeze it between my fingers as instructor David Smith, the Cumberland County Extension Agent, had shown us how to do. Ribbons of soil pressed from between my probing fingertips, bringing his lecture to life through touch. Clay, sand, loam. These terms now meant something. They meant grit, slickness, stickiness, color, texture, taste and scent, fertility and garden potential.
I learned to garden at my father's knee, and grew up in a family for which showing chrysanthemums in competitions, turning an unused room in the house into an orchidarium and adding a greenhouse onto the garage were normal events of my childhood. Nevertheless, the intricacies of soil structure, the magic of plant reproduction, the complex chemistry behind the smile of a pansy are a new world for me.
Becoming a Master Gardener requires dedication, curiosity, and willingness. Fortunately, the warmth and friendliness of the Heart of Virginia Master Gardeners, County Extension Agents and guest lecturers make it all seem like a fun garden club meeting instead of the rich learning experience it truly is. You have so much fun you forget you're learning chemistry, botany, soil science and more.
As we approach the next series of classes, I look forward to learning more about insects, plant pathology and the plants themselves. As long as there is no "hands on" component to the entomology lecture, count me in!