History of the Texas Master Gardener Program
In 1972, Dr. David Gibby, a Farm Advisor for Washington State University Cooperative Extension, became overwhelmed by the volume of calls coming to his office. He decided to resolve the problem by enlisting the help of volunteers; teaching horticulture to interested people and then having them assist in answering the public’s horticultural questions. Thus began the Master Gardener program, and providing horticultural information to the public still remains the program’s basic function.
The program has spread to all 50 states, Canada and several other countries. In this country, the local County Extension Office, in partnership with its state land-grant university, administers each program. In Texas, the Master Gardener program had its beginning in 1978 with an Extension horticulture training at Texas A&M University where Dr. Sam Corner described the movement in Washington. He knew that, in his state too, there was an overwhelming demand for horticultural information.
The first Texas Master Gardener class was held in 1979 in Montgomery County. El Paso’s program was one of the first in the state, started in 1981 by County Extension Agent John White. The Texas Agricultural Extension Service made an official commitment to a Texas Master Gardener program in 1987 with the hiring of a state coordinator. A 500 page training handbook was completed and guidelines were developed for the program including 50 hours of formal training and 50 hours of volunteer service.
In the 1990s the Texas Master Gardener movement exploded, fueled by the program’s success and visibility. In 1991, a statewide, nonprofit organization was formed and called the Texas Master Gardener Association. El Paso County also has an Association which meets regularly and provides opportunities for learning and leadership.
A love of gardening and search for knowledge is a primary reason for joining the Master Gardener program. Once trained and certified, Master Gardeners can continue to volunteer with others who share their interests, gain continual horticultural training and give back to their communities. Today there are over 6,000 Texas Master Gardeners based in 112 counties. These volunteers have contributed over 400,000 hours of time and talent to Texas AgriLife Extension Service.
Although they have many similarities, the 110 Texas Master Gardener programs are as individual as their members. Size of programs varies from one Master gardener (Leon) to over 600 (Bexar and Harris). Regardless of the size of the program, there is usually a waiting list of individuals who want to become Master Gardeners. Projects vary too but answering homeowner’s questions by phone is at the heart of most Texas programs. Other Master Gardener projects reflect the needs of their communities: classroom gardening at local schools, speakers’ bureaus, community and demonstration gardens and informational booths at local events are common activities.
Texas Master Gardeners are united in name but the program’s strength lies in its ability to meet the diverse needs of the communities it serves. By combining statewide guidelines with local direction and administration, the program offers the flexibility necessary to maintain and vital, responsive organization that serves all of Texas.