The Secrets to Becoming a Master Gardener


Gardeners are a bit crazy. Because of all the things we go through just to get a few plants to grow in our gardens and there are always failures along the way. Which may be why when we find a Master Gardener to listen to, we think we might learn something. I know because I am a master gardener and I have a certificate that says that. Hi, I’m Gardener Scott. But I believe it takes more than a piece of paper to truly determine master gardeners. Everyone can become one. So join me as I discuss the secrets to becoming a master gardener. My basic philosophy is that there are Master Gardeners and then there are master gardeners. I went through the Master Gardener training back in 2004. All of the instructors were from Colorado State University and we met for a full day each week for five months and then after that we devoted months of volunteer effort helping the community with their gardening questions. And at the end of that I got a certificate that said I was a Master Gardener. But I found, primarily because of all those questions that were being asked of me by the people who now saw me as a Master Gardener, that I really didn’t know as much as I thought I did and it’s taken me years to become a master gardener. So why do I feel that there’s a difference between a Master Gardener and a master gardener? Well in the Master Gardener course over those many weeks and months we were exposed to almost everything you could think of as it related to gardening, but it was a very broad education, so we had three hours on how to grow vegetables and we had three hours on how to grow fruits and we had three hours on trees and we had three hours on botany and we had three hours on pesticides and over the course of that time we covered many many topics, but none of them to any depth. Some of the topics did fill a whole day. So instead of three hours we might have gotten six hours of training. We had to take tests. We had to confirm that we were learning along the way, but at the end it was just a whole bunch of shallow knowledge. As soon as I left that training and went out into the real world of gardening I was confronted by many many gardeners that knew far more than me about vegetables and fruits and trees and botany and most of them weren’t Master Gardeners. And as I met more and more of these gardeners, who I determined to be true masters at what they were doing, I realized how I could make the transition from being a Master Gardener to a master gardener and how anyone else can follow the path. And that leads to the first secret the first step Acquire knowledge. These gardeners who were masters at what they were doing were smart when it came to gardening. They had spent a lot of time acquiring knowledge. That’s what I’ve done. That’s what you can do. Read a book. Read five books. Follow a blog. Follow three blogs. Watch my videos. Watch other videos. That’s what I’ve been doing for a long time is acquiring the knowledge of gardening The gardeners who take formal Master Gardener accreditation courses do so for a number of different reasons. Some do it for the certificate because their job depends on it. Others might already have a particular interest and they’re looking to learn more and some like me didn’t really know that much to start with and we just wanted to know all that we could. And almost to a person, at the end of the program the Master Gardeners begin to specialize in the area that they discovered as part of the studies. I have a really good gardener friend who is an expert in perennials. She has specialized in that and knows more about flowers than any other gardener I know. But she really doesn’t do any vegetable gardening because she doesn’t feel comfortable with her level of knowledge there and when she has a question about vegetable gardening, she asks me because that’s where I specialized, was in the vegetable and fruits. And I began to teach courses to the public through the Master Gardener program. And I thought I knew a lot. But when I read, “Epic Tomatoes” by Craig Le Houllier, a light bulb came on to show me that I knew virtually nothing about growing tomatoes, even though I was teaching those kind of courses. Sure, I knew more than the average gardener, but I didn’t really know enough to become a master gardener as it related to tomatoes. This is what I’m talking about when I say acquire the knowledge Just by reading this book, I guarantee you you would know more about how to grow tomatoes than virtually all of the certified Master Gardeners that are out there trying to grow tomatoes. I’m constantly learning more about gardening and I have a pretty extensive library of books that I’ve been accumulating over the years including that “Epic Tomatoes” book. That’s how I like to learn. I’ve also watched hundreds of videos. Just because I’m making videos doesn’t mean that I can’t learn from other videos. And I follow blogs. I’m always trying to learn more and I scour seed catalogs for new ideas about what I can do in my garden. And that leads to step number two in becoming a master gardener is, After you have acquired the knowledge, Practice that knowledge. Start taking what you’ve learned, and do it. Do it in your own garden. Try it out. Try some of the things that Craig LeHoullier says to do in “Epic Tomatoes” and see how it works. You’re not guaranteed success. In fact, you’re probably going to encounter some failure, but just do it Be a gardener. I was interested in what it takes to grow garlic, so I bought some garlic and I planted it, and learned how. I was interested in all the different types of tomatoes that are mentioned in “Epic Tomatoes”, so I bought a bunch of seeds and I tried them. It was at the school garden, but one year I planted almost 40 different varieties of tomatoes. Corn. I’ve done it. Broccoli. I’ve done it. You name it… I’ve probably done it. I’ve grown birdhouse gourds. This last year I grew Luffa gourds. Until I grew luffa gourds, I didn’t even know that luffas, those things that you use in the bath, come from a plant that looks like cucumbers. That’s how you get to become a master gardener. You just keep doing it. You practice all the things you learn. You try new things. Eventually, you’re going to know more than you ever thought possible about each of those things that you’re practicing. Contrary to what you’ve probably heard in that common belief, practice doesn’t make perfect when it comes to gardening. In fact, the more you practice, the more failures you’re probably going to have. But that’s part of the fun because it’s those practices that begin to change. The first time that I grew garlic it didn’t turn out very well, in fact I really didn’t get much of a harvest. The second year was a little bit better and the third year, I was beginning to figure it out. So by the fourth and the fifth year, my garlic crops were looking pretty good And why was that? Well because of step 3. Learn. Learn from what you’re doing. If that first crop doesn’t turn out like you expected, ask “why?” Ask others why, and learn what you can do differently the next time. Don’t give up. A real gardener doesn’t give up. A real gardener tries something different. Does it a different way, tries a different seed, puts the plant in a different location, maybe changes the water, but that’s all part of the learning. I’ve got a number of plants in my yard now that are in their second or third location because the first location didn’t work out. And when I thought about it and analyzed it and learned what I needed to know The answer was to move the plant to another location As I’ve often said in many of my classes I’ve killed more plants, than many gardeners will ever grow That’s because to learn Sometimes plants have to sacrifice themselves But every one of those plants that died by my hand led to my knowledge becoming a little bit better and with the more and more and more plants that died, I became closer and closer and closer to becoming a master gardener Now I’m not advocating that you should Intentionally kill plants and that by doing so you’ll automatically become a better gardener. No, what I’m saying is when plants die along the way we’ll learn from it so that hopefully you don’t repeat whatever caused the plant to die in the first place and learning is different than acquiring knowledge that first step acquiring knowledge is increasing your knowledge base to do a particular task like put a seed in the ground or maybe amend your soil. That’s acquiring knowledge. But once you’ve done that now learn from it. Did it work? Did you need to do something better? Could you improve upon the knowledge that you were given? And as that happens, you have the opportunity to specialize just like certified Master Gardeners who specialize, you, as just a regular gardener, can specialize as well and get more knowledge by learning the practices. And before you know it you may find that some of your gardener friends may be coming to you for recommendations about how to do a particular gardening task. That sounds an awful lot like being a master gardener to me. So you’ve acquired some gardening knowledge and then you practiced and then you learned from what you did What’s the fourth step? Well, it’s also the final step It’s to repeat the process over again. Acquire more knowledge and then practice something new and then learn even more . And do that over and over again. And that’s another thing that makes us a little crazy, because we’re willing to do it over and over again knowing that failure might result But the more you do it the better you get at it and the better you get at it the more comfortable you are being a gardener because suddenly You know why? You know why something died, you know why it didn’t work and you know how you’re going to make it better next year. Because that’s what we gardeners believe next year will definitely be better. I’m not trying to dissuade you from actually going through a course to become a certified Master Gardener. In fact, I encourage it. When I went through, I was given three binders filled with information about gardening. This one is filled with all the fact sheets that we would refer to when we were asked a question at the help desk But all this information is now available online which means you have access to it. Back then when I went through the course I acquired a lot of gardening information that was in these books. Well now you have the opportunity to acquire a lot of information just by looking for it After I got all this information, I began to practice it. After you get your information, practice it. And then I learned. Remember all those plants I killed? It’s been a lot of years that I’ve been learning from what I was practicing and I still have a lot more to learn. If you’re willing to devote the time and the energy to acquiring the knowledge and practicing it and learning from it and Repeating that over and over again well, then you definitely have the makings of becoming a master gardener. I have a gardener friend who does amazing things in her garden. She used to volunteer at the school garden and of all my volunteers she made more than her fair share of mistakes, but that was great opportunity for both of us. I learned from a lot of the mistakes that she made and of course she learned from those same mistakes. And she took all that information back to her own garden. I’m quite envious of some of the things that she does in her garden. Now, did she go through the Master Gardener training and become a certified Master Gardener? No, but I truly respect her as a master gardener. Though she doesn’t like to admit it and never would She really knows what she’s doing But she continues to ask me questions always trying to be better. And that right there kind of tells me the whole story. She’s got the soul of a gardener She truly is a master at what we’re trying to do in this crazy world of gardening and she’s just following those few basic steps, whether she realizes it or not. And there you have it the secrets to becoming a master gardener. Please, if you have any comments or questions, let me know below. I’d love to hear about your own journey in becoming a master gardener. If you liked the video, you can give me a thumbs up and you can share it. I’m Gardener Scott. Enjoy gardening.

13 thoughts on “The Secrets to Becoming a Master Gardener

  1. Love this. I have so many garden books I don't know where to put them 😂 I truly believe that gardening is experimentation. That's why it's so fun!

  2. I'm taking the master gardener classes right now. In my opinion, it's a beginner course! So much to learn! Your video nails it.

  3. I knew there was a reason I sub'ed to your channel! I'm currently enrolled in a master gardener course but I know there's that next LEVEL, which, really I think would only be obtained via experience and time. I am so excited and I'm growing my literature collection. Thank you for posting this video, the suggestions of reading, the tips AND encouragement!! Much love ❤️!!

  4. Wow! Thank you! I really needed to hear this advice.
    I've been trying to grow garlic here in Wyoming for two years, and with no luck yet. I haven't planned ahead (my bad), and by the time I get to plant my garlic, I sometimes get snow on the ground and very low temperatures. I know very little about gardening, but like you said, I'm watching videos, and reading books. Also I have to remember that I have a very small growing season for Summer loving plants.
    Thanks again!

  5. Planning to become a master Gardner this season! It will definitely help me educate my landscaping clients.

  6. Just found this Video. I liked it a lot it makes me want to keep working harder. And find a Master Gardener class later to take here soon I cant find one in my area. And I do not have any other gardeners that I could talk with. if there is any way you and I could chat or something when I have problems so I could see if I could be a better gardener.

  7. Great great great video!!!! Excellent!!! Really admire your humility. I would really like to become a Master Master Gardner not necessarily throught certification but experiencially, reading and specilization.
    Is there a library/data bank of practising MG(s) specilizing in watermelons and tomatoes or that you could recommend?

  8. Right now I’m reading the California Master Gardener book. No, I am not taking classes or planning to as of now. I want to thank u for the advice because I was thinking I wouldn’t need classes when I can obtain knowledge from my book and other books. Also, every gardener has their own thinking and ways. Again Sir, thank you.

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