South Carolina Master Gardener Program History
Rapid urban growth in many areas of the United States, coupled with increased interest in the environment and home gardening, has prompted ever-increasing numbers of homeowner questions to County Extension Service agents. Many of these questions are seasonal in nature, and are relatively easily answered, assuming that one has horticultural training.
The Master Gardener program was designed to use the services of selectively trained volunteers with horticultural knowledge and a willingness to share that knowledge with other county residents through the Cooperative Extension Service. The program started in 1972 in Seattle, Washington, when Dr. David Gibby, the King County Extension agent for horticulture, was overwhelmed by the number of calls coming into the office. He and Dr. Arlen Davison, the extension plant pathologist, put their heads together to address the problem, and developed the idea of providing training in horticulture in exchange for a commitment to volunteer to educate the public. The guiding philosophy, as stated by Davison, was to develop a core group of knowledgeable volunteers to assist Cooperative Extension Agents in meeting the demand for reliable gardening information. He worked with other Extension agents and the administrators at the State University to develop a curriculum for training these “gardeners”. The first class, which was in 1973, had approximately 300 applicants; ultimately 120 were accepted into the class.
Since that time, the Master Gardener program has grown and is now active in 45 states, the District of Columbia, and four Canadian provinces. South Carolina adopted the Master Gardener program in 1981 in Charleston County, which was the first in the state. Barrett Larrimore was the Extension agent at the time and he also realized that the demand for gardening information was overwhelming. He sent 2 people to Michigan to observe their Master Gardener program and gather information. Upon their return, they worked closely with the Clemson Horticulture department and developed the curriculum for the Master Gardener program. There were about 20 people in the first class, which was held at the current Charleston County office, at 259 Meeting Street. Initially, the classes were from 9:00 A.M. to 12:00 P.M., once a week for twelve weeks for a cost of $25.00. The first year, being a pilot program, there was no volunteer requirement, but the following year they began the 40 hour volunteer requirement and began taking calls from the public. Since that time, the program has been a tremendous success, and is now active in over half of South Carolina’s counties. The South Carolina Master Gardener Program is sponsored by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service.
The benefits of a Master Gardener program are very beneficial to the urban and suburban communities of South Carolina.
South Carolina Master Gardeners:
- Improve the overall efficiency of the Extension program in providing one-on-one service to the non-commercial horticultural clientele in the state.
- Allow Agents to develop a “proactive” Extension program.
- Promote increased environmental awareness through the prudent use of fertilizers, pesticides, etc.
- Provide group learning and teaching activities for non-commercial clientele.
- Form a group of teaching assistants who enjoy being around other horticulturists and develop into a support group for Extension consumer/urban horticulture efforts.