Please Note: Applications are still being accepted until Jan. 29 for the 2021 UGA/Cherokee County Master Gardener volunteer training class. For details, contact the UGA/Cherokee County Extension Office at 770-721-7803 or email Josh Fuder, ANR Extension Agent, at jfuder@uga.edu. For more information, see https://extension.uga.edu/content/dam/extension-county-offices/cherokee-county/master-gardeners/application/2021/2021MGEVapplication.pdf.

It was in 2007 that I met Walter Reeves. He was doing a very animated talk and demonstration at the Southeastern Flower Show. He was very approachable and I asked how he remembered so much about gardening since he had no script and answered all the questions thoroughly. I was new to his radio show and common sense would have told me that as a graduate of the School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at the University of Georgia, he was very educated in all aspects of gardening. But his answer was: after you give the information to others several times, it sticks with you (not an exact quote but the gist).

I took the Master Gardener classes that winter and was working my way through getting my required hours that I realized that Mr. Reeves was correct. I learned a lot in the classes, but it wasn’t until I imparted the information to others that it really stuck with me. Friends would ask for help and I was getting more confident in my assessments of their situations and the information that would be helpful in making a beautiful landscape.

Who or what is a Master Gardener? Well, our Cherokee County Master Gardener Volunteers are a very diverse and friendly bunch. Many, if not most, are retirees that are looking for a rewarding volunteer experience. It starts with first educating the educators. Our UGA County Extension Agent provides 200 hours of classroom learning and some hands-on programs … most from experts in their field. We were expected to turn around and give classes in the community on a myriad of subjects and give at least 50 hours the first year and 25 hours each succeeding year. We volunteer at seminars, demo gardens, schools, plant sales, special programs, writing articles, etc. Presentations are prepared using UGA Extension materials. We try to work in pairs … one that has been experienced in a presentation and one that is learning to do the presentation. Again, the more you give out the information, the more it sticks with you.

Fast forward a few years: There were many areas that I could volunteer to work as a volunteer and have but working with students has become a real joy. One of my friends was a teacher that started an after school youth garden club. She said she could really use some help in coming up with programs and projects of interest to the 9 and 10 year olds. Well, I said I could do some programs, but I have very little experience working with children.

I remembered that I had my very first garden when I was 10 years old, so I surmised that this was a good age to experience planting seeds, growing fun plants, harvesting, and nurturing the environment, etc. After I received permission to make this school a Master Garden project, I started by doing a program on propagation and I am still at it. Don’t get the impression that I am an expert. There are still some things I go back and look up so that I am giving the correct info to these very fertile minds. I really enjoy how inquisitive they are and willing to try new things. Probably the biggest payback is that these students will likely be gardeners for life!

Our youth garden clubs are also truly fortunate to have the Cherokee County Master Gardener Extension Volunteers, as well as the Farm Bureau, the Cherokee County Water and Sewage Authority, the Upper Etowah River Alliance and Native Plant Society that provide us with programs and some very dedicated Cherokee County school teachers!

The neat thing about Master Gardeners is the fact that I can have so many different volunteer experiences. I also learn from the seminars — after all, we cannot be experts at everything, and I love learning!

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Katie Van Hiel has been a UGA Master Gardener Extension Volunteer of Cherokee County for 14 years. For more information or questions, contact the Cherokee County Extension Office at 770-721-7803 or for upcoming seminars follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cherokeemastergardeners or on our website at cherokeemastergardenersinc.wildapricot.org.

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