URI’s Master Gardeners have the dirt on plants

KINGSTON, R.I. — February 24, 1999 — One indication that the popularity of gardening isn’t wilting is the latest class of Master Gardener wannabees at the University of Rhode Island. This semester there are 120 students enrolled in URI’s Plant Science 222, the prerequisite toward earning a Master Gardener certificate. Eighteen members of the class are traditional URI students, mostly juniors and seniors, many of whom are studying landscape architecture or plant sciences. The remaining 102 students are green-thumbed Rhode Islanders who have shown an interest in the Master Gardener program. “We do indeed have a bumper crop this year,” notes Roseanne Sherry of North Smithfield who coordinates the 22-year-old Cooperative Extension program at URI. “It’s the largest class yet.” Students learn the basics of gardening, including such things as botany basics, soil composition, pruning, pest controls, turf, vegetable and floral gardening, perennials, and water quality. The curriculum assumes some background and knowledge of gardening. “The class digs deeper,” says Sherry. Completing the three-credit, semester-long course is the first step toward a Master Gardener certificate. The other requirement is to commit to 50 or more volunteer hours within a two-year time span. URI has a cadre of 350 active Master Gardeners. Most are Rhode Island residents, although a few are rooted in nearby Connecticut and Massachusetts. Sherry says only the cream of the crop answer URI’s Gardening and Food Safety Hotline, 1-800-448-1011. The hotline receives more than 11,000 phone calls a year from residents with questions about the health and welfare of their plants. Thetoll-free hotline operates from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Thursday. In addition to answering the hotline, Master Gardeners have designed and continue to maintain the President’s Garden located at the URI president’s residence on Upper College Road. Other Master Gardeners complete their volunteer hours by maintaining a vegetable demonstration garden at the Cooperative Extension Education Center which also is on campus. Many Master Gardeners take to the road, often giving talks, manning booths at fairs, staffing the plant clinic or helping with small projects in their hometowns. More than 60 Master Gardeners helped at this month’s Rhode Island Flower Show, for example. About two dozen Master Gardeners are involved in an ongoing project at the Bristol Veterans Home, raising plants in its greenhouse and working with some of the veterans and a few Mount Hope High School class members to beautify the grounds. “Our mission is to educate the general public,” says Sherry noting that she writes a gardening column for The Providence Journal while Marion Gold, coordinator of URI’s GreenShare program does a weekly gardening program called the Plant Pro for WJAR-TV. Every land grant university, (there’s one in each state), has a Master Gardener program. “URI is one of the oldest programs and ours has run continuously, ” says Sherry, leaving no doubt that the University’s program deserves the Best in Show! For more information about URI’s Master Gardener program, call the hotline. Again that number is 1-800-448-1011.