URI Master Gardeners help BBC launch program in Britain

Media Contact: Todd McLeish 874-7892

URI Master Gardeners help BBC
launch program in Britain

KINGSTON, R.I. — November 14, 2002 — English gardeners don’t just have green thumbs, all their fingers are green. Thanks to the efforts of the Royal Horticultural Society and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), among others, Britain has a worldwide reputation for gardening expertise.

But when they wanted to create a volunteer-based gardening outreach program, they called on the University of Rhode Island’s Master Gardeners.

“We got a call on our hotline last spring, and we thought at first it was someone local wanting gardening information. But it turns out the woman was calling from London and worked for the BBC!” said Rosanne Sherry, coordinator of the URI Master Gardener program.

The caller, Jill Pack, is responsible for developing adult educational projects that tie in to the BBC’s educational television and radio programs, and gardening programs are among the most popular shows in England. “The Master Gardener scheme is already well established in the United States, but there doesn’t appear to be anything similar in this country, or at least not on the same scale,” Pack said. “It seems that here is an opportunity waiting to be taken and that the BBC is in an excellent position to be a catalyst and enabler.”

After a contingent of BBC staff members attended a Master Gardener conference in New York and visited several programs throughout the Northeast, they chose the URI program as a model.

Since 1977, nearly 500 local gardeners have completed the 16-week URI Master Gardener class and contributed 113,000 hours of volunteer time to gardening education and related projects around Rhode Island. Nearly 200 Master Gardeners are currently active and have donated 17,000 hours of volunteer time in 2002.

“In England they have all sorts of gardening education programs in place, but they don’t have volunteers like we have here,” explained Marcia Morreira, program coordinator of the URI Cooperative Extension Education Center, which oversees the Master Gardener program. “We’ve got such a powerful program of empowering volunteers to do community education and outreach. This is a new concept in England, where they mostly use volunteers as gardeners.”

“We were particularly impressed by the organizational structure of the URI Master Gardener Association,” Pack said, “and the relationship with the Cooperative Extension Service and with the URI Plant Sciences Department. We were also impressed by the range and management of projects and services the Association runs. However, it was the thoughtful approach and fantastic enthusiasm of everyone we met that convinced us that URI were the people to invite to our seminar.”

Morreira, Sherry, and three volunteer Master Gardeners – Lou and Cheryl Cadwell of Glocester and David Hughes of Portsmouth – were invited to England in October to participate in an all-day brainstorming session at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens with about 70 of the leading horticulture educators from around the country.

“At first the most vocal people in attendance weren’t sure why they were there,” said Hughes. “They thought they had all the training and gardening programs they needed, and they said ‘this won’t work in England.’ But they eventually all came around to support the idea and many of them were anxious to become the first to pilot the program in the country. Most of them had never before considered using volunteers as an extension of themselves.”

The BBC Master Gardener pilot program will be launched at two or three horticultural colleges in Britain next fall, and the URI staff and volunteers will continue to serve as resources as the program develops. In the future, the BBC envisions using the Master Gardener concept to launch other volunteer-based programs, including a Master Digger program for volunteer archaeologists.

For Information: Marcia Morreira 874-5707