You, too, can become a master gardener

If I can become a Master Gardener, anyone can.

I was never very good at gardening but I wanted to be better, so when one of my longtime high school friends suggested we take the course, I jumped.

It was a leap of faith. On my very first day of class, the topic was soil. When they started talking about pH factors, and referring to phosphorus as (P), potassium as (K), calcium as (Ca) and magnesium as (Mg), I nearly bailed. Chemistry. Ugh. I nearly flunked that in college.

But with the help of a great counselor, Sandy Hill, (all Master Gardener students get one), it wasn’t long before I was one of her faithful “Hill’s Angels,” gaining gardening know-how under her encouraging wing. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve become a great gardener or even a mediocre gardener, for that matter. But now I know where to find research-based gardening information.

Before this, I had never taken a horticulture class or even a botany class. In ninth grade I took Biology and I learned about “the birds and the bees” but it had little to do with gardening.

All in all, science was not my friend and my yard was evidence of that.

It is probably apparent that I didn’t come from a gardening family and I have had little experience with farms. My grandfather, a small town banker in Nebraska, had two sugar beet farms nearby, but he didn’t work those farms. He left that to a family who knew what they were doing. Nevertheless he knew enough to teach us how to peel and eat the sweet, crunchy vegetable—similar to a potato with sugar, if my memory serves me. When the trucks, loaded with beets, would lumber their way through the small town on their way to the processing factory, they would often drop a few beets on the road. We made haste to retrieve them before they were crushed.

But I never had any luck with growing my own vegetables. My late husband used to laugh about my $100 tomato. Yes, one tomato: the one that survived my first attempt at growing them in the summer of 2010. Remember that summer, with its never-ending 100 degree days? According to the Mesonet, it was the summer to end all summers, obliterating the previous record set in 1934.

But if you’re into vegetable gardening, there is a lot of knowledge to absorb from fellow Master Gardeners who seem to grow vegetables with abandon. But I did learn about Farmer’s Markets, a godsend for people like me.

I figured I’d have better luck with flowers. My grandmother was a master at growing flowers, particularly roses. Her backyard was bordered with the fragrant blossoms, and she babied them as if they were her children. Occasionally she would allow us to pick them to fill May Baskets we had crafted from construction paper to give to her neighbors.

But, alas, I never had any luck with roses either. All those Knock-outs I planted (guaranteed to be easy to grow) were soon infected with Rose Rosette disease.

But Master Gardeners have educated me on some flowers that grow well in Oklahoma and I have a few successes to prove I am a good listener.

And then there was the armadillo that burrowed in my flowerbed, tormenting my Golden Retriever. When my neighbor came to assess the situation and told me what it was, I was shocked. I had no idea they burrowed. And I had no idea they jumped. That was how I injured my shoulder, trying to keep my dog from chasing it around the back yard.

I needed all the Master Gardener help I could get. (And physical therapy.)

As a Master Gardener, I’ve learned a lot about other critters besides armadillos. I’ve learned about a reliable potion to get rid of the skunk spray on my unlucky dog and the best method for getting rid of moles; I learned about beneficial insects beyond ladybugs; and what plants lure them into your yard.

I also learned about turf and irrigation; drip systems and rain barrels; how to grow fruit and nut trees, and landscape design techniques. I learned tricks to arranging flowers; the best plants for Oklahoma and which ones attract butterflies and bees, and so much more.

But best of all, I’ve met some of my new best friends. Gardeners are an open, warm and forgiving group. They are patient with me, even after eight years of being certified. I may be certified, but I’m no expert. I still feel like a novice, but I’m still willing to learn.

One fellow gardener recently gave me some seeds to sow. I have never succeeded in this endeavor, but you have to love her hopeful spirit. I will give it another try.

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And another friend shared some of her red wigglers so I can try my hand at vermicomposting. I’ve always loved worms—why not see if I can raise them to give me pure gold (compost). Other friends have shared plant cuttings, which have actually acclimated to my garden.

And I’ve learned where to find amazing nurseries with unusual plants, and I’ve had the good fortune to see amazing gardens—those belonging to Master Gardeners as well as fabulous botanical gardens all over our city and state, the country and world. Gardeners are also travelers and love the discovery of garden gems hither and yon.

My strength may not be in the actual gardening part, but I love the learning and trying and traveling. And my new friends are with me all the way. I admit I am still not a very good gardener, but I’ve come to realize that being a Master Gardener is not about being a master. It’s about gardening.

If you would like to become an Oklahoma County Extension Master Gardener, call the office at 405-713-1125 or visit our website at and download the application form. Application deadline is May 11. The class will begin in September and continue until November.