I was an accidental volunteer – helping out at my daughters’ schools, participating in other organizations – but never feeling that I was making a real difference until I found the Virginia Beach Master Gardener program. It was something of an accident in itself.
I went to the Master Gardeners’ spring plant sale, as I did every year, to get new plants for the garden. I wasn’t looking for a volunteer position, but one of the master gardeners struck up a conversation about the plants I was picking out.
We talked about the plants and gardening, and I asked about the other things that master gardeners did. Fireworks went off in my head while she told me about the gardens, education programs and work being done with school children. This – this right here in front of me – was what I had been looking for without even knowing it.
Here was a group of people who had turned my hobby into outreach. They had found a way to connect people from different backgrounds into pursuing a common goal that I could be a part of. I was hooked. I attended an orientation session the next week and never looked back.
Becoming a master gardener is easy. Each city in Hampton Roads has a unit. In Virginia Beach, orientation sessions are held each spring, and they give detailed information about the application process and classes.
Master gardener volunteers receive classroom and hands-on training, so gardeners of all experience levels are welcome. I thought I knew a lot about gardening until I joined the program and realized all the things I didn’t know that I didn’t know. My own gardens have certainly benefited. I continue to learn things from my fellow volunteers, and the program offers monthly continuing education opportunities.
Being a master gardener is about more than attending classes and working in our gardens. This group is doing things that make a real impact in the community. This year alone, we’ve started projects that work with seniors, train teachers to manage school gardens and provide free seeds to residents to grow at home.
I became a master gardener in 2011. Over the last seven years, I’ve learned a lot about gardening, shared that information with others and hopefully made an impact along the way. The big lesson I’ve taken from this is that none of the experiences I’ve had were possible without first taking that leap to get involved.
McGraw, who lives in Kempsville, is the education program coordinator for the Virginia Horticultural Foundation. For more information about the Virginia Beach Master Gardeners, visit vbmg.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (757) 385-8156.
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