For some people, gardening extends beyond the interests of a hobbyist and becomes a passion so strong it eventually becomes an obsession.
Area master gardeners aren't just ordinary gardeners. They are committed to not only enhancing their own gardens, but also the gardens of others.
"When I heard about master gardeners, I knew I wanted to be one," said Judy Kirkland. "My parents had always gardened and it just seemed natural for me to as well."
Kirkland signed up for a master gardening class as soon as she retired from teaching. She was interested in learning more about plants, soil and landscaping, as well as learning what she termed "smart gardening techniques."
Plus, she knew that enrolling in a master gardening class would enable her to meet others who were interested in gardening.
"The experience has been wonderful," she said. "I now have time to work ... in my yard and have made a whole new group of friends."
Georgia's master gardener program started in 1979 with the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service, and has since recruited more than 5,000 gardeners into the program. Saturday, the first day of spring, master gardeners throughout the state were recognized for their work in the officially proclaimed Georgia Master Gardener Day.
Master gardeners must first complete a classroom portion of the program, followed by 50 volunteer hours in their community within their first year. Upon completion of both the classroom and volunteer hours, they officially become a Georgia Master Gardener. To remain active, they must commit to volunteering a minimum of 25 hours of service each year.
Sharyn Altman has enjoyed the master gardener group so much that she has spearheaded two state conferences, joined the state board and served as president of the Georgia Master Gardener Association in 2008.
"Gardeners are a generous group of people and fun to be around," she said. "They are always learning and looking for the next great plant. After all, gardening is the No. 1 hobby, but for some of us it is an obsession."
Many folks might not be able to find the time to complete the requirements to become a master gardener, but they still benefit from the knowledge of master gardeners. For instance, Cathy Ridgdill considers herself on the receiving end of some great advice from area master gardeners.
"They have been a tremendous help to me with questions of all sorts," said Ridgdill. "Sometimes, without the help of the master gardeners and the extension service, I would be lost. It is a comfortable feeling knowing that they are out there. They have always, always been ready to help and made me feel at ease and always smiling."
The master gardener program has taught her that the more she learns, the less she knows and the more she needs to learn.
"Learning is a lifelong process," she said. "As a retired teacher, I think I already knew that, but it gave me a whole new vocabulary and subject area."
Since retiring and becoming a master gardener, Kirkland has joined a garden club and has become a member of four flower societies and the State Botanical Garden of Georgia where she is pursuing a certificate in native plants.
"Retirement has certainly not been boring," she said.
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