History of the Master Gardener™ Program


In 1972, Dr. David Gibby, an Extension Service horticulture agent in King and Pierce counties in Washington State, was overwhelmed by requests from the community for gardening information. To solve this problem, he proposed finding gardeners who, in exchange for specialized training in horticulture, would volunteer to answer questions and provide information to the public. Today, Extension Service Master Gardener™ programs exist in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and two Canadian provinces.

More than 100,000 people are certified as Master Gardeners™ in the United States, after completing several weeks of instruction and volunteer service.

What makes these volunteers special is that they are trained by experts associated with land-grant universities. These experts offer the latest research and technical assistance to Master Gardener™ candidates, increasing their knowledge and helping them to teach others on horticulture-related topics, such as basic botany, pesticide safety, vegetable, flower, and herb gardening, and integrated pest management. In some counties, such as Jackson County, local professionals and knowledgeable volunteers also teach some of the classes. Trained volunteers then multiply the university’s knowledge and share it with local citizens. The focus of volunteer training is to teach home horticulture and community gardening in a holistic manner. Training emphasizes sound gardening practices that minimize negative impacts on the environment.

The Oregon State University Master Gardener™ Program

The Oregon State University Extension Service Master Gardener™ Program is a voluntary educational program designed to meet the community’s gardening needs. Its purpose is to teach people more about the science and art of growing plants. Specifically, it aims to provide information and technical assistance related to general horticulture and sustainable gardening to the public through qualified, certified volunteers. There are approximately 3,500 active Master Gardeners currently working in Master Gardener™ programs in 28 of Oregon’s 36 counties.

The Oregon Master Gardener™ Program is one of the oldest in the nation.

It was established in 1976 by Duane Hatch, Lane County Extension agent, and Gray Thompson, Clackamas County Extension agent. In 1978, Dr. Ray McNeilan, urban and home horticulture Extension agent in Multnomah County, became the state Master Gardener program coordinator. He developed the Oregon program into a nationally known model. Dr. Gail Langellotto became the statewide coordinator of the OMG Program in 2007 and continues to serve in this role.

The program is managed in each county by the Extension agent responsible for horticulture education programs or by a designated program assistant. The focus of the OMG Program remains to help local Extension offices serve members of the community, but county program managers continue to find new roles for Master Gardener™ volunteers. New programs include community gardening, youth gardening, adaptive gardening, public seminars, civic functions to make communities more livable and enjoyable, and finding ways to use our environmental resources in a sustainable way.

The Jackson County Master Gardener™ Association

The first graduating class of Master Gardeners in Jackson County was in 1979. Today, it is the largest Master Gardener™ Program in Oregon, with volunteers dedicating thousands of hours of their time each year to the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center in Central Point and to the Jackson County community. Master Gardeners staff plant clinics, present evening and weekend programs, teach classes on garden-related topics, organize the Winter Dreams-Summer Gardens Symposium in November, host a children’s summer gardening program, and plant and care for the demonstration gardens on the Extension Center grounds. The Jackson County Master Gardener™ Spring Garden Fair, held the first weekend in May at the Jackson County Fairgrounds in Central Point, is the premier gardening event in Jackson County and signals the beginning of the summer gardening season in the Rogue Valley.

The Jackson County Master Gardener™ Association was formed in 1982 to promote, assist and perpetuate the OSU Master Gardener™ Program. JCMGA provides an annual scholarship for a Jackson County high school graduate who attends OSU to further his or her education in a plant-related field. A non-profit organization, the JCMGA board of directors oversees committees of Master Gardener™ volunteers who carry out the work of the OSU Master Gardener™ Program.

Click here to learn how to become a Master Gardener™!