W. Va. Master Gardener Program

History & Background

The national Master Gardener Program got its start in Seattle, Washington in 1973 and since then has spread to all 50 states. The West Virginia Master Gardener Program started in 1993. Under WVU Extension Service leadership with assistance from key county Extension agents, master gardeners are now active in 44 of West Virginia’s 55 counties. There are over 1,200 active master gardeners in WV. In 2008 master gardeners, across the state, volunteered approximately 30,000 hours annually to their local communities, and provided 624 service projects to their communities and to WVU Extension Service contacting 22,000 adults and 2,500 youth.

Master Gardener volunteers are trained in classes and activities provided by the West Virginia University Extension Service and extension agents in these counties. Master Gardeners receive a minimum of 30 hours of instruction. Along with an orientation, volunteers are given core training in plant science, plant propagation, soil science, plant pathology, entomology, communication skills, and integrated pest management. These subjects give the master gardener trainee the basic horticultural knowledge necessary to assist extension staff effectively. Specific gardening topics like pruning techniques, composting, house plants, vegetable culture, herbs, tree and small fruit culture, lawns and landscape design allow the master gardener to specialize in an area of particular personal interest.

After successfully completing the Master Gardener training program, each volunteer receives a Master Gardener Intern certificate. To fulfill their volunteer commitment, West Virginia Master Gardener Interns:

  • answer gardening questions
  • assist county extension office staff
  • conduct garden tours
  • conduct school gardening programs
  • coordinate Master Gardener programs
  • create and maintain community and school landscapes
  • conduct plant clinics
  • garden with the elderly and disabled
  • make home gardening visits
  • photograph Master Gardener activities
  • plan and complete community beautification projects
  • present lectures or demonstrations to groups interested in horticulture
  • staff county and state exhibits
  • work on special events

After an intern has satisfactorily completed the formal training and 30 hour of volunteer service, he or she then receives an official Master Gardener certificate and name badge. To maintain the title of Certified Master Gardener, a volunteer is required to attend a minimum of six hours of update (advanced) training per year and serve a minimum of twelve hours’ volunteer time per year (recertification). The Master Gardener designation becomes void when an individual ceases active participation in an organized program. Many county programs have established local associations that provide leadership and sustain Master Gardener programs and activities.

The West Virginia Master Gardener Association (WVMGA) was incorporated in 2000 and the board of directors is comprised by representatives from many of the county programs. The state board meets quarterly to address statewide program issues and has oversight for the organizing of the annual conference. The location of the annual conference varies from year to year with an effort to accommodate master gardeners around the state. This also provides various local master gardener groups with an additional opportunity to develop their leadership skill. Each year, approximately 150 to 200 master gardeners attend the conference where they participate in several advance training workshops, learn about successful county-level projects and have opportunities to network and exchange ideas. Among the highlights of the annual conference is the Awards Banquet. It is at this time a variety of annual awards are given. A number of awards are presented to groups throughout the state for outstanding community projects and service. In addition, three state level individual awards are given – the Master Gardener of the Year Award, the Golden Trowel Award and the Honorary Master Gardener of the Year. Following the Awards Banquet, there are both a live and a silent auction of items donated by individual Master Gardeners and county groups. Proceeds from the auctions are deposited in an endowed account with the WVU Foundation. Annually these auctions contribute between $4000 and $5000 to the WVU endowed scholarship account. The West Virginia Master Gardeners and WVU Extension Service presented their first scholarship to a WVU horticulture student in the spring of 2003.

In 2001, the West Virginia Master Gardeners received the Governor’s Service Award and WVU Extension’s Outstanding Partner Award. In 2003, the West Virginia Master Gardeners Association began to look at long-term goals for the organization. A small work group was assembled and several focal areas were identified. In the fall of 2007, members of the WVMGA Board, with the leadership of the State Master Gardener Program Coordinator convened at Jackson’s Mill for a two day strategic planning retreat. During the fall the plan was refined and developed into the WV Master Gardeners Association’s Five Year Plan for Years 2008-2012. In January 2008, the board of the West Virginia Master Gardeners Association approved the plan. Bylaw revisions were made to accommodate the plan. Emphasized areas in the plan include communication and marketing of the WV Master Gardener Program, recruitment and retention of master gardeners in county associations, education and continuing education, financial stability, volunteer activities and programs, and finally developing and formalizing the planning process for state conferences. For each of these areas strategies and target dates were developed.

Currently the WV Master Gardener Association in collaboration with WVU Extension Service has two state projects. The first is the demonstration garden at the State Fair Grounds in Failea, West Virginia. Then in 2007, the West Virginia University Building was dedicated at the Fair Grounds. This building, adjacent to the gardens, provides a perfect site for exhibits, demonstrations and classes by WVU Extension Service faculty and volunteers. This building, adjacent to the gardens, provides a perfect site for exhibits, demonstrations and classes by WVU Extension Service faculty and volunteers. Both the new garden and WVU building are very active during the state fair.

Members of the Greenbrier Master Gardener Association have assumed a leadership role in the development and maintenance of demonstration garden at the State Fair Grounds in Fairlea. Every August master gardeners from around the state travel to Fairlea to volunteer in the garden and provide on-site assistance by providing tours showing the displays and answering questions during the West Virginia State Fair. During the 2014 State Fair rain was daily event just about the entire week. The attendance, though significantly lower than a year before, was still respectable. Two days of dry and nicer weather raised the total number of visitors to the Monarch Butterfly Demonstration Garden to 600 people for the week. For the first time ever a portion of the garden become accessible to the handicapped and families with the small children and children in strollers. The newly installed concrete path has been a huge success.

West Virginia Master Gardener Association has accepted organization of the Annual State Conference as a state-wide Master Gardener project to be carried on starting after 2016 onward.

The largest state project and undertaking to date was hosting of the 2011 International Master Gardeners Conference. This conference was held October 11-14, 2011 in Charleston, West Virginia. The planning committee chose a fall date so that we could showcase our state during the splendor of a West Virginia fall. The conference theme was “Color It Green in a Wild and Wonderful Way”.