Master Gardener - My Cup of Tea
When I retired in June 2010 I completed a brief four-month interim superintendent’s position in a small K-8 school district in Burlington County. When this opportunity ended I realized that getting involved in the “interim” business just wasn’t “my cup of tea.” Realizing that I turned my attention to other pursuits and interests that were completely different from being the Chief Education Officer of a school system. For many years, I had a passion for designing landscape projects around my home. Planting trees, shrubs and perennial flowers and then watching them grow had always been a great way to unwind and de-stress from the many responsibilities and decisions associated with being a superintendent of schools.
One day reading the local newspaper I came across a public service message indicating that a new Atlantic County Master Gardener’s class was being formed through the Rutgers University Extension Service in Mays Landing, New Jersey. It was a five-month, 72-hour course which met once a week from January through May. As a point of information, every County in New Jersey has a Master Gardeners program. I signed up and thoroughly enjoyed the class which covered a different topic each week such as knowing your soil content and Ph level, how to identify destructive as well as beneficial insects, and how to maintain a disease free lawn were but a few of the topics covered. I successfully graduated from the program in June 2011 and became a Certified Rutgers Master Gardener.
Currently, I work several days a month on the Master Gardener Help Line where individuals call in for advice on a variety of gardening questions. One of the recent major issues in our county was how to control or get rid of Japanese Beetles which can devour the leaves on many trees within days. As Master Gardeners, we try to first convey the most natural or non-chemical ways to control insect damage before moving onto approved chemical solutions.
I also volunteer at the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Galloway Township, New Jersey where our emphasis is planting native trees, shrubs and flowers most likely to survive in this harsh bayside environment. Our goal as Master Gardeners is to educate people about the importance of native species as part of your home landscape.
Ironically, the other outside project I started in 2012 which still flourishes today is located on the grounds of an Atlantic County Office that houses the Office of the Atlantic County Executive Superintendent of Schools. For this project, I researched small trees, shrubs and flowers that are native to Atlantic County and designed a landscape that incorporated these native species. Without access to outside faucets, irrigation is an issue at this site. However, we solved this by irrigating these plantings using rainwater funneled from the downspouts into rain barrels. Another way to utilize natural rainfall for irrigation rather than city or well water.
Currently, I am working with students and teachers from the Atlantic County Services School District to help design and build raised beds which will then be planted with vegetables in the Spring.
All in all becoming a Certified Rutgers Master Gardener has been a great learning experience while increasing my appreciation of those native trees, shrubs and other flora that thrive in this region of Southern New Jersey. If you like working outside and don’t mind getting your hands dirty once in a while then you might want to consider becoming a Master Gardener in your County.