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When I retired from teaching 20 years ago, I had a list of activities I wanted to do: writing sparkling children's books that would have all the publishers clamoring to represent me, taking piano lessons, finishing the cross stitch I’d started 16 years ago, organizing and labeling drawersful of photographs, volunteering at Lincoln Log Cabin and 5 Mile House and taking the Master Gardener training. Hey four out of seven ain't too bad.

Partaking in the Master Gardener training and volunteering with MG has proved to be one of my most fulfilling leisure time activities. The group has a great, friendly can-do attitude and everyone is ready to pitch in for our projects. I’ve learned so much about gardening just by chatting with them. To see if you meet the criteria, try taking this quiz.

  • Are you at least 18 years old?
  • Do you enjoy puttering around with plants? Would you like to study and learn more about them?
  • Would you be interested in receiving 60 hours of training, incorporating the latest field research from University of Illinois professors on a myriad of gardening topics, including soil types and enrichment, landscaping and lawn care, pruning practices, vegetable and fruit care, insect and disease management, flower and orna¬mental cultivation, composting and much more?
  • Would you enjoy interacting with other gardeners, swapping plants and ideas?
  • Are you available one day a week for 13 weeks during January, February, March and April for the training? There is a cost of $150 for the training, but it includes your own copy of the Master Gardener Manual. That seems like lotsa moola, but you wouldn’t believe how chock-full of up-to date research-based information the manual contains. Think of it as getting all that training plus a superb reference manual. I still refer to mine when I have questions.
  • VERY IMPORTANT: After the training, are you able to repay the training by giving back 30 hours of volunteer time each year? This can take many forms: working in the Idea Garden, answering gardening questions phoned in to the Extension Office, giving talks to community groups, writing articles for the newspaper, judging 4 H entries for the fair, attending gardening conferences, attending monthly MG meetings, etc.

If you answered affirmatively to all six questions, you really ought to sign up. You fill out a brief application and go through a short, friendly interview process. Applications will be taken now through December 14th. The form is online at the website below.

One thing Master Gardeners are NOT we do not consider ourselves experts in all areas, nor are you expected to be. Although I enjoy focusing on houseplants and prairie plants, I still have a lot more to learn in those areas. People often ask me questions out of the blue, and often I confess I don't know the answer, but I can look it up (we have a superb reference library in the office).

If what I've described above appeals to you, why not give the Master Gardener pro¬gram serious consideration this year? You'll be glad you did!

If you have other questions about your garden or landscape, feel free to contact a master gardener at the University of Illinois Extension office in Charleston at 217-345-7034. You can also check out the many horticulture webpages at the U of I Extension’s website by visiting . And be sure to like the Master Gardeners’ new Facebook page, at


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