Rural Portland resident Dale Widman, a certified master gardener, stands near a water feature in his yard. Widman has volunteered to assist in landscaping outside Arts Place in Portland. (The Commercial Review/Jack Ronald)<br />
Rural Portland resident Dale Widman, a certified master gardener, stands near a water feature in his yard. Widman has volunteered to assist in landscaping outside Arts Place in Portland. (The Commercial Review/Jack Ronald)
The way Dale Widman sees it, becoming a master gardener was a natural step.
“I was the youngest in the family,” he says. And it was a family of gardeners. “I’ve always loved working in the yard.”
So when the opportunity arose to learn more about horticulture and begin sharing that knowledge with others, the Portland pharmacist jumped at the chance.
In 2007 he started making weekly trips to participate in master gardener classes offered through the Blackford County office of the Purdue Extension Service.
“I went to Hartford City because that was the closest to me,” Widman says. Purdue Extension offices provide master gardener programs in 70 Indiana counties. “We do not” in Jay County.
The concept of developing master gardeners has been around since 1972 when it was first promoted in Seattle, Wash.
“The idea of it was to allow homeowners to develop more knowledge about horticulture, and it’s an opportunity to share that knowledge,” says Widman. There are now 3,200 master gardeners in the state.
Becoming a master gardener requires an ongoing commitment.
Widman made his trips to Hartford City weekly for about nine months. There he participated in three- to four-hour classes conducted by extension educator Stacy Clupper and a variety of specialists on a number of different topics.
“It covers a lot of topics, like where to plant your garden,” he says. Other topics include weeds, pesticide safety, turf, perennials, annuals, and more. “You got people who really know their stuff.”
The initial training costs about $150, and participants are required to do 35 hours of volunteer work.
Each student must also complete an independent project at the conclusion of the program. Widman’s was an instructional how-to on establishing a koi pond.
After achieving master gardener status, participants are expected not only to update their training annually but also to share their knowledge.
“You’re expected to do a minimum of six hours of education per year and a minimum of 12 volunteer hours,” says Widman.
He recently took part in a day-long training session in Alexandria on naturalizing with wildflowers and meadow plants. Many homeowners are turning to those alternatives because of the time and expense involved in mowing large lawns.
“They also expect you to follow their rules and not go recommending things they (Purdue experts) don’t recommend,” he adds.
“It’s a great place to meet like-minded people,” Widman says. “A sense of community develops.”
Widman volunteered time and expertise for the community garden established in 2010 at Jay County Hospital, and he’s hoping to build a group of gardening volunteers for a project at Arts Place in April.
“The front of the (Arts Place) building is an open palette,” he says. “There’s been no money for it.” He’s hoping that local gardeners, working under his direction, can share starts from their own gardens to help landscape the property.
An initial session set for the morning of Saturday, April 9, will simply focus on a spring clean-up. “I’m hoping this is not a one-time thing.”
As to developing more local master gardeners, Widman is all for it.
“It’s something everybody can do and enjoy,” he says. “As I move forward toward retirement, I’d really like to see (a Jay County master gardener program) established.”
Those interested in master gardener training should contact Widman. He’ll keep a list and put people in contact with Stacy Clupper in Blackford County or Rose Lerner, the state coordinator.
For more information online, go to www.hort.purdue.edu/mg/index.html.