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Volunteering a green thumb

Program offers participants chance to aid gardeners

May 8, 2011
By RODNEY MINOR , The Leader Herald

Before a gardening class at the Canajoharie Library on Tuesday, Ed Radle and Melanie Gessinger had plenty of questions to answer from the enthusiastic group before the session started.

Radle and Gessinger, master gardeners for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Fulton and Montgomery Counties, said getting to teach and share that same enthusiasm for gardening is part of why they volunteer.

"I get to meet a lot of nice people," Gessinger said. She added with a laugh, "I also get to talk gardening with people who enjoy it and not bore my relatives."

Article Photos

Ed Radle, a master gardener with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Fulton and Montgomery Counties, spreads rotten leaves around a yellow egg plum tree at his home in the town of Florida on Friday. Radle said the leaves will act as mulch.
The Leader-Herald/Rodney?Minor

Marilyn J. Smith, executive director of CCEFM, said a master gardener is someone who has been trained by Cornell University horticulture experts to answer gardening questions.

To become a master gardener, applicants must complete a 45-hour training course in general horticulture. After that, the person must complete 100 hours of volunteer service with their local CCE within two years of taking the course to officially be a master gardener.

According to the Cornell University Master Gardener volunteer program website -

mgprogram/index.html - volunteers' work depends on what is required in their local counties.

As examples, the website notes, work done by Master Gardeners has ranged from horticultural therapy to answering gardening questions by telephone.

The website said Master Gardeners educate more than just people who garden at home. They also help, among others, educate youth in afterschool programs, nursing home residents and the physically and mentally challenged.

Smith said becoming a master gardener ultimately means the person has committed a significant amount of time toward earning the designation.

"It's a tribute to them that they put forth the effort," she said.

Investing time

Smith said becoming a master gardener ultimately means the person has committed a significant amount of time toward earning the designation.

"It's a tribute to them that they put forth the effort," she said.

Smith, who oversees the roughly 20 active master gardeners for CCEFM, said the master gardeners are a great resource for the local extension.

"We could never answer the volume of [gardening] questions we get without them," Smith said.

As Radle and Gessinger noted during the class Tuesday, master gardeners are members of the local community who usually have an interest in taking care of their own lawns, flowers, trees, shrubs and gardens.

During the class Tuesday, Radle talked about his own experiences gardening at his home in the town of Florida. The topics he covered ranged from how he makes his rhubarb wine to how he rids his garden of pests without chemicals.

Radle has been gardening for years, but became a master gardener three years ago. He had retired, and appreciated that volunteering would give him a chance to teach and , among other benefits, give him plenty of exercise.

Gessinger, a Fultonville resident, took the same master gardener class as Radle. She also had retired and finally had the time to volunteer more often.

She was by no means new to gardening, having gardened on and off for 20 years. She credits her mother-in-law, Audrey Gessinger, as being a great influence. She noted Audrey and her father-in-law have maintained a large vegetable garden in Bleecker for years, and provided Gessinger with plenty of advice on gardening.

Before and after the class, Gessinger and Radle provided plenty of their own advice to the dozen or so people in attendance. Questions included if Calla Lilies will survive year-round outside in the local weather - the answer was no - and the best times to plant cuttings of specific trees.

Smith said classes can be a very efficient way for the master gardeners to handle questions. Instead of answering the same question over and over again to individual people, she said, the classes provide them with an opportunity to provide a great amount of information to a larger number of people.

Phyllis Minich, a master gardener and Fort Plain resident, was getting ready Thursday to answer plenty of questions at a gardening class at the Shirley J. Luck Senior Citizens Center in Johnstown.

Minich, who has been a master gardener for at least five years, said many of the volunteers are retirees who want to help other people.

"It's volunteerism at its best," she said.

While she enjoys working with people, Minich said volunteering also offers ample opportunities to learn more. Being affiliated with Cornell University, she said, the program provides numerous avenues for people to educate themselves about all aspects of gardening.

The master gardener program will host a plant sale May 21 at Udderly Delicious in Johnstown from 9 a.m. to noon. There will be a variety of flowers and vegetables for sale, Gessinger said.

For more information about the master gardener program, call 673-5525, Ext. 107 or visit



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