master gardeners

Master Gardener Camille Smith holds a fistful of radishes, just one of many delicious vegetables grown at the Master Gardener Heirloom Garden in Yakima.

The gardening articles you enjoy each week are written by community volunteers who are certified as Master Gardeners by Washington State University. There are 30 Master Gardener programs within the 39 counties of Washington state.

In Yakima County, we celebrated our 40th year of service in 2020. In 1980, Dr. Roy Van Denburgh, WSU Extension emeritus, began training eight or nine individuals in horticultural practices. Today under WSU Extension, we have grown to over 140 active volunteers. The purpose of the WSU Master Gardener program is to educate volunteers so they can provide and share science-based horticulture, gardening and pest management information within their communities.

From January to April, these dedicated individuals begin their course work, meeting every Wednesday afternoon at the Red Barn at the Ahtanum Youth Park. A few classes are taught by WSU faculty and local individuals who are experts in their fields. For trainees, these classes are supplemented by a WSU Canvas online course. Subject areas include botany, plant identification, soils, composting, insect identification, plant diseases, integrated pest management, lawns, vegetable gardening, sustainable gardening and plant propagation. Yes, it sounds technical, but the purpose of the coursework is not to “know” all there is about gardening, but to be able to use resources to find information when needed.

The primary goal of the Master Gardener program is public gardening education. Many of our members are retired teachers who continue to get satisfaction from sharing their knowledge.

Another program goal is community service. Interns volunteer 40 hours by spending time in the diagnostic plant clinic at WSU Extension, the Downtown Yakima Farmers Market, or the Central Washington State Fair. Master Gardeners research and answer questions posed by the public when they call, email or present in person.

Other volunteer activities include:

Working in the Demonstration Garden at Ahtanum Youth Park.

Helping in the Heirloom Garden (strictly vegetables and seed saving).

Doing plant propagation and seedling nurturing over the winter months in the greenhouse.

Helping at our annual plant sale the first weekend of May (which provides the necessary funding to support our program).

Hosting the Spring Symposium, where each Wednesday evening in March a guest lecturer gives a two-hour gardening presentation to the public.

Holding classes for the public on Saturday mornings at the Demonstration and Heirloom gardens, sharing local Master Gardener expertise or having a guest lecturer.

Facilitating members of the Speakers Bureau in talking about gardening topics to local groups.

Writing gardening articles for the Yakima Herald-Republic and Yakima Magazine.

Teaching gardening practices to our youth in certain schools, outreach programs and at many local events.

Helping to create community gardens when asked.

We all work hard, but most of all we find the Master Gardener program fun and extremely rewarding.

After completing these educational and service requirements, our new interns are awarded their Master Gardener Certification of Completion. Many of our Master Gardeners say the friendships made along the way are as important as completing the program.

Veteran Master Gardeners return each year for 10 hours of continuing education and to contribute a minimum of 25 hours of community service as they continue to enjoy the many friends they have made.

If you think you would like to join our family of gardeners, we encourage you to apply to the WSU Master Gardener program before the Nov. 15 deadline. Write to WSU Yakima County Extension at 2403 S. 18th St., Suite 100, Union Gap, WA 98903-1637; call 509-574-1604; or email and ask for the application and information sheet.

For more information, visit our webpage at, where applications and information sheets are available.

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