A 50-year Master Gardener success story

By Mary Fran McClure
WSU Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener

Master Gardener Group photo at 50th anniversary gathering - photo 1.
WSU Chelan-Douglas Master Gardeners pose for a portrait during the June 10 celebration marking the program’s 50th anniversary. This group of volunteers is the core group who work maintaining and beautifying the Community Education Garden. – Provided photo/JP Portrait Studio
Master Gardener Group photo at 50th anniversary gathering - photo 2.
WSU Chelan-Douglas Master Gardeners celebrate the program’s 50th anniversary special event at the Community Education Garden along Western Avenue. – Provided photo/JP Portrait Studio
Mary Fran McClure
Mary Fran McClure – WSU Extension Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener – photo by Don Seabrook, Wenatchee World

Master Gardeners are proud of our success story, especially this year while celebrating our 50th anniversary helping gardeners and improving our environment. And to think it all began right here in Washington state!

Back in 1973, King and Pierce County WSU extension agents were overwhelmed with the flood of garden questions phoned into their office, so they decided to try something different. They trained a group of volunteers to answer home gardener questions. That evolved into our present Master Gardener program.

The concept became a success and now has spread throughout the United States and other countries.

Chelan and Douglas counties began training in 1996. “Our combined counties have about 90 active plus 10 emeritus (typically less involved) Master Gardeners, says coordinator Marco Martinez.” He adds, “WSU Chelan-Douglas Master Gardeners were very busy in 2023, collectively volunteering roughly 9,000 hours doing a variety of work. That work included managing and maintaining five different gardens — the Community Education Garden (CEG) on the grounds of the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center, the Misawa Bridge of Friendship Garden in East Wenatchee, the Riverfront Xeriscape Garden in Wenatchee, the Pollinator Garden at the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery and the Boswell Garden at the Chelan County Expo Center — that provide inspiration to area gardeners and serve as a location to offer education to the public.”

In addition, our weekly plant clinics provide one-on-one gardening help to hundreds of area residents by answering questions sent to the program’s email address (chelanmastergardeners@gmail.com), at Third Saturday in the Garden events at the CEG and a weekly presence at the Wenatchee Valley Farmers Market, Martinez says.

The program also offers garden education classes to the public through First Friday and Third Saturday events at the CEG, during the Chelan County Fair and at some of the other gardens we manage.

Our special anniversary celebration took place June 10 at the Community Education Garden on the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center campus. Event chair Debra Benbow said, “We were delighted to welcome over 250 guests of all ages as we celebrated 50 years of providing free environmentally sustainable gardening knowledge to home gardeners in our communities.”

Jennifer Marquis, a local resident who is statewide Master Gardener Program leader, says, “It certainly has been a special year. Master Gardener volunteers enjoy gardening and they’re committed to serving in the communities where they live, work and play. Through research-based gardening education, volunteers have been cultivating plants, people and communities since 1973. In the 50 years of the program, we’ve learned so much about the benefits of gardening.”

We university-trained Master Gardener volunteers think of the program as a win/win for us individually, as well as the pleasure of helping others and our communities.

A WSU Chelan and Douglas County Master Gardener column appears weekly in The Wenatchee World. To learn more, visit bit.ly/MGchelandouglas or call (509) 667-6540.