The history of the Extension Master Gardeners in our community
Washington State University is a Land Grant institute with the responsibility to teach, research, and extend knowledge. Horticulture Extension agents have been assigned to our various counties, especially helping with crop production.
In the early 1970’s, Pierce and King County Extension Agents were overwhelmed with gardening questions from the public. Their solution was to create a new way by ‘teaching the teachers’—volunteers who became university educated on the science behind gardening. This became the WSU Extension Master Gardener Program that today, 50 years later, answers home gardening problems and questions, as well as establishing demonstration gardens, giving seminars, and helping the public learn to conserve our natural resources while growing food and decorative plants.
Today Washington State had more than 4,100 certified Extension Master Gardeners that handled 313,000 questions from the public last year. The program has successfully expanded to other states, as well as Canada and South Korea.
Locally, Chelan County’s first WSU Extension Master Gardener class in 1996 totaled a dozen energetic, resourceful and creative members. Bonnie Orr is the only member still active and has logged thousands of hours during her 27 years as a Master Gardener.
She shares stories of how though creativity, grit and determination, they thrived. They had no funds, so they decided to write a gardening almanac and sell it. Each ponied up $100 to get it published and then sold almanacs over the next several years.
Each member had expertise in various areas, so early diagnostic phone calls were generally taken by writing down the pertinent questions and information. Then the group would research, talk among themselves to arrive at the proper answer, then return the call. No internet or other help we take for granted in 2023.
The WSU Extension Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener Program grew and thrived as each year more people received training and became active master gardener volunteers.
The Master Gardener Association of Chelan County was formed in 2001 with the purpose of funding Extension Chelan/Douglas County Master Garden Program projects, demonstration gardens, and education. The name was later changed to the Master Gardener Foundation of Chelan County and then to Master Gardener Foundation of Chelan-Douglas Counties. The Foundation funds many of our programs and projects, making them free to the public.
In 1999 two members had the idea of creating a xeric garden and approached our Public Utility District. With that winning combination, our present Xeric Garden in Walla Walla Park is the successful result.
Following a vision of Extension Master Gardener Homer McNeill and others, two years of planning, and fundraising efforts, the new Master Gardener Community Education Garden broke ground at the Wenatchee Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center property.
See a photo history of our Community Education Garden.
What dramatic progress here in Chelan and Douglas counties in 27 years, with now more than 100 certified Chelan/Douglas Extension Master Gardener volunteers involved in many demonstration and community gardens, seminars, plant sale, a large and experienced diagnostic group with laptops and internet resources, and many other activities that make a difference in our community.