The Master Gardener program began in Canada from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). They reviewed ways of using volunteers to provide horticultural information to the public. In 1985 London was chosen as one of the pilot programs for Ontario Master Gardeners. Volunteers were all experienced gardeners recruited by local horticultural societies who wrote an eligibility test and enrolled in independent-study horticultural courses called the Qualified Plantsman from the University of Guelph.
In 1985 London Master Gardeners had 21 candidates who provided horticultural information to the public via garden clinics, displays, workshops, television, radio, and newspaper articles. In 1986 the London Master Gardener program became fully operational with funds allocated from the OMAFRA budget. London Master Gardeners were also given some financial assistance at the outset by the London Horticultural Society and this support continued for over 10 years. Many of our members continue to be very active in the local horticultural groups.
London Master Gardeners also operated a phone helpline for the public to call with gardening questions at the Civic Garden Greenhouses. The phone line was staffed on Saturdays but was eventually upgraded to an answering system where Master Gardeners could access messages from home.
In 1992 new independent study courses replaced the Qualified Plantsman. These courses were more current and reflected the changes in the horticultural industry. Today Master Gardeners complete their online courses through the Dalhousie University or the University of Guelph.
In 1996 it was announced that OMAFRA would no longer be able to fund the Master Gardener Program and by February 1998 Master Gardeners of Ontario Inc. (MGOI) was formally incorporated to serve as the umbrella group for our Ontario members.
London Middlesex Master Gardeners continue to strengthen our message and education through the media; appearing for 5 years on the A-Channel Morning Show, numerous radio appearances as well as contributing a significant number of gardening articles, not only to local publications and organizations but to many across the country. The London Middlesex Master Gardeners are leaders in presenting accurate and unbiased gardening advice to the public. Each year we log thousands of volunteer hours. We also lend our support to like-minded non-profit groups to help at their plant sales and events.
Special thanks to all members, past and present, who have contributed to our success and make this such a meaningful group. Additional thanks to all the under-appreciated co-ordinators who try to keep us on the straight and narrow. We are the beneficiaries of the Master Gardeners who have passed on and are fondly remembered: Marion Gorrie, Bob Whitlock, John Gillett, Donna Hickmott, and Elmer Jorgensen.
We are the longest-reigning Master Gardener group in Canada. We hope that if you ever have a gardening concern you will continue to ask a London Middlesex Master Gardener.
March 17, 2014, by Eva Norman-Vestergaard