Ten Dirty Little Secrets Master Gardeners Don’t Want You to Know

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Image Courtesy of Grant Cochrane/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Courtesy of Grant Cochrane/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You may be standing there questioning your own abilities as a gardener while envying a master gardener’s garden, but what you don’t know is the so called master gardener you are in awe of (or the professional gardener you asked for help), is hiding some truths about how they do it.

Image Courtesy of imagerymajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Courtesy of imagerymajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So before your gardening failures bring you to tears – or make you want to just give up – learn the truth.  Here are some dirty little secrets master gardeners and professional gardeners don’t want you to know.

1 – They hire help.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Anyone who’s attempted gardening is fully aware it is high-maintenance to keep all spaces and plants pristine unless your plants are made of plastic.  You can bet the person, as in the master gardener or professional, who’s garden you have been admiring, has been hiring someone to tend to their garden behind the scenes. They have a full time or part time servant doing their dirty work.  It may be a landscaper, a teenager, or just an overly ambitious newbie to gardening eager to learn from the “master or pro.” Whoever it is – they are not doing it alone. This is especially true for gardens designed by professional gardeners featured in magazines, on websites or television. Their gardens are so spectacular, the photos speak volumes and you grow your envy as you look over their talents, but just remember, they have help.

2 – They make up plant names.

Image Courtesy of phanlop88/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Courtesy of phanlop88/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Its true.  Those Latin names they are so eloquently pronouncing as they point to their unique plant specimen may not be its true name.  In times of panic or memory loss, where it would be revealed to the casual gardener their Latin expertise is not up to par, they may just make something up spontaneously under pressure, AND make it sound great.  Master gardeners and professional gardeners study plant names – believe me, and know them – or most of them.  The best in the business can pronounce them with such precision, the accent in their voice rises your envy level to a new high. And pro’s take pride in this skill – and thus, they should.  However, everyone forgets. Once in a while, when showing off their amazing and stunning garden plants to their captivated audience, they may have an embarrassing lapse in their memory bank.  So they just make it up.  Next thing you know you are pointing to your new plant, telling your friends it is the Hosta ‘Monster Fries’ with no awareness you are sounding like a fool – or pro, depending on how convincing you are.

3 – They claim to be totally organic.

Image Courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I bet my bottom dollar if we set up a hidden camera near an “organic gardener’s” unblemished gardens, we would witness the awful truth – they claim to be totally organic but have reached for a synthetic pesticide (at least once, or twice in their desperation).  Let’s face it – professional and master gardeners take immense pride in their showcases, so if they have tried soapy water, picking off bugs by hand, setting up insect traps, and other natural organic methods – and still find a pest on their prized plant ordered for beaucoup dollars from a specialty nursery, they reach for a hidden bottle of “x” and spritz the sucker when no one is looking.  By the way, to be “certified organic” you must prove it by supplying a great deal of tedious documentation.  So anytime you see the words ‘certified’ – you should be able to trust it.

4 – They hide a really great reference source.

Image Courtesy of imagerymajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Courtesy of imagerymajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Master gardeners and professionals learn a great deal about plants and gardening by studying, trial and error, hands-on experience, or by taking college horticulture classes. But along the way, they discover an amazing resource book. Or they may have a trusted (other secret) professional gardener with whom they exchange all their tricks of the trade.  But, they don’t tell you about this secret source or reference book. It is like a private club of pro’s sticking together and not letting anyone else in unless you are worthy. You know who I’m talking about, don’t you?  Just like chefs do not reveal their “secret” ingredients, master and professional gardeners don’t tell all of their secrets either.  They have some tools they keep to themselves.  Otherwise, they risk not being “the master.”

5 – They are not really “Master” Gardeners.

Image Courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalImages.net

Image Courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalImages.net

Yes, this is probably the biggest dirty little secret of them all.  Anyone can sign up for the master gardening program, and many of those who do are avid gardeners.  When I took the classes, I discovered the true meaning of gardeners.  So many of the program’s attendees were people with lots of dirt under their fingernails and have spent years, almost a life time, practicing the art.  But if an attendee has little to no experience, and sits in a classroom for 16 weeks of training for 10+ hours a day, this does not instantly make them a MASTER gardener.  So if someone says, I’m a Master Gardener, you may want to differentiate if that means they actually mastered years of experience in the garden, took other training (like college hort courses), and have official proof they are a “master” – Or if they just took the training program and are now claiming they are a Master.  And really? A MASTER — This term is not applicable in the gardening world. Everyone knows you never truly master nature. Master gardeners are passionate, finish the program, pass the test, and are special volunteers contributing their time and energy to many horticulture related needs. These are the attributes which make unique and worthy.

6 – They have no social life.

Image Courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Courtesy of Sira Anamwong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

People who spend all of their time in their gardens have little social life – how can they? Their gardens are perfect, lush, full, and maintained – so they are most likely spending most of their free time in their gardens. Granted they want to do so, and this is what makes them truly happy – but they are not using up their free hours to go on trips, shows, events, or parties.  In fact, the only time they may be talking to real people is when those people are admiring their gardens.  Gardening is their preferred past time, which yes, is “a life,” but most of the time they spend admiring and talking to their plants, and not people.  Plants don’t talk back.  If they are available for social events, see dirty little secret no. 1.

7 – They steal plants.

Image courtesy of Simon Howden/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Simon Howden/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Most avid gardeners with master or professional skills will succumb to stealing a cutting from someone else’s garden or while on a tour of a botanical garden at some point.  Why? Because they get jealous and must have that plant too in their garden to rank as high as the garden they visited. You see, they can’t resist taking a plant like a drug addict can’t stop taking pills.  They have secret pruning tools hidden in their pockets and snip a cutting or grab some seeds, and then go home and enter their greenhouses to propagate them.  They may even, God forbid, propagate plants with plant patents, prohibited by the horticulture industry.  And some of them will sneak into their neighbor’s gardens while the neighbor is at work to take a seedling, thinking you won’t notice. They may even give you false flattery so you will volunteer a cutting to them. Even pro’s can reach those lows.

8 – They have a large bank account.

Image Courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Some pro’s or masters have unlimited funds to spend on their garden maintenance, plants, and replacements when something fails.  They don’t have tight budgets holding them back from buying brandy new plants anytime they wish – or big plants which they plop into their gardens and claim to have grown from a baby seedling.  They can afford to load up their Lexus SUV with many expensive and unique specimens to add to their garden collections. When a plant is doing poorly, they can rip it out, and toss it in the compost. They will just go buy a new one.  They dress up their gardens before their garden tour by doing just that. They may even buy some container gardens created by someone else (hint-hint), and place them just perfectly for your admiration as if it was their own.  As shocking as this may be, some gardeners, especially pro’s can spend fortunes on their gardens – they may even have an inherited amount to use just for that!  Not all of them are able to achieve grandeur without sufficient funds.  Grandeur without funds can be achieved, but it takes skill, practice, knowledge – and patience.  So hope is not lost if you are not rich.

9 – They misdiagnose plant problems.

Image Courtesy of lemonade/FreeDigitalImages.net

Image Courtesy of lemonade/FreeDigitalImages.net

There is a plethora of reasons why a plant may be ill or fail.  To properly determine what the problem is, you have to do a thorough assessment, carefully look at symptoms and signs, and what the gardener has been doing wrong or where they planted it – or maybe the plant was sick before it left the nursery.  You may ask your friend, the master gardener or a professional, and they give you an answer that sounds right.  “Oh, that’s black spot,” they said. Well, you see spots, and they are black, but maybe it is not black spot.  A pro should not guess, and many will not do so, but sometimes they just don’t know “for sure.”  Even a scientist looking through a microscope can misinterpret the issue with the plant.  That is because plants are a combination of science and art.  Some diagnoses are obvious and based on facts, others are just guesses.  Don’t be surprised if a pro misses the target from time to time. They are not as perfect as you think – they make mistakes too – just like an unseasoned or beginning gardener.

10 – They are better at mowing lawns.

Image Courtesy of foto76/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Courtesy of foto76/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When working in a garden center, I came across a few so called professionals knowing nothing about plants.  They’d send their “clients” to the center to review their created design or ask questions about plants, and I would help them.  But I thought, “Why isn’t the pro doing this with them?”  Or a pro would show up and didn’t know that Ilex is a holly (well, genus of Holly trees and shrubs).  There are lots of people out there offering their services with no formal education, experience, or plant knowledge.  But everyone has to start somewhere – don’t they?  And it could turn out that guy starting off mowing lawns has a great personality, the desire to meet their customers’ needs – and is willing learn – and maybe even become a true professional.  But they started somewhere, and probably had some crying moments too. They just don’t want you to know about it.

Written by Cathy Testa

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5 thoughts on “Ten Dirty Little Secrets Master Gardeners Don’t Want You to Know

  1. My grandmother’s guilty of #7 – she’s made me pull over the car so she can snag something from a nice plant by the edge of the road! At least people get less annoyed with her – sometimes being a tiny old lady helps.

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    • She is not alone, I got yelled at once for taking red berries on a roadside and the guy took my license plate down, and was very upset I disturbed nature. I wanted it for a winter’s evergreen’s class where we use the red berries too. When he discovered I was teaching a class, he calmed down quite a bit. And forgave me! LOL, Cathy T

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