Gardeners and Teachers Have Common Ground

By Professor Robert S. Nowak

In a recent article in HortTechnology (August 2013, vol 23, issue 4), NRES Professor Beth Leger and University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Professor Heidi Kratsch describe their innovative program that connects university teaching activities with outreach activities of the Extension Master Gardener Program.

Their program pairs the skills of master gardeners with the needs of university students. A basic skill needed for students interested in natural resources (such as forestry, rangelands, or wildlife) is the ability to identify native and wildland plants. Professor Leger teaches such a course, entitled Range and Forest Plants, each fall semester.  A key part of the course is for students to identify plants using live specimens.  However, some native plants have senesced by the time the semester starts, and even those that are active at the beginning of the semester become dormant as the semester goes on into late fall. Thus, the lack of fresh plant specimens limited effective learning for students.

Enter Extension Master Gardeners, the wizards of growing plants. Master Gardeners, under the guidance of Professor Kratsch, figured out how to grow some of the key species needed for Professor Leger’s course, providing fresh plant specimens when none were naturally available. These efforts also helped Master Gardeners expand their native plants efforts, which is critical for people who live in an arid environment such as Nevada.  This collaboration between extension’s Master Gardener Program and university research and teaching faculty provides a “win-win” for both.