What Keeps Master Gardeners Volunteering? (at Wilson Botanical Garden)

When I hear statistics about how many new Master Gardeners go on to become greatly valued life-long volunteers, I wonder…What is the secret ingredient that keeps some Master Gardeners coming back year after year?

I visited the site of the new Children’s Secret Garden, part of the Wilson Botanical Garden in the city of Wilson, Wilson County, NC. This project had recently won the North Carolina Master Gardener Volunteer Assoc. competitive grant for projects that further the goals of Extension Master Gardener programs. It was a hot summer morning with the temperature already in the high 90s but the master gardeners were already there working industriously in the gardens, cleaning, weeding, and pruning foliage.

Sandy Goetz and Cindy Lauderdale at the Culinary and Medicinal Garden
Sandy Goetz and Cindy Lauderdale at the Culinary and Medicinal Garden

A tour with an energetic and resourceful Master Gardener and Extension Agent

As Sandy Goetz, Master Gardener, and Cindy Lauderdale, Extension agent, toured me around the gardens, they described how the Wilson Botanical Garden had been started in 1995 on about 6 acres of the Agricultural Extension grounds through the efforts of Cindy and a cast of energetic Master Gardeners like Sandy.

There had been no wonderful endowment to fund their work, instead they had been extraordinarily resourceful in raising funds and Cindy had been very successful in finding and securing funds from grants and many other sources to move the work in the gardens forward. They were incredibly creative and motivated fund raisers.

Sandy enthusiastically told me how they had sold engraved bricks to be used in paving walks; held tours and silent auctions; and solicited financial patronage through the creation of the Friends of the Wilson Botanical Gardens (to name only a few projects they undertook in addition to their gardening activities). In the ensuing years, they had created a 4-H Youth Garden, a Pondside Garden, Turf Grass Demonstration plots, a Daylily Collection, a Culinary and Herb Garden, a Native Plant Garden and more.

Grants, master plans and growing a vision “one plant at a time”

Pondside Garden with Dancing Cranes
Pondside Garden with Dancing Cranes

In 2003, funded by a small grant Cindy secured, they created a Master Plan and called their new vision The Wilson Botanical Garden. Their slogan was “Growing Wilson one plant at a time.” They were a determined group whose goal was to promote tourism and economic growth in Wilson and surrounding communities and, of course, education in outdoor classrooms. Then in 2007 they decided to start work on the children’s garden section of their Master Plan.

The Children’s Secret Garden design has so many fun features like a Dino Dig and a Tree House, a Bog Garden and a Music Court, a Labyrinth and a Parent’s Corral and more. But aside from these wonderful accomplishments, what impressed me most was their energy and enthusiasm, their passion and dedication, their sense of community – both their own Master Gardener community and their commitment to the community they lived in.

Wilson Botanical Garden
Wilson Botanical Garden

What keeps Master Gardeners volunteering past their obligatory hours?

Being passionate gardeners who enjoy talking about and sharing their love of plants is important, of course, but also being empowered to play crucial roles in bringing those projects to fruition; meeting great, like-minded gardeners, and also teaching the gardeners of the next generation how to grow their own food and sharing that interest and passion with them.

In the Wilson Botanical Garden, all those things come together.  Their “sweat equity” in the garden was important, but their vision and dedication to the future of their garden and their community was even more important.

Congratulations Master Gardeners of Wilson Botanical Garden and Cindy Lauderdale, Extension agent, on your energetic pursuit of your vision for your garden and your community!

What do you think makes a special Master Gardener volunteer or MG program that creates and supports MGs that continue to be committed to the program and continue to volunteer over the years?

– by Connie Schultz, Extension Master Gardener (’95), Johnson County, North Carolina

3 Replies to “What Keeps Master Gardeners Volunteering? (at Wilson Botanical Garden)”

  1. I think you need good organization and a project that offers challenge, education, fellowship and meets a demonstrated need in the community. We have a project that volunteers have already committed over 2,700 hours to this summer. A number of volunteers do around 250 hours each year. I think this is proof that a good project will produce “professional” volunteers.

  2. JC, that sounds like an awesome project and I really like that formula! It’s obvioulsy a great project to attract and hold so many dedicated volunteers. I’m intrigued to know what kind of project it is and also where it’s located. If you don’t mind, could you share some more information with us? Thanks!

  3. Julie, For me having to volunteer 25 hours a year is an incentive. It makes me aware of what I need to do each year, and I end up doing many more than the 25. Yes, I need the incentive. Char Braland

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