Growing Great Gardeners

By Dawn Oldfield

Are you passionate about gardening? Do you like to share your knowledge and gardening tips with others? Do you enjoy volunteering in your community? 

Members of the Collin County Master Gardeners Association (CCMGA) do all of this and more.   
The Master Gardener program is a volunteer development program offered by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Master Gardeners are members of the community who take an active interest in horticulture and are willing to learn and help others. 
What sets Master Gardeners apart from other home gardeners is their special training in all aspects of horticulture.
 The Master Gardener training offers more than 65 hours of instruction that teaches Earth-Kind® gardening principles and covers topics that include the proper cultivation and management of ornamental and flowering plants; the production and care of vegetables, fruits and nuts; care and maintenance of turf and trees; irrigation; and a general understanding of plant pathology, entomology, botany and soils. 
Classes are taught by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service specialists, staff and local experts. 
“I became a Master Gardener at a transition point in my life,” says Frisco resident Laura van Poppel, who is a graduate of CCMGA’s 2015 class. “My children were finishing elementary school and didn’t require as much of my time. I wanted to dedicate that extra time to volunteering, and I’ve always had a love for gardening. Master Gardeners gave me the opportunity to combine my passion with a service organization.”
 The “big takeaway” from the class for van Poppel “was learning how to access reliable, helpful information that truly made a difference in my garden knowledge and practices specifically relevant to North Texas. The information we learn and share is research-based versus unreliable information that can be found all over the internet.”
A volunteer at Frisco’s Nelson Middle School, van Poppel shares her knowledge with the students in the school’s youth horticulture program. 
“As Nighthawk Garden Coordinator, I oversee the garden tasks and plans for the entire year and coordinate with the teachers and administration. I also create and teach the garden curriculum in collaboration with the science teachers.” 
Many students benefit from the school’s garden, she says, not just its garden club members. 
“The Skills for Living students learn to how to prep and cook produce from the garden. The art students have used the garden for inspiration for projects. Language Arts students use the garden to inspire their writings. Sixth-grade history students planted vegetables to understand and learn more about each other’s culture. The Boyz to Men club has helped move dirt and mulch when needed.”
 Van Poppel’s work with the Garden Club at Nelson Middle School won first place in the 2022 Texas Master Gardener Association Search for Excellence Awards in the Extra Large Association Category – Youth Education Other. 
Joyce Warren is the programs and communications administrator for the City of Frisco, where she serves a dual role in water conservation and collaborating with the Engineering department to communicate information about capital improvement projects and pedestrian safety with residents of Frisco. 
She is also a Collin County Master Gardener.
A graduate of the CCMGA class of 2017, Warren says, “I grew up on a farm in South Texas and learned at an early age to be a good steward of the land. My mother had the most beautiful flower garden. 
“As newlyweds, my husband and I moved to Frisco. I wanted a flower garden like the one from my childhood. After much trial and error, I realized I needed to learn how to garden in the North Texas region. That’s why I decided to become a Master Gardener.”
 Warren says she also benefited from learning about Earth-Kind® Landscaping. Created by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, it uses research-proven techniques to maximize the beauty of the landscape while preserving and protecting the environment.
As a volunteer, Master Gardeners also lend their knowledge to educational projects.  
Currently, Warren serves as the program director on the CCMGA board and is also the project lead for its speakers bureau. 
“Master Gardeners are committed to teaching and sharing our knowledge about gardening in our community,” she says, explaining that the association can provide speakers free of charge to address community groups, homeowner associations and clubs in Collin County. Topics discussed can range from vegetable and container gardening, the trees of North Texas, herbs, and EarthKind® Gardening principles. 
CCMGA members also speak annually at the Frisco Home & Garden Show.
 Warren says she especially enjoys presenting programs about the native plants of Texas and harvesting rainwater.  
“I purchased my first rain barrel from the City of Frisco’s annual rain barrel sale, and since then I’ve been an advocate for rainwater harvesting,” she says. “Living in a water-taxed region with seasonal drought, it just makes sense to conserve rainwater.” 
CCMGA is an inclusive organization whose members hail from a variety of backgrounds but share a love of gardening. 
 To become a Certified Master Gardener, interns must complete within their first year 65 hours of volunteer work.  Once certified, recertification requirements are 25 hours of volunteer service and six hours of continuing education training annually. Additional information is available at ccmgatx.org.

Dawn Oldfield is the public relations chairperson for the Collin County Master Gardeners Association.
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