Campus Currents

Masterful Gardening

Rocky Bendrihem is a 50-year-old gardener from Bedford, N.H., who grew up in New York City. For many years, he thought tomatoes only came in shrink-wrap. Now, after graduating from the UNH Cooperative Extension's Master Gardener Program in 1997, he begins all his plants by seed. He makes his own compost. He built growing lights for his basement. And he is not alone.

Master Gardener Karen Holman's kitchen in Salisbury, N.H., is home to as many as 1,000 seedlings every spring. This year, she has hundreds of seedlings sitting on her kitchen counters, the number waxing and waning as she gives seedlings away and plants new seeds, scooping potting soil from a big bucket next to the sink when she's in the mood.

The Master Gardner program began in 1993 as an attempt to use volunteers—avid gardeners all—to reach more people with educational gardening information. Limited to 50 volunteers each year, master gardeners participate in training sessions that total 54 hours over a nine-week period. They then volunteer at least 45 hours to earn their certification.

That volunteer work often becomes a collaborative project. Children from an apartment complex in Laconia, N.H., for example, grew vegetables last summer in a youth gardening project, nicknamed the "pizza garden," that involved the efforts of several master gardeners, a garden plot provided by the building's owner, Ed Bedard, and roto-tilling by volunteers from Jenkins Garden Center.

Cynthia Capodestria of Sanbornton, N.H., one of the master gardeners who worked on the project, says participants feasted on grilled pizza topped with the fruits of their labor at the end of the season. "Some of these kids had never picked up a plant before," Capodestria says. "We showed them that with a little bit of sweat, you reap great rewards."

In Rockingham County, master gardeners have taken on a project to create a botanical garden, the first of its kind in New Hampshire.

Located on a 10-acre site at the Rockingham County Complex in Brentwood, N.H., it will feature a three-acre arboretum, display and trial gardens, and home landscape designs.

"The whole essence of being a master gardener is to share with others," says Bendrihem, who last summer worked on a project to increase vegetable donations to soup kitchens in Hillsborough County. He wants everyone involved this year to add an extra row to their garden to help feed the poor. "It doesn't take much effort, if you're growing 30 rows, to grow 31."

To learn more about the Master Gardener Program, contact the UNH Cooperative Extension's Belknap County Office, (603) 524-1737.

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