02 June 2012

At The Master Gardener's Office

Part of my Master Gardener training is working a number of shifts at the Master Gardener's office at the Clemson Cooperative Extension answering people's gardening questions.  Every time has been different - from a little scary to very boring.  Before I ever stepped foot in the office, it seemed a little intimidating, to answer a call from someone who expects answers about something you can't even anticipate.  I was put at ease during our orientation, when we were being shown the office and the phone rang.  Amy answered it, took down their question and told them she would find out the answer and get back to them shortly.  That was a big relief for me - I was expecting to have to know answers to questions off the top of my head.

My experiences at the office have been varied.  The first several times I worked the afternoon shift.  There was always another volunteer there and we got no more than five calls each time - one afternoon, the phone never rang.  I decided to try mornings recently and for my two shifts last month, I was the only volunteer in the office.  It was definitely busier - I probably got seven or eight calls.  It seems to be quiet the first hour and then by 10:30am, the phone calls start, and then before you can find the answer to one question the phone rings again.  It was nice being by myself, but I'm happy that I will have help this month.  Once you do about seven shifts at the office, you are not required to do any more.  You can volunteer elsewhere.  Probably most people do that, and I thought I would be one of those, but after three or four shifts, I decided this would be a good way to get the volunteer hours and learn something in the process.

The questions that people have vary, but there seems to be a cycle - as the seasons change the questions change accordingly.  Earlier in the year, there were a lot of calls about soil testing.  When it was time to fertilize the lawn, we got calls about that.  Now we're getting calls about vegetable gardens, etc.  There is a lot of strange things I've learned during my time and I thought I would start sharing them - here are just a few things:

I was reading about Centipede grass and came across its origin: "Centipedegrass (Eremochloa ophiuroides) was introduced into the United States from seed found in the baggage of Frank Meyer, a USDA plant explorer who disappeared on his fourth trip to China in 1916."

I thought this was a very strange origin story - something that I'll remember for a long time.  The same is true about what I learned about Rhododendrons:  "People have been known to become ill from eating honey made by bees feeding on rhododendron and azalea flowers. Xenophon described the odd behavior of Greek soldiers after having consumed honey in a village surrounded by Rhododendron ponticum during the march of the Ten Thousand in 401 BC. Pompey's soldiers reportedly suffered lethal casualties following the consumption of honey made from Rhododendron deliberately left behind by Pontic forces in 67 BC during the Third Mithridatic War."

People have called about sterilizing Sweet Gum trees and even mailed in leaves, asking us to figure out what's wrong with their plants.  I plan to post more of these as I work at the Master Gardener office, so stay tuned.

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