Growing as Gardeners

By Darlene Belton, Master Gardener

Gardeners are all about promoting growth. We select wisely, ensure the right nutrients, provide diligent care, and nurture our plant partners to become the best they can be – to our glorious mutual benefit. If we think today about our first gardening attempts, we may cringe, as we remember how little we knew then, and how much we have gained in skill and knowledge since those days.

How has this personal transformation come about? Incrementally? In bursts of insight? By doing? By observing? By consulting with gardening associates? Through courses – and now webinars? By deep research on a puzzling problem? By perusing seed catalogues? I suspect for most of us the answer is – all of these, and many more besides.

If gardening continues to intrigue and delight you, this is proof that you are also a lifelong learner, hooked on one of life’s most engaging and important quests. The needs of your plants and your need to create and nurture beauty infuse your journey with deep meaning and purpose – and keep you going, though there is no end to what you need to know to be the best gardener you can be.

Learning can take many forms. It may be informal – a round-table discussion at a study group meeting or the chance reading of an insightful article. It can be formal – a structured path designed by an expert to lead you to a specific learning goal, perhaps with a credential to follow. It can be experiential, maybe even more impactful – the result of keen personal observation and trial-and-error in one’s own garden.

Reading up, practicing, and sharing learning in a beautiful setting. Photo by Gary Barnes from Pexels

As adults, most of us design our own learning, even if we partake of formal studies as part of the journey. In the academic world, this process has been called ‘self-directed learning’, and to my mind, this is the surest and most exciting of all forms. As a self-directed learner you may not know exactly where you are going but you certainly know when you discover knowledge that helps you get there!

Today, the self-directed learner lives in a rich world indeed. Besides traditional books and magazines, the internet brings international experts to our homes. Webinars on the latest scientific breakthroughs are so often even free, and certainly information-dense. We join blogs on topics of interest and also dedicated interest groups, often with participants from around the world. All the options out there, however, can be overwhelming, and most of us need at least some guidance to make the best use of our learning time.

Master Gardeners have even more reason to grow their knowledge. Not only do we apply our learning to our own gardens, but we have a mission to share gardening knowledge with others. The knowledge we share should be current, based on proven sustainable gardening practices, and appropriate to our changing climate.

One place to find guidance is our own Manitoba Master Gardener Association. The MMGA is a learning, as well as a service organization. It exists to provide support and guidance for our members’ lifelong learning and for our role as community educators. As such, much is offered to our members. You have opportunities to: join and participate in a study group; take part in member networking events (there will be three in 2022); volunteer on community projects with knowledgeable fellow members; and help with the summer garden tour (Covid-willing) where you can visit all the gardens the week before to see firsthand how other skilled gardeners apply their knowledge. All of this supports informal learning with and among your peers.

More formal learning supports offered by the MMGA start with the basic training now offered totally online through the new, direct partnership of the MMGA with the University of Saskatchewan. The MMGA has web pages on the USask website that describe our MG certification process and present the 10 required courses in detail, including links to register directly:  . The courses offer excellent value, featuring highly qualified instructors affiliated with the University of Saskatchewan’s internationally recognized horticulture program, and reflecting Gardening at USask’s commitment to provide current, proven information on sustainable, pesticide-free gardening practices. Besides Master Gardener training, Gardening at USask also offers many public online courses on important topics for gardeners, many of them free of charge: Webinars: Live Stream Classes

A computer to search and a notebook to observe – great supports for high-quality learning. Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

The MMGA newsletter and website offer articles and videos on recognized gardening best-practices. There is also a list of pre-screened resources compiled and updated regularly by the MMGA’s Education Committee: SUSTAINABLE GARDENING – Manitoba Master Gardener Association ( . In addition, the MMGA Education Committee offers at least four education sessions per year for members and the general public. These sessions feature special guest speakers, with topics selected from member suggestions and from the committee members’ continuous learning about emerging science related to sustainable gardening. Currently the sessions are offered via Zoom, which allows us to tap experts who live at a distance and to welcome participants from throughout the province and beyond.

What better, more enjoyable and highly productive way to invest your time this – hopefully snowy – certainly cold winter, than growing your soul and your gardening knowledge through applied study about the things you don’t yet know to do?