The Canadian Cultivar
The first Master Gardener program began in the state of Washington in 1972. Dr. David Gibby, a horticultural extension agent, created the program in response to an overwhelming number of requests for gardening information from the public. Volunteers enlisted and trained in horticulture to provide gardening information to home gardeners. Master Gardener programs now operate in forty-five states and nine Canadian provinces. In 1987, the high level of interest led to the first national Master Gardener Conference in Washington, D.C. A second national conference was held in Portland Oregon in 1989. In 1991, Master Gardeners from Ontario and Michigan hosted the first international Master Gardener Conference in Detroit followed by subsequent conferences in San Antonio (1993) and Saskatoon (1995). At this time, the International Master Gardener Conference is held every other year at different locations. In September 2013 it will be onboard a cruise ship to Alaska and hosted by the Arkansas Master Gardeners.
In 1985, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) examined ways to provide horticultural information to the public. One of the ideas presented was the American Master Gardener program. It was analyzed and adapted for Ontario, and the first pilot groups began in 1985. The program was directed by a Provincial Steering Committee and sponsored by OMAFRA and the Ontario Horticultural Societies. Three pilot sites in Brigden, Englehart and London began with 39 participants. In 1986, seven new areas were added with 154 new volunteers in Brantford, Stratford, Ottawa, Windsor, Algoma West, Burlington, and St. Catharines. Experienced gardeners were recruited by local horticultural societies. The volunteers were introduced to the program at an orientation session, wrote an eligibility test, received local training on soil management, communication skills, pest and disease diagnostics and control as well as enrolling in the Horticulture Independent Study Courses from the University of Guelph. In return, the participants provided horticultural information to the public via garden clinics, telephone, letters, displays, workshops, television, radio and newspaper articles. Ontario 's program was unique because of the horticultural Independent Study courses which make it possible for the volunteers to learn at home and gain credits that eventually could count towards an Ontario Diploma in Horticulture. In 1986, the Master Gardener program became an operating program with funds allocated from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food budget. Ruth Friendship-Kellar was the first program consultant. By the end of 1989 there were 19 groups operating in the province with 337 active volunteers. In 1990 the program held a successful provincial conference at the University of Guelph. Subsequently conferences were held in Waterloo (1993) and Ridgetown (1996). A special part of the Ridgetown conference was the presentation of pins to Master Gardeners with 10 years of service.
Master Gardeners of Ontario, Inc.
In May 1996, OMAFRA decided it could no longer fund the Master Gardener program due to budgetary cutbacks. A new steering committee was formed to investigate options for the organization under the leadership of Diane Arsenault of the Toronto group. In late 1996, Harold Hallet of Brantford took over as president and the committee continued to explore incorporation and issues related to becoming an independent organization. In February 1998, the Master Gardeners of Ontario Inc. (MGOI), was formally incorporated as a registered charitable (non-profit) organization. The first annual general meeting was held in Guelph on March 28, 1998 where a Board of Directors was confirmed.
Currently there are 34 local groups of Master Gardeners throughout Ontario, with over 700 volunteers.