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Skaggs: Be sure to thank Master Gardeners
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Saturday is Master Gardener Day - so, if you know a Master Gardener around here, be sure to thank them.

The program, which began in 1979, has graduated close to 5,000 across the state as certified Master Gardeners, who volunteer their time helping Extension agents provide horticultural information to the community.

Last year, Master Gardeners in Georgia volunteered more than 200,000 hours of their time. Hall County Master Gardeners contributed 15,000 hours of volunteer service in 2008, valued at more than $260,000. They drove more than 60,000 miles and had contact with 20,000 people.

In Hall County there are more than 150 Master Gardeners, along with 23 Master Gardener interns who volunteer their time and talents to promote correct gardening practices. Part of this group's education outreach includes holding two garden expos, an educational symposium and a biannual garden walk.

Hall County volunteers also educate the public through Ask a Master Gardener plant clinics, the Lunch and Learn Gardening Series at the Hall County Library, the Junior Master Gardener program and other workshops and seminars.

Master Gardeners also volunteer with local organizations and charities such as Elachee Nature Science Center, Smithgall Woodland Garden, Habitat for Humanity and the Northeast Georgia History Center.

This time of year the Hall County Master Gardeners are planning the Spring Garden Expo, April 10-11 at the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center in Gainesville.

This event includes vendors, garden demonstrations and children's activities.

The biannual Garden Walk is also this year, on June 13. It will feature five private gardens along with the "Garden on the Green" educational demo garden at the Hall County Board of Education's central office on Green Street in Gainesville.

Interested in being a part of all the gardening fun, too?

To be a Master Gardener, volunteers get 40 hours of intensive horticultural training on topics such as soil fertility, pest management, plant selection, landscape management and growing fruits and vegetables. They also spend at least 50 hours volunteering through the local Extension office.

After that, they are certified as Master Gardeners.

While participants gain knowledge they can use in their own landscapes and gardens, the real success of the program is the work and dedication of the volunteers.

They serve their communities through a variety of projects that promote their love of gardening and teach others to protect and preserve the environment.

In recognition of these efforts, March 21 is designated as Georgia Master Gardener Day.

If you know one of these good folks, let them know how much you appreciate their hard work and dedication.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.

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