I’ll never be a Master Gardener

Today I confessed a shameful secret I’ve been harboring for nearly a decade: I was turned down not once but twice for the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener training in Rensselaer County in upstate New York. The self-disclosure was so satisfying that I’ve decided to go public with it on my blog.

After my Nia class at the Y, I was chatting with two Master Gardeners about last weekend’s flower and garden show at the nearby community college, and they were raving about the flowery archway one of their fellow M.G.s had created at the entrance of the show. Impulsively I pulled one of them aside – she’s a retired psychotherapist with empathetic listening skills – and confided in her about that long-ago humiliation.

I’ve endured my fair share of rejections over the years as an artist, writer and job applicant, but I’ve always aced the application process when it comes to training programs and schools, up to and including top-flight Ivy League colleges like Radcliffe and Columbia. Perhaps that’s why this particular failure rankled so badly – that, and the fact that I had absolutely no clue why they considered me a persona non grata.

But over the years I’ve come to realize they may have made the right decision. Back in the day, I was wild about gardening. I wrote about it, even developed an elaborate proposal for a book called The Blissful Gardener. But I decided that I probably didn’t have the credentials or experience to sell it, much less the gorgeous photographs demanded for that kind of book. My gardening efforts, in fact, were fairly pathetic. I loved the sense of joy and wellbeing engendered by gardening. I had great ideas and design sense, and I loved planting my latest finds, but I lacked enthusiasm for the more mundane tasks that demanded perseverance – minor things like mulching, weeding and watering.

For the interviews, I brought copies of articles I’d written and described the fresh contributions I could make to the Master Gardener program. But I’m afraid I didn’t come across as much of a team player or journeyman worker compared to the applicants who’d put in countless hours as volunteer gardeners over the years.

Back then I was in a depressive phase, still adjusting to retirement and not yet a published author, and I remember sobbing about how I was a total failure and nobody wanted me for   anything. But that feeling is long gone, and I’m better off without the serious time commitment entailed in being a Master Gardener. At Saturday’s garden expo I sat in the front row for a presentation on “Tough Plants for Tough Places” by the program head who’d twice rejected me. I peppered him with questions and contributed a couple of nuggets of my own.

Did my nemesis remember me all these years later? I don’t know and frankly I don’t care. All that shame, anger and depression is gone at long last. As my therapist friend says, it’s good to have closure. And though I may never be a Master Gardener, I can still be a blissful one.

5 thoughts on “I’ll never be a Master Gardener

  1. Hi Julie,

    I love this piece! Well written and I love the photos you’ve included. You are always revealing new facets of yourself in your blog. I regard that as being very brave!

    Just as you’ll never be a Master Gardener, I’ll never be a Flower Show Judge! A few years ago when I was in two garden clubs, they had a Flower Show School in Ulster County and, on the spur of the moment, I decided to attend. I had no idea what I was getting into. I missed the first class and would have to find some way to make it up. I attened the second class and aced the test at the end of that day and got all sorts of praise from the leader of the whole shebang. She thought I was going to be a terrific flower show judge. A few classes later, I ended up in tears thoroughly not knowing what I was doing. I think I finished the rest of the classes but never made up the first class. There were many more hoops I would have had to jump through to become a flower show judge — that is where the Flower Show School was leading, a fact I did not know when I started taking the classes. I barely knew what a flower show was.

    I did learn a lot but the biggest thing I learned was that I was not cut out to be a flower show judge! To become a flower show judge one must win a certain number of ribbons in flower shows, etc., etc., be an student judge for a while, and on and on, respond and say yes when called to judge a show, and much more. I had never even done a flower arrangement for a show let alone win several ribons doing same. All the rules for flower shows and for becoming a flower show judge were carefully written in a handbook that received yearly updates. Though I never became a flower show judge, I did come to have great respect for people who are flower show judges. I also have great respect for Master Gardeners.

    I now have a woman who is a Master Gardener par excellance who gardens for me. You see I love flowers and gardens but don’t like to dig in the dirt and can’t really kneel anymore. At the outset this wonderful-gift-from-the-universe woman sat down with me and listened to all my wants and not wants, requirements, and dreams then designed landscaping for this property incorporating all my ideas and many of her own. When plants I wanted were not appropriate for this property or area, she told me. Similarly she would not let me have plants on the invasive plants list. She has done a beautiful job. She designed the gardens, buys the plants, plants them, maintains the gardens and puts up with me buying more plants from time to time and finds places to put them. I call her “My dream-come-true gardener.” I am blessed to have her.

    Even though you are not a Master Gardener so don’t have to leap through all the hoops they require in the way of doing community service and education and even though I am not a flower show judge, we both love flowers and gardens. You at least still have the ability and desire to dig in the dirt, make things grow and are a blissful gardener. I’m just blissful.

  2. If it’s any consolation, I won’t ever be a master gardner either. I, too, went to the flower show and enjoyed looking at everybody else’s efforts. We can contribute that way, I think. After all, what’s the use of having a beautiful garden is no one else sees it???

  3. Betsy, I love your story about flower show judging. Have you thought about creating a blog of your own? People who run these programs like Master Gardeners just love creating hurdles and hoops for others to jump through.

    Marilyn, great to hear from you. I’m about to start my new screen play for Script Frenzy – I’ll blog about that by the end of the day. Are you up for lunch at the Dinosaur BBQ any time soon?

  4. Julie, No I do not intend to start my own blog though I do enjoy doing a certain amount of writing. Sometime when you are down in Hurley visiting your daughter and the grandkids are in school, I’d love to have you come over for a little visit here in Rosendale, see my gardens and house and possibly we could go for lunch together at the Rosendale Cafe. I think it would be fun to see each other again. It has been years! Betsy

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