The Master Gardener concept was originally created in Washington State (USA) in 1972. Ontario’s first pilot sites began in Brigden, Englehart and London with 39 participants. The next year, Brantford, Stratford, Ottawa, Windsor, Algoma West, Burlington and St. Catharines joined and brought with them another 154 new volunteers.
OMAFRA & MGOI
Master Gardeners of Ontario Inc. is an organization dedicated to providing horticultural information to the public. It began in 1985 as a program of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) but it is now an independent nonprofit organization.
Becoming a Master Gardener
Fill in the Become a Master Gardener form and we'll help you find the closest local Master Gardener group. You can also contact a group directly. After you attend a meeting or orientation session, you can decide if being a Master Gardener is right for you. Some groups ask potential new members to complete a short eligibility/knowledge test and take part in an interview to clarify the volunteer commitment. Once you join, you can choose an educational path for certification, e.g. designated online courses (University of Guelph or Dalhousie University) or the self-study program leading to a Certification Exam. see Education.
What MGs Do
In return, participants provide horticultural information to the public via garden clinics, telephone, letters, displays, workshops, television, radio, the web and newspaper articles. For example, the Master Gardeners have recently hosted garden chats on the CBC Hamilton website and provide advice at Canada Blooms. Here’s a 10 minute video about us.
MGOI: A Concise History
Where did Master Gardeners begin?
Our roots revealed - click here for the Extension Master Gardeners story.
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.
A Concise History of Master Gardeners of Ontario
1985 to the mid 1990’s OMAFRA Mentorship & Support
The Master Gardener program is started in Ontario, sponsored by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) to provide unbiased, scientific horticultural information to the public, but not to deal with commercial or farm questions.
Experienced gardeners are recruited by local horticultural societies. To form a group, the local horticultural society is approached and a presentation made about the MG program. A newly formed group is given a library of books for reference and starts their first meetings with a person from OMAFRA to guide them. The local hort society often nurtures the fledgling group and OMAFRA staff and other experts make presentations at MG meetings.
OMAFRA provides a full time coordinator and a half time secretarial position and has offices all across Ontario with agronomists, rural affairs specialists and secretaries that can be used by the local groups. OMAFRA also publishes large numbers of horticultural bulletins which can be ordered free of charge for the groups to hand out to the public.
Those who join are required to take three tuition-free correspondence courses from the Ontario Diploma in Horticulture program offered by the University of Guelph. The correspondence program makes it possible for volunteers all across Ontario to participate.
Volunteers who had previous relevant training or industry experience are able to take the “Exemption Examination” instead of the courses.
There are two courses at first – Home Gardener and Qualified Plantsman.
1988: OMAFRA registers the trademarked watering can as our official logo.
1995 – 1999 Birth of M.G.O.I.
The conservative government of Mike Harris is elected and the “Common Sense Revolution” begins.
May 1996: OMAFRA no longer funds the Master Gardener program; OMAFRA’s lawyers and a steering committee work together to produce corporate by-laws and guidelines. A strategic plan is produced and there is a promise of resources to bridge the gap from government supported to independent corporate entity. The initial business plan is for a full time administrator and a part time secretary. Lack of funds does not allow for the full time administrator.
January 19th 1998, Master Gardeners of Ontario Inc. (MGOI) receives its Letter Patent and is formally incorporated as an independent not-for-profit charitable organization. For most members of the Board of Directors, it is the first time running a non-profit corporation. It is a challenging time for the new Board and for local MG groups.
Funding soon becomes a challenge. Corporate and foundation sponsorship does not meet needs. Member dues are the only way to continue the Master Gardener organization.
At the time of incorporation there are 36 Master Gardener groups with over 800 active volunteers who are contributing nearly 35,000 hours of volunteer time to the program.
1999: OMAFRA provides administrative and computer support to adapt a reference manual from the Maryland Master Gardeners and the University of Maryland. Members of the Education Committee, led by Lenore Ross adapt the manual to Ontario. Unfortunately, the manual is never released.
Recruits must now pay for the three correspondence courses from Guelph, although they are given a discount.
In response, MGOI explores the possibility of developing a new program in partnership with the Niagara Parks School of Horticulture but soon realizes that the cost is prohibitive. Instead MGOI creates a self-directed study program and examination as an alternative to taking the courses.
The Exemption Examination is revised and renamed the “Certification Examination” and a guideline document “Basic Knowledge Requirements for Passing the Certification Examination” is produced to support members in their studies.
2005-present day Changes in Education
January 2005: Guelph discontinues the correspondence courses. They are only available online, are considerably more expensive and prospective Master Gardeners are no longer given a discount.
Introduction of the self-directed study program.
In October 2007, MGOI make an agreement with the Nova Scotia School of Agriculture (NSAC) (now part of Dalhousie University) to allow Ontario Master Gardeners in Training to take the four online courses developed to train Master Gardeners in the Atlantic region. This adds a 3rd option for certification.
The education committee surface one remaining copy of the Maryland manual that OMAFRA and MGs created years ago. The committee cleaned up so style and content were consistent and eventually we created a new education Manual for Ontario.
Did you know?
At our peak we had 900 members spread across the province.
Before the split from OMAFRA, once a year all the coordinators were invited to a paid one day meeting, usually in Guelph.
OMAFRA paid the tuition for all MGiTs!
Many groups used the local OMAFRA offices for meetings and called upon the skilled personnel to sort issues out issues and show groups how to run meetings.
The introduction of member dues resulted as the only way to save the Master Gardener program.
This concise history was compiled from Ralph Bullough, Kelly Noel and June Streadwick.
How to Start a Group
If there is no MGOI Group in the area where you live, START ONE!
Step 1 – Form a Group A group of 15 or more interested and knowledgeable people (10 or more in Northern Ontario) agrees to form a Master Gardener Group
Step 2 – Contact the MGOI Provincial Administrator A person from the group contacts the provincial administrator and requests application package. The Administrator will give the group the contact names of the coordinators of nearby groups and the name of local zone director who can be contacted for assistance.
Step 3 – Create an Organizing Committee Interested people hold a meeting and select three people to form an organizing committee to prepare the application. Contact should be made with local horticultural Societies. They have been very active sponsors in the past. Some of their members may be very interested in the program and there are opportunities for groups to partner on activities.
Step 4 – Complete the Application The organizing committee meets with interested and supportive groups, individuals and businesses and completes application. The application should include the need in the community, names and addresses of interested people, proposed area covered, details of start up funding, letters of recommendation, proposed meeting location and plan of operation.
Step 5 – Send in the Application Organizing committee forwards the application to MGOI administrator for presentation at Board of Director's meeting.
Step 6 – Board of Directors Approval The Board of Directors considers each application and either accepts or rejects application. If the application is rejected, then a letter is sent to committee with reasons as to why it was turned down. If the application is approved, then group is notified and planning continues. When an application is accepted, the administrator will notify the new group and forward applicable information to the zone director.
Step 7 – Organizational Meeting At this stage, fund raising activities should begin to help cover some of the start-up expenses. These could include advertising, photocopying, hall rental etc.
The group advertises and holds an organizational meeting to solicit candidates in the fall of the year. The first meeting program should include:
speaker on the Master Gardener program
eligibility or exemption exam (if possible)
Successful candidates are notified by the organizing committee; they meet and select a coordinator, secretary and treasurer. Master Gardener agreements are completed and handed to the coordinator for records. When an application is accepted, the Provincial Administrator will notify the new group and forward applicable information to the zone director.
The new coordinator will send details about membership and executive to the administrator for records. Successful candidates proceed with studies and other activities. Contact Us