Gardens done right

The Baltimore Sun

Robin Hessey

Master gardener advance training coordinator and assistant state coordinator for the Master Gardener Program

Home and Garden Information Center, Ellicott City

Salary --$46,000

Age --58

Years on the job --10

How she got started --Prior to working at the Home and Garden Information Center, a state program that is part of the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension, Hessey owned a graphic design and printing company. She decided to sell the business and look for a less stressful job. She began working as a part-time administrator for the Master Gardener Program and, three years later, began working full-time as the advance training coordinator.

The program --Designed to train volunteer horticultural educators for the Maryland Cooperative Extension. Participants receive 40 hours of basic training and must volunteer at least 40 hours in their community to become a certified master gardener. Hessey is a certified master gardener and a Maryland certified professional horticulturist.

Home and Garden Information Center --Provides research-based horticultural information through a free hot line (800-342-2507), publications, the Internet and the Master Gardener Program.

Typical day --Much of Hessey's job as advance training coordinator involves setting up training programs for master gardeners. This spring she is planning 13 training classes throughout the state and an annual training day that will draw more than 300 master gardeners. She chooses locations, books and speakers, orders lunches and schedules advertisements, and helps to develop the format. "There's really a lot involved with each course. I will also go out on site and make sure everything goes right."

As assistant state coordinator, she helps run the Master Gardener Program, which includes strategic planning, training, recruiting, retention, publicity and updating the Web site.

Events gone wrong --On a past annual training day, more than 300 lunches were ordered, but only 100 were delivered. By the end of the lunch, the other 200 were delivered, but there were "plenty of ruffled feathers," Hessey said. "You try to plan and plan backup situations, but things happen."

Growing popularity --Sixteen counties and Baltimore have master gardener programs. Hessey said people increasingly are looking for ways to spend time outdoors. "People really have an interest and desire to get their hands in the dirt and learn about the natural world. Or they see environmental problems and they want to help."

The good --Working with master gardeners, Hessey said. "They are so grateful for every educational opportunity they have. You just feel like you are doing them a favor and the larger community a favor."

The bad --The stress of event planning can be difficult. Also, she must raise money for the Master Gardener Program to support her position. She does this by charging for training classes (between $20 and $115 depending on the training) and selling master gardener merchandise.

Philosophy on the job --Hessey says everything in nature is connected. "We must always be mindful that what we do to other creatures, our water supply, our air or any other part of the system, will end up directly affecting all of us."

Nancy Jones-Bonbrest Special to The Sun

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