Wendy's WanderingsWendy Wilber

February 7, 2019

Anniversary Spotlight on Hillsborough County

The Florida Master Gardener Volunteer program is celebrating 40 years of service in 2019 and I will be highlighting several long-serving counties here.

The UF/IFAS Hillsborough County Master Gardener Volunteer program was started in 1980 by the beloved Dr. Sydney Park Brown and has been going strong ever since. After changing positions within the university, Dr. Park Brown handed the reins over to Dr. Marina D’Abreau, and today the program is led by Nicole Pinson.

The 110 active Hillsborough County Master Gardener volunteers (HCMGs) are known for their beautiful demonstration gardens. If you haven’t had an opportunity to visit the Bette S. Walker Discovery Garden at the Hillsborough County office, you really should. You will be treated to a tranquil garden with a flowing stream, a beautiful selection of Florida-Friendly plants, garden art, and even a bog garden.

The HCMGs are active educators in their community. They teach AgVenture to 900 third-graders about beneficial insects and agriculture at the county fair. This hands-on, agricultural educational program has been delivered since 1994. That means the Hillsborough County MG volunteers have contacted more than 21,000 third-graders over the last 24 years.

The Hillsborough County MG volunteers also deliver many library programs and clinics. They work through 15 libraries, giving programs, clinics, and demonstrations. Residents attending these classes say they've adopted the best practices for selecting and installing Florida-Friendly plants (33%). Master Gardener volunteers in the program have rated the Hillsborough County volunteer program as excellent (95%). A survey this past year also showed that the MG program increases the volunteer’s ability to do research (99%), enables them to help others (99%), and makes them feel like they make a difference in their community (100%).

The HCMGs have many long-term volunteers—maybe you have met a few, like Mary Kay Ross, Eileen Hart, or Bob Dickey, who have all been with the program for more than 30 years. Or perhaps you've had the pleasure of meeting Polly Ryan (27 years) or Ardell O’Neal (24 years) who have been serving in Hillsborough County with enthusiasm.

To get an idea of the fun they're having in Hillsborough County, all you would have to see is the recent headline from an article they wrote about getting the garden ready for spring: “Get Dirty. Be Happy.” An idea we can surely all relate to.

Congratulations to the HCMGs for all the good you provide to the community you serve.

-- Wendy Wilber

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