Master Gardening Pittsburgh

Having blogged in Pittsburgh for a long time, I get press releases.  Lots of press releases.  Most of them go into the spam file; that way I don't have to read two releases from the same agency.  But I usually glance at the subject line, and once in a while there is something interesting.  I found something interesting today:

Pittsburgh's Phipps Conservatory, by any measure one of the true jewels of the region, hired top-drawer South Side PR pros Red House to distribute this press release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 26, 2011 Phipps Now Accepting Applications for 2012 Master Gardener Program

One of Pennsylvania’s oldest and most respected training courses open to new participants. Pittsburgh, Pa.—“What is wrong with my tomatoes?”; “Why are my pine trees losing their needles?”; “When and how do I plant flower bulbs?”: These are just a few of the questions answered daily by Master Gardeners, a group of horticulture volunteers who share their knowledge and experience as volunteers for Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. As a new year approaches, Pittsburgh’s premier public garden is now pleased to announce that it is accepting applications for its 2012 training course.

Conceived in 1972 by a Cooperative Extension Service agent in Washington state, the Master Gardener Program was developed to train volunteer gardeners to assist professional horticulturists in meeting the increasing public demand for gardening help. The program held at the Phipps Garden Center in historic Mellon Park—one of the oldest and most respected in the state—is not only tailored to Pittsburgh’s changing horticultural needs, but also helps the Conservatory carry out its educational mission.

“Whether they are answering horticultural questions for members of the public, teaching classes, or working in our greenhouses, Master Gardeners are integral to the work that we do here at Phipps,” says Director of Horticulture Margie Radebaugh. “By helping members of our community learn new skills, find solutions to problems, and achieve success in their landscapes and gardens, they are not only connecting others with nature, but also making our city a greener and more beautiful place to live.” Phipps Master Gardener Program classes, covering topics from plant problem diagnosis and pruning to botany and entomology, start in January 2012 and run for 23 weeks on Tuesday evenings from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Those interested in applying are asked to contact Sarah Bertovich at 412/441-4442, ext. 3925 or The application deadline is November 10, 2011.

Whatever the reasons for the renewed interest in urban gardening, the renewal is great. Fortunately for local gardeners, Allegheny County has an abundance of resources -- in addition to Phipps.

Master Gardener-wannabes in Allegheny County should know that there are *two* Master Gardener programs here, one (above) run by Phipps, and the other run through the Penn State University Cooperative Extension. The latter group -- the Penn State Master Gardeners -- is the volunteer education and training group that is trained by and affiliated with the national Master Gardener movement. That movement is connected in every state (well, 48 out of 50) to that state's public agricultural extension service, provided through public land grant universities. In other words: these volunteers are part-and-parcel of your tax dollars at work! Penn State launched its Master Gardener program in 1982, and well north of 1,000 volunteer Penn State Master Gardeners now provide services to the public in 58 Pennsylvania counties. To the best of my knowledge, the Phipps program is not part of the national public MG enterprise.

Here is the Wikipedia entry for Master gardening programs.

Here is the American Horticultural Society description of MG programs.

I don't have any personal acquaintance with the Phipps program. I do have lots of experience with the Penn State program, which is big (and growing) and varied and hugely successful and populated by smart, dedicated, and caring people who provide all kinds of *free* resources to both casual and serious gardeners. And since the Penn State folks don't have the resources to hire Red House and send out press releases, once in a while I like to throw a few Pittsblog props their way.

See the Penn State Master Gardeners of Allegheny County website here. Find lots of programs and free resources!

See the principal Master Gardener website for Penn State.

See this earlier Pittsblog post about gardening resources in Allegheny County.


5 Responses to "Master Gardening Pittsburgh"

The Wiz said... 10/28/2011 8:43 AM

I think it is great for people to grow their own food, for many reasons. I lived my whole life on a farm and have a large organic garden. But I have some concerns about urban gardening that the master gardeners may be able to answer.

I am worried about all the contaminants in urban soil and the possibility that these contaminants be absorbed into the fruit and vegetables grown there. The most common would be the high lead concentrations due to centuries of old lead-based paint and lead used in gasoline. Other pollutants could be things like mercury, zinc, PCBs and more.

Has there ever been any testing of urban soils to see just what contaminates are in urban soils? Has anyone tested the foods grown in urban soils to see if any of them are absorbed and incorporated into the food chain?

Just something I always wondered.

Jonathan Potts said... 10/28/2011 9:21 AM

"Higher education is, all things considered, on a slow but steady path to stability, although in general higher education here is a bit “old school,” if you will, in its thinking about what colleges and universities should be."

Interesting. What's an example of this, in your opinion?

Mike Madison said... 10/28/2011 10:37 PM

On potentially toxic soils:

The Master Gardener to whom I am closest thinks that the more significant risk is lead, from paint and from automobile exhaust (for properties close to highways back when leaded gas was still used). But that was a quick-and-dirty answer, as it were. Both the Penn State Master Gardeners and Phipps have free telephone "hotlines" that you can call.

Mike Madison said... 10/28/2011 10:39 PM

On JPotts's question (which relates to a different post):

It's difficult to get into details on a public blog. That statement that you've highlighted is based partly on the dozen years that I've been at Pitt and more recently on my wanderings around Oakland and the East End as I've helped get my law school's innovation program set up.

MH said... 10/30/2011 10:48 PM

Most people I know with urban gardens, and I don't know many, use raised beds with soil they hauled in.

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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