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Advice to the Class of 2024

Updated 1/26/2024

Direct to you from the class of 2023

New Master Gardener volunteers who completed their internship requirements last year and long-time volunteers who mentor interns share their advice on how to meet all of the first-year requirements and make the most of your first year as an RCMG volunteer.

Here is their advice for tackling your first year. You can click on each suggestion to read their full comments.


Don’t be shy; Give it a try!

FROM: Katie Robinson, class of 2023

I enjoyed each of the opportunities that I participated in, so my first advice is “don’t be shy, give it a try!” I worked with kids, adults, and families, and did general landscaping and garden maintenance. I never felt overwhelmed or like I didn’t have the skills needed to participate. I simply had to show up on time and with the supplies or tools needed, and I was all set! Some of my favorite activities were those where I was able to interact with people. Collecting and donating food with Gardens for Good was especially fun and fulfilling, and I highly recommend it.

Here are the volunteer activities that I participated in during 2023:

  • Frogtown Green's Our Village Community Garden

  • Frogtown park/garden maintenance

  • Gardens for Good

  • I hosted a Garden Gate Tour of my home garden

  • A couple of activities for elementary school aged kids (in the classroom and outdoors)

  • Barn Garden maintenance

  • Set up for plant sale

  • Greeter at monthly meeting

Do your best to finish your core course as early as possible. Do not fret about not absorbing all (or even most) of it- it’s a ton of information and it’s really not possible to absorb it all right away. And remember- the core course tests, as well as any questions you receive from people when you’re out volunteering, are all open book! You do not need to be an expert, you just need to be enthusiastic about learning and know how to find information from legitimate resources. So, if you take one thing from the core course, it should be how to look up information later (and they do a great job of demonstrating this in the weekly zoom classes). Once you’re done with the core course you can focus on getting your hours and learning while volunteering, which is the fun part!

Although the title you are working toward is “Master Gardener,” few of us are actually masters at all things gardening. The fun part is talking with other RCMG volunteers to find out their interests and specialties, so do not feel like the goal is to know it all! Focus on the parts of gardening you know, love, and want to learn more about, and share it with others.

Welcome to the team!


Play to your strengths but open yourself to new experiences

FROM: Doug Iverson, class of 2023


Relax. I have found the Master Gardener Volunteer Program to be a welcoming place with a diverse offering of opportunities that allow you to tailor an experience that plays to your strengths and provides an array of challenges to help you grow. And there’s no such thing as a dumb question.

Explore the websites. Record your passwords and poke around on the various key websites, especially the RCMG site. Great advice there and navigation gets easier with practice. (Related advice as you begin volunteering: heed the pleas to record your hours as you earn them. It just takes a moment and is far easier than trying to keep the details straight weeks later.)

Core course. I found it helpful to read the course guide for each module, which is available on the website, before you view the video. It helped me to take notes. And relax, the tests are open book if you’re not a great test taker. Check out all the additional sources provided and take advantage of all the optional exercises. And the weekly Q&As are immensely helpful and available on video a day later if you can’t make the scheduled time.

Volunteering. It’s best to pace yourself if you’re trying for all 50 hours in one year. I was surprised how quickly the hours stacked up as I picked them off one or two sessions a week. Play to your strengths, but open yourself to new experiences. Group projects are particularly helpful to meet people and refresh those teamwork skills. Finding a project that you can return to a few times during the year also helps build relationships. I enjoyed watching the Aldrich Arena rain gardens and the Bee Line in Frogtown come into their own as the season progressed.



Sign up to the Yard and Garden Hotline

FROM: Vatsala Menon, class of 2023

As you sit down for your first zoom session for the Master Gardener (MG) program, the year ahead might look daunting. Have no fear! It will all fall into place with a little planning. Planning for the year will take approximately a half hour, but the pay-off is phenomenal. You will relax, enjoy the course work and be able to pick and choose from the myriad volunteering opportunities available.

The Garden Book Club was my first opportunity to volunteer. For me, the book club was a welcome retreat from the course work. The books are chosen to provide you with a wealth of information.

From Spring to Winter, you will get many volunteering opportunities. By signing up with different organizations you will get a taste of all that is available.

Since the classes were all on zoom, the chance to meet other MGs in person were not many. My first exposure to Master Gardeners at work was the Spring Plant Sale. The scale and magnitude of the Plant Sale were beyond my comprehension. The long lines of shoppers dragging carts and navigating the lines were moving steadily and efficiently. The volunteers with wide smiles and answers to any garden questions were everywhere.

I enjoyed working at the Frogtown Green. Here was a diverse, resident-led community of gardeners, tilling the soil, planting seeds and protecting pollinators. As Master Gardeners, we are not there to just teach best practices, but guide, learn and exchange ideas.

Being a retired elementary school teacher, I was eager to volunteer for many youth projects. I worked at the Children’s Peace garden and also helped at Goldy’s Garden. Both were well organized and easy to do. Teaching children about plants and nature in the different community markets was another youth project I cherished. It is an enjoyable experience to sit under the sun, surrounded by music, food and families with children excited to listen and learn.

One of the things I regret was shying away from facing the public to answer questions. My fear was that I will never be able to navigate through the various websites for information. One very wise MG advised me to sign up to the Yard and Garden Hotline and Ask Extension. In the comfort of my home, navigating websites and searching for solutions were stress-free. After a few of these sessions, I was ready to face the people directly and communicate at ease.

I know you are going to have a brilliant year ahead and will never look back.

Happy learning!


A garden requires consistent care and attention; so does your commitment to learning

FROM: Ian Goldsmith, class of 2023

Congratulations on taking the first step toward cultivating your green thumb and enriching your life with the wonders of nature! However, if you don't have a great record of achieving the goals set in New Year's resolutions, like me, consider this an exciting opportunity for you to buck the trend this year as you journey into the world of Ramsey County Master Gardening.

Start Small, Grow Big: Much like nurturing a seed into a thriving plant, take small steps initially. Begin by setting achievable volunteer goals, like shadowing on an online course or attending a monthly meeting, so that you're ready to dive into hands-on projects in the summer. This will not only make the learning process more manageable but also boost your confidence and you'll begin to get to know your fellow volunteers.

Create a Schedule: Procrastination often creeps in when there's no clear plan. Design a realistic schedule that incorporates dedicated study time. I blocked out specific periods on my Google Calendar each week for the visual reminder.

Break Tasks into Bite-sized Chunks: I found that procrastination led to cramming large amounts of information in a sitting to make up for lost time. Taking it one module at a time will make your learning journey more enjoyable, less stressful, and you'll retain more knowledge.

Utilize Technology Wisely: Leverage the online platform to your advantage. Set reminders, click on the resources, and engage with your peers through the discussion boards. Technology can be a powerful tool, but it can also be a distraction. I made an effort to remove any extra windows on my browser that could pull my attention away from the recorded lectures.

Reward Yourself: Acknowledge your achievements along the way. Set up a reward system for completing modules, assignments, or reaching specific milestones. Celebrate your progress, and let these rewards serve as positive reinforcement for staying on track.

Remember, just as a garden requires consistent care and attention, so does your commitment to learning. Embrace the process, enjoy the journey, and soon you'll be reaping the rewards of your newfound gardening knowledge.


We feel insecure when trying something new

FROM: Julie Coopet, class of 2016 & 2023 Mentor

Even though I have been a MG for several years, I know what the newness of an Intern feels like. Anytime I tried something new, I thought, "I should know this" but I didn't. So, what I'd like to share is that we all go through the insecurity of trying something new.

For example, I have worked at the Arden Hills Yard Waste site many times, but when I went to the Mounds View Yard Waste Site, things were a little different. I had to watch and learn. I have worked at different Farmers Markets, again, things were a little different: different set up and different people.

It's OK to ask questions and clarify how things are done at whatever site you are at. The main thing is to enjoy learning something new.


Take the Core Course quizzes right after the module

FROM: Kay Wimer, class of 2019 & 2023 Mentor

My advice came from my mentor when I was an intern in 2019. She told me to be sure to take the test at the end of every Core Class section right after you complete it. This will ensure you have everything fresh in your mind.

My other advice would be to enter your volunteer hours as soon after doing the work as possible. That way you won’t forget and won't have to spend time trying to remember what you did when.


Remember purpose of the Master Gardener program – Community

FROM: Michelle Eberhard, class of 2023

Welcome to a great new adventure! Just as you would approach a new space in which to garden in the spring – measuring out different sections of dirt, figuring out which plants work best where, preparing your seeds, and paying attention to the shady spots – you’ll want to step into this experience with thoughtfulness, intentionality, and an openness to the reality that what you know already might not be all there is to understand about gardening, horticulture, and the way we work together in community.

Back in October of 2022, I saw a notice for applications for the Master Gardener program while scrolling through an email from the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. At the time, I was in an unfulfilling job and my lifelong desire to learn and ask questions kept nudging me to fill out the form and just see what happened. I have always had a passion for being amongst nature and planting vegetables and flowers, so I thought, "What better way to expand my knowledge and keep me outside as much as possible in the spring, summer, and fall months?"

Obviously, I ultimately said yes to the offer to participate in the 2023 cohort, and I am super glad that I did! My approach to this experience was to map out my year-long goals so that I did not feel rushed or pressured to complete different components of the requirements at any one time. Here is how I broke down my commitments:

  1. My goal was to complete the Core Course between January and May 2023. I met this goal on time by working through one chapter of the material almost every week. Sometimes I was too busy a particular week but I built in additional weeks in my overall timeframe so I didn’t feel like I was truly behind or had to try to plow through two chapters in a week to catch up. This worked really well for me and made the volunteering portion feel like the reward at the end!

  2. I am someone who juggles a lot of different activities – 2 jobs, competitive adult sports, volunteering – so I knew that to meet my 50 volunteer hours I had to be similarly strategic. My goal was to complete all my hours between April and the end of September 2023, focusing on volunteering about 12-16 hours/month between June and August. I had no issues meeting this goal, in large part because I said YES to anything at all that seemed remotely interesting to me! Do not let your lack of knowledge about a topic keep you from trying it out. I would estimate that my hours easily came from across 15ish different projects. My favorites were the hands-on, interactive ones like the Children’s Peace Garden, Garden Gnomes at the farmers’ market, and the Frogtown community garden, Our Village. I also loved exploring new-to-me spaces like the Aldrich rain gardens and helping with planting and maintenance at The Barn throughout the season.

  3. To complete my continuing education hours, I again chose a variety of activities, including participating in one of the monthly book clubs, attending the Core Course community engagement Q&A, and going to a few RCMG meetings. I looked for topics of interest that I knew would enhance my understanding of gardening and community.

All that said, though, my biggest piece of advice is to always come back to the purpose of this program. It’s not really about amassing vast horticultural knowledge, being the expert on any one topic, or having the best, most beautiful garden space in your neighborhood. Being a Master Gardener is really about community – showing those we interact with authentic joy and appreciation for our natural world through our own personal interests and interpretations of it. The best way to bring someone into a space they aren’t sure about is to always center our interactions on welcomeness and inclusion. We can inspire people to see themselves as good stewards of our natural spaces by simply modeling our own care for the places we already work in, and by doing so with a smile on our face.

Happy growing!


Try as Many Different Activities as Possible

FROM: Susie DeShon, class of 2022 & 2023 Mentor

I would recommend trying to finish your educational modules by the end of May if possible. This will allow you to focus on the volunteer hours needed.

Start as early as you can with volunteer events and try as many different activities as possible. Even if a volunteer activity doesn't interest you, try it and see how it goes.

Be sure to work at the yard waste sites, ideally with your mentor. This is a fun event and helps the Ramsey County Master Gardener Program. The volunteer activity is a great way to give back to the community and quite rewarding to those putting in the hours.

Enjoy the process!


You WILL be able to do this!

FROM: Linda Hinderscheit, class of 2023

Welcome to the U of M Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program!

Right now, it can be daunting to look at all the core course modules (with the hundreds of embedded links for more information) and ponder how in the heck you are ever going to complete FIFTY hours of volunteer work before the end of the year. It is a lot—no denying that!—but it is very doable if you just keep plugging away at it a bit at time and do not let it slide. You WILL be able to do this.

Core Course Advice

  • Keep up with the core course modules—one per week if that’s possible for you. If you try to work on the course while you are volunteering during the growing season, you might find yourself without the time to do justice to both.

  • I found myself overwhelmed with all the links for more information that were embedded in the core course. I didn’t try to pursue them while working on the modules. I copied the links into Word documents, organized per module. That way, I had time to look at them later when I had finished the course and the volunteer hours.

Volunteering Advice

  • Go to the RCMG Volunteer Fair in March. You will learn a lot about the opportunities available and get a feel for which volunteer activities that you would like to pursue.

  • Download the Sign Up Genius app on your mobile device(s). That’s the best piece of advice my mentor gave to me and I’m passing it along to you.

  • Be sure when you sign up for an event that you are able to go. Check your schedule beforehand and put it on your calendar after you sign up. Event organizers rely on you to show up. It is possible to find someone to substitute for you, and you should always do that if you can’t go, but it is not necessarily easy to find a sub. (Everyone else is busy to!) Reserve the need for a sub for true emergencies.

  • Sign up for a variety of activities and more than once for each. That way you get an idea of what you truly enjoy and want to pursue in more depth later.

  • Don’t feel a need to sign up for all 50 hours immediately. You might feel like you have to secure a spot in order to get your required hours. You don’t. Activities that occur later in the summer and early fall often have spots available. Some activities even pop up in the late fall and winter, but don’t rely on those for all 50 hours; there are fewer activities after the summer ends.

  • Garden maintenance activities involve weeding, and that’s fine. I found I enjoyed those activities a lot more if I also learned something in the process. If you expect the volunteer activities to refine your gardening skills and expand your knowledge base, sign up for something that challenges you.

  • Record your volunteer and continuing education hours IMMEDIATELY. It is not that big of a deal to sign into the state volunteer website and record your hours. If you can’t do so immediately after finishing an activity, do it at least once per week. It’s a lot easier than trying to recreate the wheel later. It takes a lot less time to document your hours as you go and it's MUCH more accurate. If you wait weeks (months?) to do so, you will probably forget to enter some hours.


Focus on the coursework first; then enjoy the volunteer activities

FROM: Emma Kiley, class of 2023

Welcome to the Master Gardener program! I was an intern in 2023 and it was a wonderful year! I hope these two pieces of advice will make your first year in the program less stressful and more meaningful.

Take it one step at a time

At the beginning of your internship, it will be hard not to be overwhelmed by the many emails, websites, and volunteer opportunities. Not to mention an entire online course to be completed! The advice I received from my mentor—which I found to be helpful after the fact—was to just spend the first few months focusing on completing the core course by May. Once the spring arrives, you will then be able to focus on all of the opportunities and the core course won’t be hanging over your head as something you still have to finish!

Find community in your teams and fellow interns

While the Ramsey County Master Gardener program is large, it can feel quite isolating to not know anybody as a new intern. I found it helpful to lean on my geographical team and the other interns in my area! I recommend making it a priority to attend team meetings so that you know the other Master Gardeners in your area and have people to rely on if you have questions, need coverage for a volunteer shift, etc. This will also help you know a handful of people when you attend larger in-person meetings! It is also helpful to build relationships with fellow interns. Once you begin signing up for volunteer opportunities, consider signing up for a few things with a buddy or with your mentor—it will be more fun to have a familiar face and will help you feel more comfortable.

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