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Extension > Local Extension Offices > Ramsey > Master Gardeners > Articles > I KNOW WHY I’M A MASTER GARDENER


By Joe Baltrukonis, University of Minnesota Extension Ramsey County Master Gardener

It started in the small town of Cheshire, just north of New Haven, Connecticut. My Grandma, as

a young child, came to this country from Lithuania. She was what some would call a peasant, a

person with an inborn love of the soil, plants, dirty fingernails, and good food. She grew

raspberries, peach varieties we cannot grow here in Minnesota, tons of turnips and other

vegetables, and sweet corn. How excited she was to try some of the newest varieties of super-

sweet corn!   She loved to can produce. Her strawberry jam was more of a soup than a real jam

or jelly, but it was delicious. The best wine that I ever tasted was when some old jar lids of jam

loosened and the contents fermented. I know where my love of gardening comes from.


Later in life, I joined the Navy and became a medical laboratory technologist and blood bank

specialist. Yet in a 20 year career, wherever I was stationed, I managed to grow a small garden. I

retired to central Wisconsin and became a Master Gardener by training at the Hancock

Research Station. What a tremendous amount of gardening information I learned! Sixteen years

ago, I moved to the Twin Cities to work at Bailey Nurseries. Of course, we joined another great

group of Master Gardeners in Saint Paul. Later I really retired, and now my wife and I do even

more gardening and even more volunteer work.


Some people are in awe when they learn that I am in this program. “Then you know everything

there is to know about gardening,” they say.  I just smile, laugh a little, and reply “No, it is

impossible to know everything about gardening. The only reason that I know so much about

plants is that I have managed to kill many more than you have. I don’t know all the answers, but

I certainly know where to find out.” I have made many dear friends in the Master Gardener

Group, and I can call any one of them to find the answer. Although Master Gardeners learn

about all aspects of gardening, I observe that everyone tends to become quite expert in one or

two areas of gardening. I have a black thumb when growing houseplants and tend to kill them. I

hate lawns and can mow my lawn with a pair of scissors in less than 30 seconds. When I receive

a houseplant or lawn question, I know just who to call. I can also read the many well-written

articles on the University of Minnesota Extension web site. I have access to a state wide

network of talented Master Gardeners who will answer my every question by email. Extension

educators and University faculty gladly share their knowledge and time to answer the especially

difficult question. There is always someone available to help you. University experts and

knowledgeable gardeners present exciting training sessions, where we learn even more.


When I see a volunteer work thousands of hours in a hospital, teaching ill children the joys of



When I see others start a community garden in an empty lot-


When I see display gardens and educational gardens throughout the state-


When I talk to a lady about a suspicious bug on a plant she doesn’t know the name of, and can

convince her that she need not spray the heck out of it-


When I see “Beans on the Boulevard”-


When I see seed libraries springing up-


When I point out an orange butterfly on a coneflower to my seven year old granddaughter, talk

about Latin names of plants, and then she tells her teacher about Monarch butterflies on the

Echinacea plants-


When I see a child in the city hesitate, then eat his very own first tomato on a plant that he has

grown himself (with just a tiny bit of help from a Master Gardener), and then he smiles-


When I see my Master Gardener wife Jennifer grow over 2,000 plants for 3 different charitable

plant sales, while I do the dishes and cook-


When I see the hundreds of thousands of hours that the Minnesota Master Gardeners donate

to their communities-


THEN, I know that world is OK, and is heading in the right direction.


I love the volunteer aspect and friendship of Master Gardening and enjoy sharing my

knowledge by writing articles, teaching, working hands-on with anyone - just helping old and

new gardeners. Ramsey County will soon be recruiting a new crop of Master

Gardeners. Applications are on our website at:

You can also email the program assistant for a request for application materials at OR call 651-704- 2053. Just indicate an interest in finding out more. The

application deadline is October 1, 2015 at 4:00 pm. Hope to meet you at one of our Ramsey

County Master Gardener meetings in 2016!

I know why I am a Master Gardener.


Joe Baltrukonis


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