How it all began

Throughout this site there are links to documents of various file types.
Please contact our Statewide Program Leader if you require this information in a different format.

The history of our program

Master Gardener Program 50th year logo.

A grassroots, sociologic movement that started at WSU and was emulated across the United States and into Canada and South Korea, the Master Gardener Program is WSU Extension’s Flagship Volunteer program.

Celebrating 50 years in 2023.

WSU volunteers meet the public at one of the program's early plant clinics in 1972.
WSU volunteer helping a woman diagnose a plant problem.
Sharon Collman holding a plant slide.
Woman talking to a WSU volunteer.

Washington State University is a Land Grant institute which means it has a responsibility teach, research and extend knowledge. Initially WSU assigned horticulture faculty to county offices as part of the Agriculture, Home Economics and 4-H outreach education programs. The emphasis of the horticultural programs was crop production. It was not until rapid urban growth and the burgeoning interest in gardening that Extension began to develop programs emphasizing urban horticulture.

WSU Master Gardener Sharon Collman answers gardening questions at a Seattle mall in 1973.

Bill Scheer Dr. David Gibby

Bill Scheer (above left) and Dr. David Gibby (above right).

In the early 1970’s, area Extension Agents Bill Scheer (Pierce County) and David Gibby (King County) started assignments with the dual focus of urban and commercial horticulture, but the public demand was overwhelming. So, they united to pioneer a new way to deliver gardening support at scale. Their idea was to ‘teach the teachers’, volunteers who would be university educated on the science behind gardening, and then offer that knowledge, free, to the general public.

That they were onto something was evident when the advertisements for their first class attracted more than 600 applicants. Two hundred were accepted into that first training session and the Master Gardener program was born.

Dr. Arlen Davison, plant pathologist. Dr. Bernard Wesenberg, horticulturist.

Dr. Arlen Davison, plant pathologist (above left)
Dr. Bernard Wesenberg, horticulturist (above right).

Two WSU volunteers discussing a plant.
WSU volunteer talking to a group of people.
Group of people at a WSU plant clinic booth.
WSU plant clinic booth at a Seattle mall.
Sharon Collman is showing a child a caterpillar.
Sharon Collman

A good idea takes hold. The Master Gardener concept addressed a need beyond King & Pierce Counties and even Washington State. By the end of 1973, David Gibby left WSU and was replaced by Sharon Collman. It was Sharon who helped to solidify a strong foundation for the program within Washington and promoted the expansion of the program into other interested land grant Universities across the United States.

Today, Washington State has over 4,000 certified Master Gardeners and there are over 85,000 Master Gardener volunteers throughout the United States.

Crimson colored map of Washington state showing counties.