‘TIS THE SEASON to be jolly, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still be giving thanks. How about sending your Cooperative Extension’s staff a holiday greeting? A recent opinion piece on the state of Extension (which celebrated its centennial in 2014) got me thinking about agents and specialists who have made a difference to me, and feeling grateful to them. It also heightened my concern that the consumer-facing role of Extension I have many times benefited from as a gardener may be at risk.
“Extension is that part of academia tasked with delivering research based information to those who can use it,” Jeff Gillman, who was an Extension specialist for 15 years, writes in “Some Thoughts About Extension” on the Garden Professors blog at Extension.org.
It’s an important function, he adds, “because it provides a link between us and the people who do research that impacts us.”
Now here’s the big-deal part, again in Gillman’s words:
“Extension personnel are usually non-biased individuals who deliver research-based information…. If you aren’t getting your information from someone in Extension, then you’re probably getting it from someone who stands to profit from whatever information they provide. This alone makes Extension important.”
Do you want to get all your advice from advisers with a vested interest in the subject at hand—from manufacturer-funded “research,” or even from sales staff at a big-box store whose training will have at least in part come from the manufacturer reps of the products for sale there? I’d prefer to learn from someone who puts the practices and products to the test in a more neutral environment.
WHEN RICHARD WEIR of Nassau County Extension on Long Island taught me decades ago to water a newly planted tree, he mentioned one possible tactic: I could use a slow-release watering bag that had been recently introduced to the marketplace. He wasn’t on the marketer’s payroll, but he knew I might not be patient enough to do the drip, drip, drip over many hours myself, then repeat and repeat until the tree was well-settled.
He didn’t care if I bought the product, but did care if I understood what the tree wanted: slow, sustained water percolating downward throughout the root zone, as if it were dropping from the sky gently over time (or from that perforated bag). What it did not want was for me to stand there aiming my hose-end sprayer at the trunk, as if I were washing my car.
I have never forgotten. I never purchased the bag, but I got the idea—and not just as it applies to tree watering, but this:
In much of gardening, slow wins the race. Thanks, Richard, for not making claims of “instant,” “easy,” and “no-care” gardens, filling me with unrealistic expectations but instead showing me how to be a steward to my garden.
Richard’s colleague, Donna Moramarco, got me thinking about the importance of calendaring my chores, so I didn’t get overwhelmed—but also so I didn’t forget who needed what and when among my botanical companions. She and her staffmates were always there with timely suggestions, and after a few years of paying attention, I began to get the hang of the rhythm myself. (No surprise that the nursery where she now handles education and marketing has a monthly calendar, too.)
Even now, decades since I moved from Long Island, when I get news of some outbreak—like Impatiens downy mildew, remember?—I look to see if Margery Daughtrey (left), a renown plant pathologist of ornamental crops based in Riverhead, at the Suffolk County Extension, has published anything about it, or been quoted in the trade publications. A trusted source for me, then and still.
I can tell you that it wasn’t just me who learned from these specific Extension experts. My old friend Anne Raver, longtime garden writer for “The New York Times” and elsewhere, often relied on Richard and Donna and Margery, too.
So how about it? Is there someone from Extension—a Master Gardener, an Extension agent, a Senior Extension Associate like Daughtrey, even maybe someone all the way back to 4-H, if you were started there—who took the time to help you? Maybe you want to tell them so.
Turns out we can also say thank you by actually donating to your state or county Extension, too, or at least joining. Again: ‘Tis the season.
find your extension office
DON’T KNOW WHICH county Extension office is the one nearest you? The Zip code-based finder tool on the homepage of Extension.org can get you started.