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judy in a garden

Volunteer Hero: Judy Hanna, Master Gardener

The Hillsborough County resident is among volunteers whose talents nourish a thriving Master Gardener Program

Our Volunteer Heroes are local residents who donate exceptional amounts of time, expertise, and energy to make Hillsborough County a great place to live, work, and play.

Perhaps Judy Hanna was meant to be a Master Gardener.

Growing up in St. Petersburg, she enjoyed yardwork and "the smell of dirt." As a teen, she found it more lucrative to mow grass than to babysit. Later, as a homeowner, gardening was a hobby and part of maintaining a household.

"Gardening just sort of became part of my life," she says.

After careers as a registered nurse and a pharmaceutical researcher, it occurred to Judy: "Maybe I can become a Master Gardener." In 2015, she qualified to join the talented group of more than 130 volunteers who make up Hillsborough County's Master Gardener Program. Their primary mission is to support the horticultural arm of Hillsborough County Extension.

"We come from very different walks of life, and have varied training and backgrounds," Judy says of fellow Master Gardeners. Most have some type of expertise in horticulture.

Throughout the United States, Master Gardeners answer questions, give lectures, conduct research, and oversee gardens. Their collective goal, according to the Florida Master Gardener Program, is to introduce adults, teens, and children to gardening and to help solve gardening problems.

Master Gardener candidates in Hillsborough County receive rigorous education and training. After that, in their first year, they must accumulate 75 volunteer hours and take 10 more hours of training. In subsequent years, veteran Master Gardeners perform 35 hours of volunteer service and receive 10 hours of continued training.

Here are a few of the duties performed by Hillsborough County's Master Gardeners:

  • Staff the Extension's Home Horticulture Help Desk

  • Assist with educational workshops

  • Conduct soil pH tests

  • Tend Extension's teaching and demonstration gardens, and serve as docents for visitors to them

  • Coordinate training and continuing education for fellow Master Gardeners

Last year, Hillsborough County Master Gardeners volunteered a total of about 9,000 hours.

Judy's favorite volunteer activities are working at the Help Desk, addressing gardening topics at the Riverview Branch Library, and speaking about succulents, cacti, and bulbs.

She is spearheading a "Job Fair" initiative to inform mostly new Master Gardeners about the wide variety of duties performed by their colleagues. The idea is to build knowledge and confidence, and to ensure Master Gardeners remain engaged and enthused. The effort is receiving state and national attention.

What would Judy tell someone who is interested in becoming a Master Gardener?

"Come and talk with some Master Gardeners. Find out all of the things we do. There are so many opportunities. You don't have to be an expert. Just be willing to share your expertise and resources."

Photo: Judy Hanna in one of the gardens at the Extension office in Seffner

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