Among them, they’ve donated thousands of volunteer hours and have answered just as many questions about every bug and blight known to Washington state gardening.

WSU Extension Master Gardeners honored four members, each with more than 20 years of experience in the program, at its conference on the Pullman campus this week. Marilyn Tilbury of Seattle, Mary Boston of Olympia, Becky Stinson of Anacortes and Mary Fran Fryer of Chehalis were among nearly 200 Master Gardeners from throughout the state attending the annual event.

“It’s interesting to see how people approach their gardening problems,” said Tilbury. “In general, men are more into their grass. The women seem to be more interested in flowers and other ornamentals. But, we all seem to enjoy working in our gardens to preserve our sanity and to get away from everything.” She became a Master Gardener in 1982 “just as payback for the help I’d received and as a way of getting more knowledge for myself.”

Mary Boston started her Master Gardener career in North Dakota, but then took the training again in 1982 after moving to Olympia “because gardening in western Washington is a lot different than North Dakota.” She and the others honored concede there are some questions they aren’t able to answer. “But that’s OK,” she said. “We’re taught that you don’t have to know the answers; you just have to know how to look them up.”

Becky Stinson has noticed a gradual evolution of the program’s philosophy in her 21 years as a Master Gardener. At the beginning, her questions about organic pest controls were met with blank stares or hostile glares. “There was a lot of resistance to the idea of organic gardening,” she said. When she took a refresher course in 1997, however, Stinson said she was “thrilled to see the word ‘organic’ used in positive way, and they were actually talking about integrated pest management. Now, using toxic pesticides is only cited as a last resort.”

Mary Fran Fryer took the Master Gardener training in Oregon in 1985. She said the most common challenge that gardeners face is “not having a clue if their plant problem is an insect or a disease or a cultural problem.” She remembered a person who called asking how he could “reattach” a zucchini he’d accidentally clipped off the vine. “It makes you realize that some people really don’t know much about how plants grow.”

Fryer also said she’s gained much more than gardening information from being a Master Gardener. “I just think gardeners are really great people,” she said. “They don’t mind getting dirt under their fingernails, and they love sharing, whether it’s plants or information. I have really enjoyed that.”

More information about the Master Gardener program, which was founded in Washington state, is available at http://mastergardener.wsu.edu/ .