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Mastering the desert

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Posted: Saturday, March 18, 2006 6:02 am | Updated: 5:03 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Responsible desert gardening doesn’t have to be a grim gravel-scape.

Purple fountain grass, Mexican sage and silver leaf cassia all add color to a yard while preserving our most important natural resource — water.

Real Gardens for Real People, a tour of six master gardener landscapes in north Scottsdale and Cave Creek on March 25, will highlight techniques and plants with positive environmental impact that also supply color and texture.

“The tour is meant to teach people how to garden responsibly in the desert,” says Jo Cook, urban horticulture program coordinator for the University of Arizona Maricopa County Cooperative Extension office. It also helps financially support the master gardener program offered through the extension office since 1980.

“Originally, the purpose of the master gardener program was to help county agents communicate (agricultural) research to the public,” says Cook. A master gardener in Arizona completes a University of Arizona Maricopa County Cooperative Extension specialized course in gardening in the low desert. That person then provides educational leadership to the community in home gardening and landscaping.

Between 100 and 200 Arizonans become master gardeners each year. Cook says the program doesn’t necessarily attract individuals with a great knowledge of gardening. But all do seem to be passionate about making their landscaping work.

“We have had people who are master gardeners in other states who want to know how to grow things here,” says Cook. But they’ve also had people with no gardening experience who need to learn the basics.

Master gardener certification is an intensive 17-week program. Participants meet weekly for three hours at extension headquarters, 4341 E. Broadway Road, Phoenix. Program topics include soil, water use, plant identification and diseases. Specific plants — cactuses, succulents, vegetables, herbs — are addressed. The nitty-gritty of growing citrus is also taught by University of Arizona faculty.

The cost to take the program is $275. Once a participant receives certification, there are 50 hours of volunteer work required the first year and 20 hours each subsequent year. The next program begins in January. To learn more, contact Cook at the the Maricopa County Cooperative Extension office, (602) 470-8086, Ext. 311, or visit http://ag.arizona.edu/maricopa/ garden/.

If you go

What: Real Gardens for Real People, fifth annual master gardener garden tour

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 25

Where: North Scottsdale/Cave Creek area

Tickets: $15, visit www.maricopamaster gardener.org for locations

Information: (602) 470-1556, Ext. 1017

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