In case you haven’t heard, I’m your new Texas A&M AgriLife county Extension agent in horticulture for Smith County. Although I served as a county horticulturist years ago in Bexar County and Cherokee County, I’ve spent the last decade working for SFA Gardens at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches.
The Smith County AgriLife Extension job is really a homecoming for me for several reasons. First, I was born in Tyler when my dad was the band director in nearby Troup. Second, I graduated with degrees in floriculture and horticulture from Texas A&M University. And finally, my first jobs out of college were for what was then known as the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, first as the Extension assistant in horticulture at the state office at Texas A&M where mentor Dr. William C. Welch took me under his wing, then as the assistant to the county horticulturist in the Dallas County Extension office, then finally as the Bexar County horticulturist in San Antonio where I had the privilege of training under Extension specialist extraordinaire Dr. Jerry Parsons.
One of my main job responsibilities here is coordinating the Smith County Master Gardeners. The purpose of the Master Gardener program is to extend the ability of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service to provide educational programs to the public in the areas of horticulture and gardening through the use of certified volunteer Master Gardeners.
I was born to garden. After all, I was keeper of the terrarium in Miss Mozelle’s first-grade class at Mozelle Johnston Elementary School in Longview, the town where I was raised. In addition to being an outstanding teacher, Miss Mozelle was an outstanding gardener and shared both tips and plants with me. In fourth grade, after reading a small paperback book about George Washington Carver, I decided that I wanted to be a horticulturist. Actually, I remember wanting to be a horticulturist, an artist or a chef. The beauty of horticulture is that it includes all three; for horticulture is half science and half art and we get to eat what we grow!
I also love to write. My first several writing jobs were for the Texas State Horticulture Society some 30 years ago. Next was a garden column for the San Antonio Express News. Then came regular articles for Neil Sperry’s Gardens magazine and then the “In Greg’s Garden” column for Texas Gardener magazine, which I have written for 15 years. I also write a monthly blog, “Greg’s Ramblings,” at arborgate.com, and maintain an educational Facebook page under the name Greg Grant Gardens.
I’ve also written a number of gardening books, including “Texas Home Landscaping”; “In Greg’s Garden, a Pineywoods Perspective on Gardening, Nature, and Family”; “Texas Fruit and Vegetable Gardening”; and “Heirloom Gardening in the South” with Dr. Welch. He and I also co-wrote “The Rose Rustlers” for Texas A&M Press, which is due out in 2017.
Roses are another reason I belong in Tyler. In addition to being born in the “Rose Capital of the World,” I was an early member of the “Texas Rose Rustlers” and worked at the famed Antique Rose Emporium in Independence when it was a brand-new business. Roses, bulbs and other Texas-tough heirlooms are among my favorite plants because of both their history and their environmental friendliness. I love to garden more than anything on the planet, but I prefer to do it without an excess of pesticide and irrigation.
I learned much of what I know about gardening through schooling and reading, but I learned even more by observing and doing. If you, too, would like to learn more about gardening, you may want to consider becoming a certified Master Gardener. We are currently seeking persons who have some basic experience, skills or knowledge in home gardening, ornamental horticulture or vegetable gardening and will volunteer to provide educational information to the public by telephone, personal contact and group programs.
A Master Gardener is required to participate in a 10-week training period covering gardening and horticultural science, and is expected to attend all trainings. Following the training and examination, interns must provide a minimum of 72 hours of Master Gardener volunteer services in Smith County during the next 12 months.
Cost of the training is $150. Lectures begin Jan. 5 and continue every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon through March 14. Most classes are from 1 to 5 p.m. If the Master Gardening training and certification are something that interest you, an application and more information is available at the county Extension office in the Cotton Belt Building, 1517 W. Front St. We ask all applicants to attend an orientation meeting on Nov. 15. Call our office at 903-590-2980 for more information.
-- I will speak at the Antique Rose Emporium’s Fall Festival this weekend. For more information, go to antiqueroseemporium.com.
-- Our East Texas Lecture Series continues at 9 a.m. Nov. 5 at the Rose Garden Rose Room, featuring Dr. Jared Barnes from Stephen F. Austin State University on “Foodscaping with Incredible Edibles.”
Cost is $15 at the door, and includes free heirloom lettuce seed, Texas Gardener magazine and chance at a door prize. Call 903-590-2980 for more information.