I Did It!


Happy New Year! I’m not much of a “resolution maker”. Instead of looking at what needs “fixing”, I reflect on what was great or what was accomplished. I do keep a “bucket list” – adding and crossing off as I go through this adventure called life.  2015 was wonderful, and I’m thrilled I completed something I wanted to for a very long time: becoming a Certified Master Gardener!


“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”

~ Audrey Hepburn

I began gardening at age seven, when my dad and I planted our first veggie garden in Houston, Texas. In the early 70’s, I was also my dad’s “helper” when we planted pine tree seedlings along the fence line of my dad’s ranch in the Texas hill country. Those trees are still there, sky-high and thriving. From then on, I was hooked on all things gardening!

I am always so happy in my garden and flower beds.

I am always so happy in my garden and flower beds.

Relocating to Connecticut over twenty years ago, I had to learn planting in a completely different zone with a totally different climate, adapting my gardening and choice of plantings to suit the area. (Master Gardeners have a great mantra: “Right plant, right place” – best garden advice ever)! For years I’ve admired a nearby home with its beautiful yard and garden, belonging to a Master Gardener, and my father and I long talked about how wonderful it’d be to have Master Gardener training. I decided finally not to talk about it anymore, but to do it.

Started in 1972, Master Gardener programs are offered throughout the country at county Cooperative Extension Centers through land grant universities. Interns in the program are trained in the science of gardening and horticulture; in return, they become volunteers – passing what is learned to the public. Programs emphasize doing the “right thing”, and the education is research proven. The amount of time to complete the course varies, but Connecticut requires one of the longest amount of hours, and is very environmentally focused. According to Julia Cencebaugh, Master Gardener Program Coordinator, Fairfield County Extension, there are around 100 Connecticut Master Gardener Interns each year. The course is offered through the University of Connecticut County Extension near me every two years. I excitedly filled out the application and in December 2014, learned I’d been accepted to the program. I couldn’t wait for January!

Once a week for four months, January to April, the 2015 Master Gardener Interns would take an all-day class. Each week’s class was a different subject: topics like botany, plant pathology, entomology, IPM and more. I’d go home at the end of the day, tired but exhilarated by what we learned – joking after each class that my brain had a new wrinkle! I couldn’t wait for planting season to put what I learned to use! It was a long, cold winter; those gardening classes made the cold season fly by.


We interns were all different ages and backgrounds, but shared a common interest and goal. In addition to classes, we took a written midterm exam, and a diagnostic final, where we had to identify the plant and/or the problem. I was so nervous – I hadn’t taken a test in decades!

We also had to complete a “TSV” – tree, shrub, vine project, and were given a list of plant specimens to find and research. For nine months, I snipped, dried and stayed up past my family’s bedtime pasting specimens, researching and typing. At first I was intimidated by the project, but soon enjoyed it. I learned more than I could’ve imagined!

My TSV is thick! It's a helpful reference and a  treasured souvenir.

My TSV binder is thick! It’s now a helpful reference and a treasured souvenir of my year.

A page from my project showing forsythia.

A page from my project showing forsythia.

It wasn’t easy because I had other commitments, as well. I blog, I’m a Scout leader, I teach classes; I have a husband and daughter, we’ve pets and chickens to care for and a home to maintain. I have my own garden, as well. But this was something I wanted to do; I was determined to see it through.


I was amazed how much I didn’t know, learning universal Latin plant names, and noticing details like leaf galls or insect damage. A new world was opening up as I spied plants, leaves and bugs everywhere. It was fascinating. I relished learning about my areas’ trees, something I didn’t have much knowledge of. (Before, all evergreens were “Christmas trees”). Now I know what different trees are, how to care for them, and to watch for signs of disease. This serves me well, since our property is partially wooded.

A Tsuga specimen with Hemlock Wooly Adelgid

A Tsuga specimen with Hemlock Wooly Adelgid



Before graduation, each intern must complete sixty hours of service, thirty volunteering in the office and thirty volunteering for an outreach project. I enjoyed the office hours. My mentors were amazing teachers!  It was exciting being able to answer questions on plant issues for clients, or acting as a sleuth – identifying a “mystery”  plant brought in.

Proud to wear that apron! I logged in about 75 hours this year, but there are MG's who have hundreds of hours of service under their belts!

Proud to wear that apron! I logged in about 75 hours this year, but there are MG’s who have hundreds (even 1000!) of hours of service under their belts!

For my other hours, I chose to work in the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden (http://www.fairfieldcountydemonstrationgarden.com/) right on the Extension property. Designed in 2013 by a dedicated group of Master Gardeners, the garden is the crown jewel of the extension center. We learned so much from each other; the garden is beautiful and inspiring to everyone who sees it. All  food harvested goes to local food banks. I look forward to volunteering there again.

A panoramic of the garden early in the season.

A panoramic of the garden early in the season.

Another view of the Demo Garden

Another view of the Demo Garden

Radishes peeking out...

Radishes peeking out…

And beautiful lettuce.

And beautiful lettuce.

A monarch visits one of the Demo Garden's flowers.

A monarch visits one of the Demo Garden’s flowers.

One day's harvest to be donated. A real sense of community is felt in the demonstration garden.

One day’s harvest to be donated. A real sense of community is felt in the Demonstration Garden, growing all-organic produce. The garden is the result of many volunteers putting in a lot of hard work!

In late October, we graduated. I’m proud of the hard work, cherishing the camaraderie I found in my fellow  Master Gardeners.

Graduation Day!

Graduation Day!

I was soooo happy!

I was soooo happy!

Master Gardeners have varied garden interests, and are trained to help others with things plant-related. With gardening one can never know everything – there’s always something new to learn and share. I might not know the answer immediately, but I know how to find the correct one. In 2009, there were 95,000 active Master Gardeners nationwide. Got a plant-related question? Call your local Extension and speak to a Master Gardener. They’ve worked hard to be able to help!

Wishing you a Happy New Year (and happy seed-catalog browsing – ’tis the season to find them in our mailboxes)!


Until Next Time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  1. deb says:

    Yay for you!!!

  2. Susana says:

    Enjoyed the blog and thanks for the links.lovely blog. I enjoyed the pictures. Susana

  3. Dori Troutman says:


    Such an awesome accomplishment. It sounds to me like your class was absolutely amazing. The things you learned… not just “book work” but actual real life experiences are incredible. Good job! I would’ve been grinning ear to ear getting that certificate too! I love that picture of you – it’s perfect!

    – Dori –

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Awe…thanks, Dori. The class was amazing. I hold all of the instructors in such high esteem. They are amazing individuals with so much knowledge and expertise. It was hard work, but anything worth doing is not easy. I just wish where I live had a longer growing season…though winter gives us some “downtime” too! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  4. Krista says:

    Congrats on completing one your bucket list dreams! That is so awesome! I hope the 2016 year will bring you much joy in your Master Gardening adventures!

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Krista! Thank you! I am so excited for spring to arrive this year. Last year, my personal garden was a wee bit behind because I had so much on my plate. I also look forward to returning to the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden and working with all the amazing people I met there. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  5. Margie Myatt says:

    Great big congratulations Nicole! I have a friend in East Texas who is enrolled in the Master gardener program through Texas A & M at this time and my sister in Massachusetts is talking about her desire to enroll in the program. My friend is a teacher and told me she thought it would be manageable as she is very organized and experienced from years of teaching. She said she was shocked how rigorous the training and studying is. What a wonderful accomplishment!

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Margie! Thank you so much…it is rigorous but tell your friend to hang in there. It is so worth doing! I am still amazed at just how much I learned, even though I have been planting and gardening just about my entire life. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  6. Beverly Battaglia says:

    I am so proud of you, Nicole! At graduation you look so happy like you might cry! This blog is so informative and beautiful pictures! I cannot believe how thick your binder is!
    I like the quote from Audrey Hepburn. I guess that is why my mother loved growing her roses. So glad you were determined to do this. Your garden is so pretty with you standing in it. What a gorgeous tomato too!
    Miss and love you,

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Mama, Boy do I remember Shug’s roses! I ever see a rose without thinking of her. That tomato is an heirloom variety I grew. They are so tasty, we eat them with just salt and pepper! Yum! When you come visit, I’ll show you my binder. I am very proud of it. Miss you! Love you! ~Nicole

  7. Joan says:

    Our local garden club has several MG’s, they are so very helpful. Especially were when I first moved to the area – it was just being established but they all had lived in the Black Forest for many years so they knew this crazy weather we have. I am pleased for you to have done all the work to be called Master Gardener. God bless.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Joan, That is wonderful that you had Master Gardeners to go to when you moved! I myself called our local extension a few times because I wasn’t sure of something when we moved here, as well. Thanks for “stopping by” the blog! Happy New Year, Farmsister. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  8. Adrienne says:

    Congratulations on your well-deserved honor! This reader among others is very proud of you.

  9. Marilyn Collins says:

    Congratulations on your accomplishment. Wishing you and yours a Happy,Healthy new Year full of blessings and a blooming garden,too!

  10. Alicia Razvi says:

    I just became a Master Gardener too! What a wonderful experience it was. I am so happy to know you also made this accomplishment and loved reading about your journey from intern to Certified!

  11. Joan H says:

    Nicole- WOW! I’m so impressed! I love the whole Master Gardener idea but I know I’m not ready for such a challenge. I always have tons of questions when I walk around my garden! Huge congratulations for your commitment and your accomplishment!

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Joan! Thanks! When you are ready, you should look into the program in your area. If you are passionate about gardening, it is so rewarding! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  12. Diane says:

    CONGRATS on your awesome accomplishment! My thumb is far from being green but I do envy people that have a love for gardening! Maybe Spring will come early for us here in the Northeast this year, we have been very lucky, and you can get out there earlier! Wishful thinking and fingers crossed! 🙂

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Thanks, Diane! I wonder, too, if we will get an early spring…December certainly feels like it was spring-like! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  13. Judy Mac says:

    I’m not a gardener at all, just an admirer of gardens. Lucky for me my husband enjoys gardens, but I digress. I wanted to send along my congrats and admiration to you for having so much dedication. The world needs more selfless people like you, people willing to put the time in to make the world a better place. Your community is certainly lucky to have you.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Wow, Judy. You’ve rendered me speechless. Thank you so very, very much, from the bottom of my heart. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  14. Debbie says:

    Congrats Nicole! I’m so happy for you. It’s such a good feeling to accomplish something you’ve been longing to do for years. Sometimes a girl just has to do what a girl has to do, despite all other obligations and commitments. I’d sure love to flip through your binder. It looks amazing! Thanks for sharing your accomplishment and the importance of master gardeners everywhere.
    Happy New Year!
    Deb ( Beach Farmgirl )

  15. Rosemarie says:

    Congratulations on obtaining your Certification as a Master Gardener! Your garden is so beautiful – truly a labor of love and dedication!! I am so proud of you to have found and completed one of your aspirations in this Life. Please offer your services to the town of Newtown to assist in making the town’s gardens a lovely place.
    You are an inspiration to all women! If they work hard and follow their interests and path in life, they can achieve anything and everything!
    Your daughter, Audrey, must be very proud of her mother!

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Thanks so very much! The hardest part of gardening now for me is making the time. There is so much I want to do! As I write this, we are getting a snowstorm, but soon we will be back in the garden! Thanks again for such wonderful words. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

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