From 1975 to 1977 Mrs. George (Miriam) Petrides served as president of the Federated Garden Clubs of Michigan, Inc. It was Miriam’s very strong conviction that since horticulture was the bedrock of our organization it deserved its own school not only in Michigan but nationally. Miriam herself was an accomplished gardener and pursued her hobby avidly. She felt that the horticulture portion of NGC Flower Show School (FSS) with its emphasis on judging was inadequate for the needs of the serious gardener. Miriam’s husband, George, was a distinguished professor of zoology at Michigan State University, an author and an enthusiastic gardener himself. With his encouragement Miriam approached Dr. Robert Carlson , Department of Horticulture at MSU, for professional help in developing her dream. Dr. Carlson recognized Miriam’s idea as a rich potential for reaching vast numbers of hobbyists interested in studying ornamental horticulture on a sub-professional level and a partnership was formed.
Mrs. Paul (Peggy) Dunn from Canton, Michigan was a much sought after no-nonsense instructor of horticulture in National Council’s FSS. Peggy also was an accomplished gardener and her teaching prowess sprang not only from study of the literature but also from practical experience. Peggy became an invaluable part of the Petrides/Carlson team.
The school was designed with four 2-day sessions each to be followed with a written exam. Subject matter covered the range of gardening concern from basic botany, to soil preparation and it’s structure, to selection of appropriate plant material to accommodate site, weather et al, disease and pest control, pruning, fertilization – all of these things not only with “do this” instruction, but “why we do this” understanding. Organizationally the school was set up very much on the FSS plan.
Once the school had taken form, Miriam, with great excitement, presented it to the Executive Committee of NGC for adoption as a national program. NGC president Jessie (Mrs. Vernon) Conner, from Florida, enthusiastically supported the proposal and in 1977 it was adopted as National Council’s third official school. Caroline Gray became president of the Federated Garden Clubs of Michigan in 1977 and they held their first Gardening Study School, as it was named, in 1978. The Master Gardener program arrived on the scene much later under the auspices of the MSU Horticulture Department. Since our successful gardening study program originated in part from the same roots, their similarity is understandable.
Despite tweaks and procedural changes over the years (many of which have been designed to achieve consistencies among GSS, Landscape Design Schools and Environmental Studies Schools), the blossoms of the Gardening Study Schools of today look very similar to that first school. Congratulations and thanks to all those pioneers, especially those from Michigan, who gave us this school. Congratulations and thanks to all the states who have conducted schools. Let us all continue to nurture this program so that it may provide useful information and build the enthusiasm of current and future generations of gardeners. ~Greg Pokorski (used with permission)