Penn State Extension Master Gardeners to host international conference

Amy Duke
May 21, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Master gardeners from around the globe will convene at the Valley Forge Casino Resort in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, June 17-21, as the Penn State Extension Master Gardeners host the International Master Gardener Conference, a biennial gathering that has been celebrating sustainable horticulture and environmental stewardship since its inception in 1987.

“This is the first time our state is hosting the conference, and we are incredibly excited,” said Nancy Knauss, state master gardener coordinator, about the event, which will focus on the theme, “Penn’s Woods: Digging into Our Roots.”

David Gibby, former area extension agent for Washington State University, will be among the keynote speakers. He founded the first Master Gardener program in 1972 to address the needs of backyard gardeners. Today, there are approximately 95,000 master gardeners in all 50 states, South Korea and several Canadian provinces. In Pennsylvania, there are 3,165 master gardener volunteers.

MG International Conference
IMAGE: Master Gardeners

Gibby will be joined by Julie Messervy, an award-wining landscape designer who will speak on landscaping ideas that work, and Kirk Brown, performance artist and historian, who will portray John Bartram, who is known in plant circles as the “Father of American Botany.” Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding also will address attendees during the conference.

Knauss noted that the planning committee has worked diligently to provide meaningful programming and networking opportunities, including classes and breakout sessions on topics such as insect and disease problems in trees and shrubs, urban agriculture and stormwater management, tree pruning, companion planting, bee nutritional ecology, and diagnosing vegetable diseases, among many others.

Field visits will focus on showcasing the history and horticulture of Philadelphia and the surrounding region. Planned tours will take participants to Chanticleer, the Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College, Morris Arboretum, Longwood Gardens, Mt. Cuba Center, Winterthur, urban gardens of Philadelphia, and Penn State’s Southeast Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

“We have been purposeful in building our theme around the rich history of our state, with an emphasis on horticulture,” Knauss said. “To add to the festivities, Pennsylvania master gardeners are designing kites that will feature interesting pieces of history or culture from across the state.”

Among those attending will be Sian Tyrrell, head of horticultural information and advice at the Royal Horticultural Society in Wisley in the English county of Surrey, south of London. She, along with colleague and horticultural expert Leigh Hunt, will offer guests a “pictorial tour” of the society’s gardens.

“The United Kingdom doesn’t have anything like a Master Gardener program, but at the Royal Horticultural Society, we run the gardening-advice service, which has many of the same aims around encouraging and supporting horticulture in communities,” Tyrrell said.

She added that they are looking forward to making new friends at the conference, hearing about their experiences and exploring what the Master Gardener program in the United States has to offer. “I’ll be writing a paper upon our return about what we might be able to adopt, so I’m looking for lots of personal stories and actionable ideas from the master gardeners.”

The conference will culminate with the Search for Excellence Awards ceremony, which highlights exemplary projects that show significant learning by the master gardeners or the public, according to Knauss. Awards will be presented in seven categories: Community Service, Demonstration Gardens, Innovative Projects, Research, Special Needs Audiences, Workshops or Presentations, and Youth.

“We are eager to welcome more than 1,000 master gardeners to our state,” said Deb Soutar, conference co-chair and Penn State Extension Master Gardener. “After several days of learning, networking, visits to area gardens and fun, we hope master gardeners will take home lasting memories and have a deeper appreciation of Pennsylvania’s contributions to the roots of horticulture in America.”

The Penn State Extension Master Gardener volunteer program supports the outreach mission of extension by utilizing unbiased, research-based information to educate the public on best practices in sustainable horticulture and environmental stewardship. More information can be found online at

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Last Updated May 21, 2019