Peg Conley wouldn’t enjoy going to the gym to pedal a machine.
She doesn’t recline in a hammock to relax, nor does she find the Internet particularly entertaining. Instead, she gardens.
For the last 34 years, Conley has participated in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension’s Master Gardener program, which she credits for supplementing her green thumb.
“Gardening is enjoyable, relaxing and wonderful therapy,” she said, “And I’ve learned a lot.”
The program, which started in 1979, aims to provide volunteers with horticultural information they can then share with other Nebraska residents.
“Master Gardeners are all about learning,” Program Coordinator Kathleen Cue said. “If you enjoy gardening, you could always join a gardening club, but Master Gardeners like the connection to research-based education.”
The 25 applicants accepted each year are required to pass a test after attending a 48-hour, eight-week training program in February and March, as well as attend a plant clinic in the spring.
“The 50 hours covers the gamut of horticulture in the two-county area,” Cue said.
Aside from training, interns receive a Master Gardener Handbook, a name badge, T-shirt and monthly newsletter for a one-time fee of $205.
To retain certification, Cue said Master Gardeners must volunteer at least 40 hours, attend 15 hours of continuing education and pay $10 a year.
“People are more in tune with fresh and local food,” Cue said. “If they don’t garden, they at least want to know what to look for.”
Conley said volunteer activities include staffing “Ask a Master Gardener” tables at business fairs and school programs and answering phone calls through the program’s Horticulture Helpline.
“It makes you feel good to help someone else,” she said. “To hear their relief as we help them solve their own yard.”
Applicants this year must attend one of two mandatory informational meeting in November to qualify for the 2014 program.
The first meeting, scheduled Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., will be held at the UNL Douglas/Sarpy Extension central office at 8015 West Center Road in Omaha. The second will be held Nov. 7 at 1 p.m. at the Sump Memorial Library, 222 N. Jefferson in Papillion.
Conley said the staff at the Extension office is great to work with and makes being a Master Gardener fun.
“Everybody has their other life, but we all enjoy this one,” she said.