Master Gardener creator remembered for volunteer program

URBANA, Ill. – The man responsible for the creation of the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener program has died. Floyd Giles, former Extension horticulture specialist, leaves a vibrant horticulture program that has evolved the past 45 years.

Since its creation in 1972, the program has rapidly grown in popularity, and each state has developed extensive training curriculum specific to local climate, soils, and vegetation. The Master Gardener program in Illinois began in 1975 under Giles' direction. It began in the urban counties of Northern Illinois, and today includes 2,719 active volunteers who provide instruction and advice around the state. 

"Extension horticulture programs would not be as significant without Floyd Giles and this innovative approach to education," says Kelly Allsup, Extension horticulture educator. "Master Gardeners remain relevant to the community."

The program began with 15 Will County volunteers personally trained by Giles after he learned of the unique Washington State train-the-trainer program. He developed the volunteer program to help answer the gardening questions he was fielding from the public. University of Illinois specialists trained the volunteers who then helped at offices, libraries, and fairs. 

"Without the success of the Master Gardener program, I would most likely not have a job teaching horticulture for Illinois Extension," Allsup says. "Floyd paved the way of success for me and my colleagues.”  

Today, the program reaches nearly all Illinois counties and includes volunteers from farms, small towns, suburbs, and cities. Volunteers contribute to community educational garden projects at schools, hospitals, and libraries. In 2019, they answered 28,510 homeowner questions.

"Master Gardeners not only provide an invaluable service to their community, but they create a diverse volunteer force,“ Allsup says. Illinois Extension brings university resources and expertise to the people of the state.

"The Master Gardener program helped get support from county boards because these volunteers were not only interested in educational resources, but they also became representatives of the Illinois Extension programs and advocated for them in their own communities,” says David Williams, Illinois professor emeritus. “Floyd taught landscape design at every Master Gardener training classes for over 20 years, and when it came time for the volunteers to graduate, he traveled all over the state to attend their graduation and shake their hand. Every master gardener volunteer at that time knew Floyd Giles and were grateful for the opportunity he provided to learn more."

Allsup says, "Today's Master Gardeners may only know Floyd by the illustrations he created for the training manuals, but nearly all share his passion about horticulture and the program he began that allowed us to share in his passion."

SOURCE: Kelly Allsup, Horticulture Educator, Illinois Extension

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