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Highland Lakes Master Gardeners teach, inspire, and cultivate

Highland Lakes Master Gardeners

Diana Castello (left) and Donna Milliron pluck radishes that survived the extreme freezing temperatures in February. Both are members of the Highland Lakes Master Gardener Association. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

Master Gardeners do more than grow gardens; they grow gardeners. They also grow produce for local food pantries, recruiting and training volunteers to help feed the community and themselves.  

The Highland Lakes Master Gardener Association, which has been active in the area since 1998, plants and maintains two food pantry gardens: The Garden Powered by Highland Lakes Master Gardeners at Trinity Episcopal Church in Marble Falls and The King’s Garden in Kingsland. They soon will start a third food pantry garden in Lampasas. 

“And that’s just a part of what the Master Gardeners are about,” said Suzy Rowley, the Trinity garden coordinator. “It’s also about the camaraderie and enjoying time with others who enjoy gardening.”

Chapter President Carolyn Stephens agreed that the garden group’s projects are a great service to the community. Along with the two food pantry gardens, the association also assists in the Burnet Middle School greenhouse, organizes the Burnet Farmers and Crafts Market, manages the annual Hill Country Lawn and Garden Show (when not canceled due to the pandemic), works in the Oaks Nursing Center courtyard garden, and more.

The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree for some of the association’s 120-plus members. 

“My grandmother was a gardener and enjoyed growing flowers,” Stephens said. “She was always involved in county Extension (Service) projects before there was a Master Gardener program here.”

A Burnet County native who spent most of her adult life elsewhere, Stephens returned to her hometown about nine years ago. That’s when she became a certified Master Gardener with the association, inspired by yet another family member.

“My daughter-in-law joined the Master Gardeners and was having so much fun, and I wanted to be a part of it,” Stephens said. “It’s a great organization. I’ve learned so much through it and made great friends.”

Becoming a certified Master Gardener requires a multi-week, in-depth course with lessons on a wide variety of gardening and horticulture topics. Once a person completes the course, they must maintain regular volunteer hours throughout the year to keep their certification.

This is where Master Gardeners really shine: sharing their gardening knowledge with others. Actually, that’s how the program first took root. Two professors in the Washington State University Extension began radio and TV broadcasts to answer the countless gardening questions people kept asking. One of them came up with the idea of training volunteers to teach others about gardening. They named their program Master Gardeners from the German term gartenmeister.

The Master Gardener program came to Texas in 1978. The first class was held the following year in Montgomery County. They soon sprouted across Texas educating the public.

“We have a common goal in that we love to garden and we want to help other people learn to garden as well,” Stephens said.

Rowley is especially looking forward to the end of the pandemic when the group can again host public classes and programs. 

“We have so much we can share and want to share with people,” she said. “I think we all learn something every time we show up here (at the gardens).”

Volunteers are always welcome at the Trinity garden, which provides produce for The Helping Center of Marble Falls, and The King’s Garden, which supports the Sharing the Harvest food pantry in Kingsland.

For people interested in digging deeper into the Master Gardeners, the Highland Lakes organization is hosting a 10-week training program that starts June 7 and costs $165. Classes will meet 10 a.m-2 p.m. Mondays at the Texas AgriLife Extension Office, 607 N. Vandeveer in Burnet. Email Gail Eltgroth at for more information or to register.

For more gardening stories and expert advice, visit the Highland Lakes Lawn and Garden Guide at