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Project: Master Gardener Programme: Developing the Model

Master Gardener Programme: Developing the Model

  • Organisation: Garden Organic (formerly Henry Doubleday Research Association)

Project Blog

Helping communities grow – the impact of Master Gardener volunteers

Hundreds of Garden Organic volunteers have helped tens of thousands of people to benefit from growing food since we launched the Master Gardener Programme in April 2010.

In November 2013, we won the prestigious national ‘Education and Learning’ award from the BIG Lottery Fund’s Local Food Scheme – a £59.8 million national grant programme ( ). We were commended for ‘inspirational work to create a team of mentors who share knowledge across the board with support from an online network’.

We thoroughly appreciate the energy and commitment of every ‘Master Gardener’ mentor across the UK in our urban and rural networks. Each mentor has a flexible volunteer role to suit their lifestyle and interests. Each has expert support from their locally-based co-ordinator, together with bespoke resources and ongoing training.

Please click links for more




Health, social & environmental impact case studies

Start Master Gardener network


Volunteer achievements (spring 2010 – autumn 2013)

23,000 volunteer hours in eight urban and rural networks.

75% retention of 600 trained volunteers across England.

5,000 people now growing food in regularly mentored ‘households’. Includes individuals, families and community groups.

65,000 local residents supported at events, talks, estates and schools.

Coventry University’s independent evaluation shows wide ranging benefit for volunteers and households involved in the Master Gardener Programme for 12 months – and continued behavioural change after 36 months. Please see below.

Please click here for a table summary of impact

With many thanks

Philip Turvil Master Gardener Programme manager

Nov 13: New skills & knowledge at exciting training days for Master Gardeners

We’re delivering training days in November 2013 as part of Garden Organic’s unique support for our enthusiastic Master Gardeners

We want to develop the confidence of each volunteer network to find and mentor people to benefit from food growing.

We’re looking for as many volunteers as possible to join fellow growing mentors at their nearest training day.

As with all our ‘in-service’ training, the topics are based on requests by volunteers. We use expert tutors and practical activities.

Click here to read more about recent training.

Click here for a course details. See below for overview

These are exclusive courses for Garden Organic Master Gardeners.

  1. 9th Nov: Propagation – Cuttings, division and layering (North London). Come along to this unique workshop to learn the art of propagation. Followed by a session on your role as a Master Gardener.

  2. 9th Nov: A day of horticultural learning (Norfolk). Is your gooseberry a gooseberry? Would you like to double your thyme? Then discover the truth about The Tradescants…

  3. 23rd Nov: Propagation (Coventry and Warwickshire). Unique workshop to learn the art of propagation with a focus on fruit, herbs, and herbaceous vegetables. Then a session on winter indoor growing.

  4. 30th Nov: Solving problems and sharing skills (South London). Organic methods for pest and disease control, together with tricks for defeating disorders and remedying deficiencies. Followed by four talks by expert Master Gardeners.

Local Food projects have unique day of learning at Garden Organic's national conference

Co-ordinators from Local Food projects came together on the 28 September 2013 for Garden Organic's 'Shared Learning Exchange' visit.

The co-ordinators joined over 200 volunteers that had travelled from across England to gather at Ryton Gardens, near Coventry.

In total, the group included Local Food funded 'Master Gardeners', Master Gardeners from commissioned networks, Master Composters, Seed Stewards and other growing and composting mentors.

The Local Food projects met each other and leading experts to celebrate the role of volunteers helping families and communities to live more sustainably.

There was a series of themed workshops across the day with subject areas including community composting, wildlife gardening, soil science and fruit growing advice.

Find out more

Read more about the conference

See photos from the conference

Find out who won awards

Special moment

There was also a dedicated session (pictured) for Local Food projects with peer-to-peer support and troubleshooting. Selected quotes below.

“These projects are so important. It’s essential they get the promotion they deserve.” Pippa Green, GrowCookEat-Common work

“Sharing positive experiences and problems with diverse groups from around the country.” Caroline Brown, Somerset Community Food & Master Gardeners

“Improving links between people to provide greater feeling of belonging and doing a worthwhile job.” Anthony Proper, Forty Hall Community Vineyard

“Comforting to hear that many projects experience the same frustrations.” Lisa Agatha, Squash Nutrition & Project coordinator - Toxteth Produce.

“The talk by Chris Baines will stay with me the most. Then meeting co-conspirators from throughout the country.” John Horsfield, Moulsecoomb Forest Garden

“Estate to plate and events for St Mary’s Secret Garden.” Antoinette Stammers, Horticulture therapist/trainer

Session notes: shared, learnt and exchanged


Get people interested - use multiple methods to spread risk and speed up word of mouth, such as the internet, personal invites, and visit to spaces/groups where people gather…

Measure the right impact - number of participants, saving in food costs, happiness/life satisfaction, press mentions, events, social media interactions, testimonies from paying participants, etc. All stakeholders should dedicate the time for measuring.

Get the message out quickly to media - use template press releases to customise at short notice to distribute soon after there is a noteworthy story.


Involve local university- their talent, land, and research interests. Example Master Gardener case study:

Find committed co-ordinators - many willing people are already over committed - and it's too risky to depend on one person. While many willing people, that may be great volunteers, don't want to or don't have skills to become co-ordinators. Projects should commit enough time for expert and paid co-ordination.

Understand the necessity of scale - this provides a support network and adds value to funding bids, including links with smaller projects and partnerships. Advertise to gain momentum before committing.


Manage tension between growing activities with other project objectives, such as therapeutic return and project management. Stakeholders need to understand horticultural demands, while horticulturalists need to understand the requirements for publicity, therapeutic outputs, reporting, funding bids, etc. This is made more difficult by the tendency for some people or projects to over-promise and/or over deliver.

The management solution is good role/job design and monitoring/reacting to performance. This establishes boundaries and tools to manage priorities on a daily basis and long term. While this is difficult to add retrospectively, it is necessary for long term survival.

Next stages

The Local Food projects from Garden Organic’s conference are keeping in touch with shared notes and ongoing exchange of top tips for how to benefit communities with food growing.

Our thanks to Local Food for their generous support for this Share Learning Exchange visit.

Philip Turvil, Master Gardener Programme manager, Garden Organic

28 September 2013: Local Food invite to meet growing and compost mentors at Garden Organic’s unique national conference


We have FREE conference places for volunteer mentors and co-ordinators at projects supported by the Big Lottery fund’s Local Food Scheme

Share and learn with leading experts at Ryton Gardens, near Coventry, as we celebrate the role of volunteers helping families and communities to live more sustainably.

Take part in your choice of workshops and enjoy an organic lunch with likeminded people.

Personalise the conference to benefit your Local Food project

  1. Choose from educational workshops requested by volunteers on techniques that help people start and continue their engagement with food growing and eating.

Conference organiser David Garrett: “There’s not been a UK conference for volunteer mentors with such broad and practical topics. Thanks to the diversity of our charity’s educational projects, Garden Organic can offer the whole message, from horticulture and wild foraging, to dealing with waste and hen keeping.”

Guests include the experts Pauline Pears, Sally Cunningham, Andi Strachan, and Francis Rayns, together with the Community Composting Network, Black Environmental Network, HotBin, and partners from community networks from across the UK.

  1. Benefit your Local Food project with peer-to-peer support and troubleshooting during a dedicated session at this Garden Organic ‘Shared Learning Exchange’ visit.

Session facilitator and Master Gardener Programme manager, Philip Turvil: “The potential for long term support is enormous as we discuss launching and sustaining the impact of volunteer networks, especially with follow up partnerships.”

Booking your place today

Join the friendly atmosphere with lively discussion by over 200 expected Master Gardeners, Master Composters, Gardening Gurus and other enthusiasts that enjoy learning while inspiring practical action.

Please book by contacting co-ordinator Kate Newman:, 024 7621 7721, Garden Organic, Coventry, CV8 3LG.

Or book online and choose workshops using this link (opens a Google form):

We would like your contact details and conference preferences by the 16th September 2013 to personalise your day at Ryton Gardens.

The day includes all refreshments.


Conference places are kindly funded by the Big Lottery Fund's Local Food Scheme for the exchange of top tips between their projects (Shared Learning Exchange visit).

Conference places are subject to application with tickets issued on a first come, first served basis. Please await confirmation of your place by Garden Organic before making arrangements.

If fully booked, we're pleased that conference places are available at a reduced rate for Local Food projects at £52 for volunteers and £99 for co-ordinators.

Reviews from Garden Organic’s 2012 conference

“Very good choice of workshops. Too many good ones to pick!” “Very efficient organisation. Lovely happy atmosphere.” “Impressive control of weather!” “Boosted my self-esteem in the role. Really inspirational” “Thank you for the most brilliant and supportive day of education, resources and camaraderie.”

Click here for 2012 conference photos (links to our Flickr set)

Hosted at an award winning attraction

Ryton Gardens is set in the heart of England and combines 10 acres of gardens buzzing with wildlife, brimming with plants, bursting with flowers and abundant in fruit and vegetables. It has been home to the UK’s leading organic charity, Garden Organic, for over 25 years.

Please visit for for directions, access, and shopping.

Nominate for awards

The national awards for growing and compost mentors returns this year for entries from volunteers and the people they mentor from across the UK. Any person or organisation can enter a volunteer for a national award in categories for innovation, achievement, and group work.

Please request an entry form from Kate Newman on Phone 024 7621 7721.

Good to know

Local Food ( is a £59.8 million programme that distributes money from the Big Lottery Fund (BIG) to a variety of food-related projects to help make locally grown food accessible and affordable to communities. It was developed by a consortium of 17 national environmental organisations, and is managed by the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts (RSWT).

Garden Organic ( is the UK’s leading organic growing charity dedicated to promoting organic gardening in homes, communities and schools. Using innovation and inspiration, the charity aims to get more people growing in the most sustainable way.

The 2013 ‘National Volunteer Masters Conference’ is the sixth at Ryton Gardens to learn and share from volunteer mentors networks. Conference places for our Master Gardeners and Master Composters are part of their unique training package and available with support from our charity’s funding partners in each network.

Booking your place today

Join the friendly atmosphere with lively discussion by over 200 expected Master Gardeners, Master Composters, Gardening Gurus and other enthusiasts that enjoy learning while inspiring practical action.

Please book by contacting co-ordinator Kate Newman:, 024 7621 7721, Garden Organic, Coventry, CV8 3LG.

Or book online and choose workshops using this link (opens a Google form):

We would like your contact details and conference preferences by the 16th September 2013 to personalise your day at Ryton Gardens.

The day includes all refreshments.

With many thanks


Philip Turvil Project Manager, Master Gardener Programme Garden Organic, Coventry, CV8 3LG | Direct: 024 7621 7718 | |

Spotlight on Master Gardeners as Local Food audit Garden Organic

Grant officers from Local Food visited Garden Organic’s Ryton Gardens on the 14 August 2013 to audit the Master Gardener Programme.

This was a wonderful opportunity to look back, and look ahead since Local Food funded the pilot Master Gardener networks in spring 2010.

Hundreds of volunteer ‘Master Gardeners’ have now helped 50,000 people benefit from growing food in Warwickshire, Norfolk, North London and South London.

This pilot is one of Local Food’s ‘Beacon’ projects; part of their £59.8m scheme to distributes grants from the Big Lottery Fund to projects helping to make locally grown food accessible and affordable to communities.

What happened during the audit

Senior grants officer, Maria Marsden and grants administrator, Janet Lambert, met with Master Gardener Programme manager Philip Turvil and Warwickshire Master Gardener co-ordinator, Kate Newman.

Then lively Master Gardeners Stella, Keith, John, and Sandy kindly joined us for lunch to share their enthusiasm for the volunteer role and its impact on them and the people they mentor.

  1. We looked back – how the Master Gardener Programme has evolved with feedback from our lovely volunteers and expert team of co-ordinators.

  2. We looked at the now – celebrating and challenging methods for volunteer recruitment, training, support, monitoring, and resource.

  3. We looked to the future – discussing final grant allocations and plans to expand the Local Food networks and commissioned networks in Lincolnshire, Medway, Somerset, and HMP Rye Hill.

Senior grants officer, Maria Marsden said

“I was genuinely impressed with the time and investment spent on training your Master Gardeners and it obviously pays off as every Master Gardener I have met to date seems really passionate about what they do and happy in their role

“…the whole day made me confident that the Master Gardener Programme was Local Food money well spent!”

Master Gardener Programme manager Philip Turvil said

“The team at Local Food believe in their funded projects. This is invaluable.

"They have provided consistent support and confidence for Garden Organic to deliver the Master Gardener Programme with enthusiastic volunteers. This extends from the pilot Beacon funding to the additional grants to develop community impact and future commissions. Thank you."

Adding new seeds

Grants officer, Cate Brimblecombe-Clark also visited Anton Rosenfeld and Sally Cunningham at Garden Organic to audit the Local Food funded ‘Sowing New Seeds’ project.

This project has enabled allotment holders, schools and community groups in the Midlands to grow exotic crops not traditionally grown in the UK. An excellent innovation that is busy expanding.

Read more about the Sowing New Seeds project here

**Link to photos and further information*

Lights, camera, GROW! Master Gardeners filmed for Local Food award video

We were caught on film on Thursday 1 August at Ryton Gardens where Master Gardeners shared their views on the Garden Organic network of growing mentors.

The filming comes after the Master Gardener Programme was shortlisted for a national award.

We'll compete against two other projects from England for the chance to be named winners of the Education and Learning category in the Local Food Recognition Awards 2013.

Read more here:

Lights, camera, GROW

We answered intriguing questions on film to impress the judging panel (we hope) and for broadcast at Local Food's award ceremony on the 20 November 2013.

Our favourite questions

Tell us what is outstanding about your project.

Tell us why you think your project should win this particular award for Education & Learning

Give us an example of how this project has had an outstanding impact and/or changed the lives of the people in the community it serves

Do you have any particular message for the External Judging Panel?

Thank you to our Master Gardeners Alice, Anastasia, John, Sandy and Vicki.

Each bravely stood in the spotlight to share stories of how being a volunteer has made a difference to the people they mentor to grow food, and had an impact on them.

Thanks to Rick and Pete from the creative media agency, Fresh Cut.

Great ideas and enthusiasm. Click here to see their films:

And thanks Maria and Mark from Local Food

The £59.8m scheme that distributes grants from the Big Lottery Fund to projects helping to make locally grown food accessible and affordable to communities. Click here for more.


Record number of volunteer Master Gardeners helping people grow food

We’re delighted to welcome 144 new volunteer growing mentors after eight training weekends in spring 2013.

The co-ordination team at the national charity, Garden Organic carefully recruited enthusiastic Master Gardeners with an urge to share their food growing experience with local people and communities.

We now have seven mentor networks around the UK with hundreds of city and rural volunteers offering free advice and support for individuals, families, groups, and shared growing spaces.

What happens on a Master Gardener induction training weekend for new volunteers?

Please click on each network link below for photos and stories from spring 2013.

Somerset’s first Master Gardeners trained, March 2013

Coventry’s first Master Gardeners, March 2013

New Norfolk Master Gardeners, April 2013

New South London Master Gardeners, April 2013

New Coventry & Warwickshire Master Gardeners, April 2013

Medway’s first Master Gardeners, May 2013

New North London Master Gardeners, May 2013

New Lincolnshire Master Gardeners, June 2013

Visit our Gallery of Masters

Grow fruit and veg

Get in touch with us today if you would like to start growing your own food or grow more, from a lettuce on a balcony, to harvest festivals from raised beds in school grounds.

Find your nearest Master Gardener:

We don’t just teach our Master Gardeners the best way of growing, but teach them how to pass this information on to others in their community – to share their passion and experience so that everyone is learning from each other and feeling the benefits.

Garden Organic is showing that the initial challenges of growing your own food can be overcome. So if that first crop ends up slug eaten, rather than feel demoralised, people look for advice and support instead of giving up.

Read about the benefits of the Master Gardener Programme to volunteers and their mentees:

Not in your area?

Help us launch new Master Gardener networks in partnerships with local funding organisations with a health, social and/or environmental remit. Please click here for an overview.

Article by Philip Turvil

Future beacons - after our 'Local Food' funding


Garden Organic met with fellow 'Beacon' grant projects in April 2013 to plan ways to continue our education work after funding from the Big Lottery Fund's Local Food scheme.

I was joined by the South London Master Gardener co-ordinator, Fiona Law, where we met 20 delivery managers at a 'Shared Learning Exchange' visit.

Our two days were kindly hosted by Jacqueline Leach and her team at Commonwork in Kent ( ).

Two messages were clear.

1. Prove and promote impact

There was no shortage of belief in our work among the 20 enthusiasts, which included Local Food grant managers Mark Wheddon and Maria Marsden.

The challenge is turning the passion we share for sharing local food into persuasive evidence using a language for which funders can respond.

For instance, we learnt an array of imaginative ways to monitor education work at one or more locations. Recording our achievements (and failures) was termed critical for sustaining success - where time must be found to collate stories and output numbers, even when busy delivering.

Then evaluation. Who cares that more people grow and eat local food? Where's the testimony and independent voice showing outcomes beyond a radish? And how much does each intervention cost, compared with another (perhaps newer) idea, and compared for social return on investment?

Click here for Local Food's take on this 'so what' scenario with their 'More than just the veg' report (link opens PDF) ( )

Next for impact, is shouting. Swapping the quiet modesty of food growers for time dedicated to promotion, with mainstay and newer media. We need to wrap up the outputs and outcomes into the funding equivalent of a menu to tempt our target customers. Whether these diners are long term volunteers, retained skilled staff, councillors, colleges, housing managers, etc.

This leads to models, as below.

2. Marketable model that secure funders

The accompanying message is turning the promotion of impact into a service and/or product that customers can buy to help meet their remit.

For instance, public health authorities are commissioning Garden Organic to delivery bespoke Master Gardener networks to help meet obesity reduction targets through community activity. This is based on the following three thoughts.

  1. Our lively rural and city-dwelling volunteers share their wondrous methods to find and mentor people to grow veg for meal time. Volunteers benefit in equally diverse ways, and they engage with support from their local co-ordinator. Thank you.

  2. Confidence boost that the Master Gardener role does sustain positive 'behavioural change' for people taking part in the programme. This is stated by an independent evaluation by Coventry University showing health, social and environmental impacts for volunteers and their mentees. Further thanks. Promotion brochure and events are in preparation this summer.

  3. Commercial pricing for each part of a Master Gardener network where - based on precedent, Garden Organic can deliver similar achievements in another scenario or location. In particular, managed mentor network with training, resources, and celebration.

Each Beacon project is developing and marketing their own model to sustain and expand on their pilot funding. The odds are better than for business start-ups, but equal to an expanding business, for which preparation and opportunity will yield success.

Concluding thought

The April 2013 visit was the first time where Beacon projects - the largest Local Food grant holders, got together.

We exchanged ideas that work at comparable scale and available resources. Another visit is likely. Keeping in touch is definite.

Co-ordinator Fiona Law commented: "We could network and share experiences of working to promote food growing in a relaxed setting. Evidencing social return on investment and celebration of projects were main themes."

Read Fiona's full report here:

List of Beacon projects at the visit: Brighton and Hove Food Partnership; Commonwork; Global Generation; Growing Greenwich; Incredible Edible Food Hub; Learning through Landscapes; Sutton Community Farm

Visit notes by Caroline Schofield of Brighton Permaculture are available from Commonwork's report:

These notes form an extensive and practical record from the unique crowd of food growing champions.

Get involved

Garden Organic is hosting their own Shared Learning Exchange visit at our national volunteers conference on the 28 September 2013 at Ryton Gardens, Coventry.

We're inviting Local Food funded projects with a 'volunteer mentor' element to join the day for free. There will be practical training and networking with industry experts and fellow food growing champions.

Read about the 2012 conference here, where 200 Master Gardeners and Master Composters were sent to Coventry...

The 2013 conference programme is due soon. Please get in touch with me for further details about our funded places:

Places are limited.

Further information

Read Commonwork's report from the April 2013 Shared Learning Exchange' Beacon visit

Read blogs from Local Food Beacon projects

Read more about the future of the Master Gardener Programme


Local Food is a £59.8 million programme that distributes grants from the Big Lottery Fund to a variety of food-related projects that are helping to make locally grown food accessible and affordable to local communities. Visit

Photo courtesy of Commonwork. See more at this Dropbox link

Report by Master Gardener Programme manager, Philip Turvil, at

Exotic veg training with Anton for Garden Organic Master Gardeners

Dudi, lablab, calaloo, haloon, yard long beans, chana, mouse melon, cho cho, mooli, oca, West Indian thyme

Just some of the tender and exotic crops that over 100 Master Gardeners learned on their extra training days during February 2013.

Our volunteers were introduced to vegetables from a wide range of cultures including India, East Asia, Africa, South America and the Caribbean.

More detail

The training follows research by Dr Anton Rosenfeld in the Garden Organic project ‘Sowing New Seeds‘.

The team has worked with growers in the West Midlands and London to discover how crops that we may define as ‘exotic’ are possible to grow in the UK and indeed flourishing on allotments in the more multi-cultural cities and regions.

Our thanks to Anton for so many intriguing growing tips for our Master Gardeners to pass on to the families and communities they mentor to grow food.

Get involved

Keen to grow? Find your nearest Master Gardener for free food growing support:

Keen to volunteer? Become a Master Gardener in spring 2013:

Read about exotic groups here:

Local blogs

What’s that?! Exotic veg training for London Master Gardeners

Veg on the Edge in Norfolk

Cutting Edge Veg in Warwickshire – volunteer training

Thoughts from Master Gardeners

"Growing callaloo! I’m going to improve on my previous attempts using seeds I collected today."

"I will be raiding local Indian and Asian grocers for seed supplies and I really want my own lemongrass plant!"

"I’m inspired to experiment with chick peas, turmeric and lemongrass!"

"I love the thought that we are benefitting from the result of immigrants to this country bringing in their own vegetables, selecting those that grow best in this country and learning to grow them under British conditions, and perhaps giving us a head start in learning to adapt what we grow to different climatic conditions."

New co-ordinator for North London Master Gardeners

We’re delighted to welcome our new North London co-ordinator this week to recruit and support ‘Master Gardeners’.

This lively volunteer network mentors communities to benefit from growing their own food in Hackney, Islington, Haringey and Camden.

Nynke takes over from interim support by our co-ordinator in South London, Fiona. Thank you Fiona for your many moments.

And Nynke joins a team of co-ordinators with the national charity, Garden Organic. Each co-ordinator recruits, trains and activity supports Master Gardeners in a flexible volunteer role – and celebrates their achievements.

The details

Nynke is very enthusiastic!

She has designed, set up and managed volunteering and mentoring programmes for social entrepreneurs, young people, and employees of large city firms. And most recently, for a new community food kitchen in Stoke Newington.

Nynke is certified coach and loves supporting people to develop their confidence to follow new pursuits in life, whether that’s food growing or any other new passion.

In her words:

“I recently acquired my very own woodland garden in Hackney (a rare phenomenon) and am relishing the prospect of my first growing season and spending time experimenting in my new potting shed. The main dilemma though is what to try first?”

What’s coming next

Well, Nynke will be out and about in North London.

Contacting lovely Master Gardeners trained in 2010, 2011 and 2012 for a catch up about the role and exciting spring ideas (once the snow melts). Read case studies here:

Recruiting 20 new lively Master Gardeners for training on the 18 and 19 May 2013. Please click here to get involved.

Looking for funding partnerships to sustain and expand the impact of North London Master Gardeners for 2014 and beyond. Overview here.

Get in touch with Nynke Click here to email or phone:

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