By Jason McDonald, Owner of FiLoLi Tea Farm
Universities are a GREAT way to begin your research, but don’t forget there are people around you that are just as interested (and sometimes more interested) as universities about the research of botany, horticulture, and Camellia Sinensis. I have met some backyard gardeners that are as equipped, or better equipped than any university could ever be for their backyard hobby. They can also tell you how to “research” Camellia Sinensis on a budget, which most of us are on.
Mississippi State has a Master Gardener Program, as do most states. There is also a link on eXtension.org to their Master Gardener Program in the “about” section that links you to all local Master Gardener programs.
MSUCares.com states, “The Master Gardener Volunteer program is a great way to gain horticultural expertise at a low cost, meet other avid gardeners, share gardening experiences, get connected to the community, and belong to a well-respected and educational organization.”
There are also various groups in most states that make for GREAT ways to meet other gardeners and horticulturalists:
My good friend, Buddy Lee, developer of Encore Azaleas, and a lifetime tea enthusiast, actually came into my life at a Mississippi Master Gardener State Conference here in Brookhaven, MS. If I had not taken the steps to be a part of a group of gardeners, I would have never found my very good friend. We were perfect strangers and became friends (as tea usually does join people) at the conference. I was not there to promote or research tea, I was there sharing my story as a gardener and we found each other.
Buddy knows how to grow plants. I, unfortunately, am no expert in plant cuttings nor am I an expert in propagation of any kind. Buddy has taken the time to show me how to ramp up production, how to take cuttings, how to germinate tea seed, and many other valuable lessons in tea growing. I am very blessed to have Nigel Melican as my technical consultant and Buddy Lee as my friend.
If we get so tied up in our bushes that we don’t find time to network among people outside the tea world, we will forget that tea is best when served for two…or more! Go out and meet some folks as you never know when you will meet someone who will change your life and share your passion for tea.