Master Gardners Program

Educational Gardens

To deliver horticultural programs and factual information to the general public–that’s the mission of the Rutgers Master Gardeners of Camden County.

Located behind the Camden County Environmental Center on Park Boulevard, the garden is open to the public.  Like any garden, change is a constant.  We’re finishing our third year; we’ve a long way to go, and it’s so exciting!  Our plans for 2021 include more permanent structures, paths, and more educational programs for the public.  We’ll add more trees and shrubs to compliment the landscape.  We’re grateful for the support of New Jersey American Water, Camden NJ, and Camden County Parks Department.  We strive to make the optimum choices to promote use of native species, consider environmental benefits and potential harms, and use best management practices to encourage biodiversity and sustainable ecosystems.  Our goal is to inspire responsible gardening and land use management through education.  Includes pages for each phase of EdGar


The Educational Garden sports a working composting system!

Bin One:  add “greens” and “browns” until they semi-break down. 
Move to Bin Two, where further decomposition happens.
Move contents to Bin Three, your finished compost!

Composting is a natural process where organic materials decompose and are recycled into a dark, crumbly, earthy smelling soil conditioner known as “compost”.

Compost green

Examples of “greens”

  • kitchen scraps (never animal products!)
  • garden clippings (weeds go in the trash, not the compost!)

Examples of “brown”

  • shredded newspaper
  • dried leaves

Composting happens when organisms in the soil break down or decompose the organic material.  The dark, rich crumbly material that results is compost.

The benefits to using compost:

By incorporating compost into the top 4 to 6 inches of the soil, the structure and texture of the soil is improved: a crumbly substance like compost is often just what soils need to improve its “workability”.  Garden soil should ideally have 3-5% organic matter.  Compost can meet this need, for all soil textures. Incorporating compost can improve soil aeration which is important for plant roots. Air space in soil stimulates healthy root development.

In clay soils, compost can help improve soil drainage. Anyone that has clay soils knows that they are very slow to drain.

On the other hand, compost acts as a sponge holding on to water and nutrients (from fertilizers), decreasing the need for watering and repeated fertilizing. This can be a benefit in sandy soils that drain and dry out very quickly.

The organic matter in compost sustains the many micro-organisms we reviewed in the soil web. In turn, the microbes convert organic matter into nitrogen and other nutrients that the plant can easily assimilate.

It’s important to remember that although compost has small amounts of nutrients that are released slowly throughout the growing season, compost is primarily considered a soil conditioner, rather than a fertilizer.


Water Garden

Do you have just a small space you’d like to beautify?  Have you thought about a water garden?  We used an old horse trough, and it works perfectly.

There is minimal maintenance for water gardens.  Mosquitos are controlled with a biologic agent, safe to people and animals (“dunks” work well.)  Floating plant leaves must  cover 3/4 of the water surface to prevent an algae bloom.   Oxygenating plants keep the water clean and filtered.  If you have fish, they remove excess fish waste from the tank.

Water garden season runs spring through fall.  The best exposure is at least 6 hours of sun if you have flowering plants.

*Some aquatic plants can quickly outgrow their space and cause you and our environment problems.  As they are not native here and lack the normal controls that keep plants in check, they can spread quickly and become invasive.  The impact they can have on aquatic habitats, like rivers and lakes and their wildlife, is extensive and can be irreversible.


Pollinator Garden

Pollination occurs when pollen is moved within flowers or carried from flower to flower by pollinating animals such as birds, bees, bats, butterflies, moths, beetles, or other animals, or by the wind.  In the Educational Garden, our pollinator patch contains plants which attract pollinators.  It’s so exciting to witness “nature in action” as a Monarch caterpillar finds life on a milkweed plant!  We have untold numbers of butterflies and bees in our gardens every day.

Around the world, we’re losing our natural pollinators.   Pollinating animals have suffered from loss of habitat, chemical misuse, introduced and invasive plant and animal species, and diseases and parasites.

What We Can Do

Cultivate native plans, especially those that provide nectar and larval food for pollinators
Install houses for bats and native bees
Supply salt or mineral licks for butterflies and water for all wildlife
Reduce pesticide use
Substitute flower beds for lawns


Cottage Garden

“The meadow is a wild place full of nature’s homespun wonder to explore.” – Gwendolyn Lacy

From the birds, bugs, butterflies, and bees on the flowers to the birds collecting seeds …. dragonflies drying their wings too …..a meadow is an open field where native plants grow.

From the birds, bugs, butterflies, and bees on the flowers to the birds collecting seeds and dragonflies drying their wings, a meadow is a wild and native space that is utterly self-sufficient.

This wildflower meadow was created from a combination of cultivated wildflowers established to provide a food source for the bee hives that were on this site three years ago AND indigenous flowers, native to this site.

The meadow serves multiple purposes in the cycle of its surrounding ecosystem including:

An open field area where native plants grow.

Can contains both wet and arid areas.

A Naturally sustainable area that

Requires ZERO water to maintain

ZERO mowing –so no added fossil fuels are used in maintenance.

Therefore, overall very ecologically sound.

Provides an area that helps to combat New Jersey’s changing climate by providing green spaces.

Helps pollinators by providing homes and food sources for butterflies, bees, and birds.

It reduces excess or standing water due to the plant usage.

Stabilizes the river or creek bank preventing erosion of soil and contamination of the water.

Provides a native habitat for small mammals and area for birds to nest.

Hiding places for insects both big and small.

Which in turn provides food for the birds and small mammals.

Hunting area for the hawks in the sky.


Vegetable Garden

Everybody wants fresh, homegrown vegetables during the growing season.  Master Gardeners experiment and learn.  Come see what we’re growing in the Educational Garden!

Trees and Shrubs
Most homeowners know that shrubbery and trees provide the “frame” for a lovely residential garden.  These plants are an investment, for sure, but we are rewarded with years of beauty.

Afraid to take the plunge?  Make sure to read Right Plant, Right Place on the Gardening Principles page.  You can avoid costly mistakes if you take some time to create a plan.  And if you want some input from Master Gardeners?  Take some pictures of your home, including existing trees and shrubs, and bring to the Helpline office during regular hours.  We’ll be happy to listen and then make sug


Bog Garden

This square garden holds plants that don’t mind getting their feet wet!


Rain Garden

Do you have some low, wet spots on your property where nothing thrives?  We have such a spot in the Educational Garden, where we’ve planted material that doesn’t mind getting the feet wet.

In this garden, rain water naturally flows through this depression in the terrain.  So far, things are looking good!

A rain garden can also be used near large areas of non-porous hardscape like a roof or driveway.


Herb Garden

An herb is any plant with a useful purpose.  Some uses might be as flavorings, fragrances, beverages, dyes, cosmetics, pesticides, economic products, and for sacred or medicinal purposes.  There are specific essential oils present in some culinary herb leaves, flowers, seeds, stems, bark and roots, but not all parts of culinary herbs are edible.


Memorial Garden

The Memorial Garden is intended to be a quiet place to reflect on the memories of our loved ones who have passed. The doorway is symbolic of the entry and exit of life, and the path represents the path we all travel from birth to death. We have included a bird bath and bird houses to welcome  joyful life into the garden. Some plants have been chosen because they were favorites of our fellow Master Gardeners’ loved ones, and some have been chosen to add year-round interest. We encourage our fellow Master Gardeners to add a special plant, or to lend a hand in tending to our living memorial.  


Colonial Herb Garden  (is this still active?)

This is one of our newest gardens, and it’s already giving the results we want. The goals of the garden areTo provide a hands on learning environment where one can engage directly with the herbs that were more commonly used in colonial times. To educate visitors and students on the medicinal benefits of the herbs in the context of both historical and modern uses. To offer a space where one can harvest herbs and create oils, salves, and other preparations under the direction of an educational class.


Shade Garden

The Shade Garden is the oldest part of the garden.  Shaded by the old horse barn, the perennial plants receive only filtered sunlight.  The flowers aren’t as intense as those in the Pollinator Garden, but there is almost always something in bloom.  And when there is not, the plant leaves have their own diverse show.  Embrace the shady spaces!  On a hot, sunny day these gardens provide a respite from the heat.


Childrens /Sensory Garden

Camden County Environmental Center provides educational programs for children.  The Young Explorers, ages 2-5, comes to touch and smell these plants.  The mint is delicious!



There’s always something to do in the greenhouse!  Master Gardeners get an early start on the growing season, starting the work in February.  What a great place to be in the winter!
The greenhouse team starts planning in January, focusing on seed selection and task assignments.  Hands go in the potting soil in February. Growing everything at the Office of Sustainability greenhouse in Lakeland, we start almost all of the plants from seed. A few are propagated from other plants, and we do buy some “plugs” from nurseries.  We’re working Wednesday and Friday mornings. 
Besides the plants that we grow for our Garden Fair sale in May,  we supply plants for Make and Take classes, the Educational Garden (flowers and vegetables), and the children’s program at the Garden Fair.

A big part of our work involves providing plants for the County Parks Department.  The County provides the “plugs,” and then we up-pot and grow them into the beautiful annuals you see in our County parks. Activity ends by June, after the final plant sales.  And then it’s time to clean up!  All the pots are cleaned and stored for the following winter.

Master Gardeners are welcome to visit and/or join the team!  Address is 508 Lakeland Road, Blackwood, NJ



Hydroponics means working water–“hydro” means water, and “ponos” means labor.  Steadily growing in popularity throughout the world, hydro- and aeroponics are eco-friendly methods of cultivation.  (The picture on the left, above, shows an aeroponics tower.)  The quantity of nutrient-enriched water used is far less than the amount of water used in traditional cultivation.

With support from the Board of Commissioners and Camden County’s Office of Sustainability, Rutgers Master Gardeners have been diligently working on our first hydroponics system to provide nutritious, delicious produce to local partners.

Hydroponics is a soil-less approach to gardening that has been utilized for thousands of years. Hydroponic gardening tends to produce larger plants and higher yields by delivering a nutrient-rich solution directly to the plant root system. This makes for easier access to nutrients, compared to traditional soil gardening in which the plants need to search for nutrients. Also, the reuse of the nutrient solution utilizes less water than conventional gardening.

Ultimately, the project’s mission is to create a place to produce fruits and vegetables in a system where food safety, nutrition, and water conservation are the key principles.  Combating food deserts in low-income urban areas is a key goal.  Sustainable Camden County and Rutgers Master Gardeners collaborate to improve our community’s well-being.

Since its first season in the winter of 2017, the team has installed various types of hydroponics systems, including NFT (nutrient film technique), Dutch bucket, and floating systems, and soon an aeroponics system will be added into the mix.

Current production consists of lettuces, microgreens, herbs, tomatoes, and cucumbers. On a biweekly basis about 25 pounds of leafy greens are donated to Cathedral Kitchen in Camden. In 2017, 347 pounds of produce were donated and in 2018 the total has increased to over 450 pounds. We even have a new partnership with the Philadelphia Zoo to provide healthy, freshly picked produce for its wildlife.




Master Gardeners are serving the public daily

Stop in, call or email the Helpline office.  Located at the Camden County Environmental Center, the office doors are open Monday to Friday, 9 to noon.

Watch for the mobile Helpline experiences at fairs, farmers markets, and festivals.

Arrange for one of our qualified and trained Educators to speak at your event.  The topics available are Composting; Community Gardens;Food Safety; Integrated Pest Management; Right Plant, Right Place; Vegetables 101, Orchid Propagation, and Hydroponics. Speaker Request Form

Attend a class of the Homeowners Series, which might be a Make and Take or a class on a home-gardening topic.

Come to our Garden Fair (first Saturday in May) where we offer speakers, cooking demonstrations, our greenhouse-grown plant sale, community environmental groups and gardening shopping.

We deliver fresh greens from the Hydroponics lab to Cathedral Kitchen weekly during the growing season.


Gardening Principles

Right Plant, Right Place

Let’s say you are planning to create a new bed in your garden (maybe because you reduced the size of your lawn!)  Before you make a purchase, the Master Gardeners urge you to consider the concepts of Right Plant, Right Place.

Have you…tested the soil to see what kind of soil you have? Are you willing to amend the soil to make it palatable to your prospective plants? observed the sun exposure in the planting area? Resolved to buy only plants that are compatible? considered the pest resistance of the prospective plants—do you need deer resistance? made a rough drawing of existing structures and beds that are near the new area?  Taken pictures of the area? considered the availability of water in the new area? If water is not available, will you choose drought-resistant plants? considered the mature size of the prospective plant? Will it be compatible with nearby structures and other plants or trees? determined the maintenance required is an amount that YOU can manage? People enjoy more gardening success when they use these principles.  Happy, healthy plants are better for you and the environment!

Water Conservation

Plant drought-tolerant, native species to reduce demand for watering.

Practice conscientious watering: apply water during cooler morning hours when it is less likely to evaporate; direct water to the roots of the plant, where it is needed.

Soaker hoses release water at the plant root zone to minimize evaporation during watering. Water must penetrate deeply to establish healthy roots.  A plant can only use water that comes in contact with its roots, not its leaves.  Consider attaching a timer to your hose, or soaker hoses, so that water will shut off automatically.

Take care not to over-water; too much water can kill plants; soil should never be soggy. Roots need air as well as water.  A damp environment can favor diseases and pests such as slugs, snails and earwigs.

Water conservation encompasses the policies, strategies and activities that manage water as a sustainable resource, protects the water environment and meets current and future human demand. Population, household size, growth and affluence all affect how much water we use.

Mulch regularly to maintain soil moisture and discourage weeds. Mulch prevents evaporation from the soil surface, suppresses water-thieving weeds, and adds vital nutrients to the soil as it decomposes.

Install rain barrels to capture rainfall as a watering source.

In the vegetable garden, limiting water is less an option; water conservation practices are especially important.

Annual incorporation of organic matter into the soil will build the soil’s capacity to retain water.

Frequent lawn watering often encourages shallow rooting and may increase susceptibility to disease and stress injury; strive to give your lawn 1” water per week, including rainfall.

Repair any leaky equipment.

Implement good design principles to help retain water where it is needed and minimize runoff.

Native Plants


Native plants are plants which have evolved in a specific region (like Eastern North America) for millions of years.  They have adapted to the environmental conditions around them (soil, climate, animal life) and, because they are not struggling to survive, they grow into healthier specimens.   Even better, they attract bees, butterflies, beneficial insects and birds—all part of a beautiful, sustainable garden!

Natives are better suited to survive our hot, humid summers

Natives often require less maintenance, less fertilizer, and less pesticide use

Natives require less watering, once established

Natives help to restore natural food and nectar sources for butterflies, bees and birds

Natives provide a natural habitat for beneficial insects

In the Education Garden we display a wide variety of native shrubs and perennials.    Try them in YOUR garden!  They’re easy to find at local nurseries and are a great investment.

Lawn turf is not native!

Consider reducing the size of your lawn by expanding existing planting beds with native ground covers, shrubs and perennials.  If you don’t need a large lawn for play space, you have a perfect opportunity to  introduce more natives on your property.   And once established, native shrubs and groundcovers provide four season interest and require little maintenance

Think about the money you could save by using less water, less fertilizer and pesticide, reducing or eliminating your lawn service…and much less time trying to keep grass alive.


Make and Take

Make and Take classes are part of our Public Programs.  Holding several classes each year, Make and Takes have a nominal cost to participants and feature topics of general gardening interest.

Watch for the next Make and Take class, and reserve your place.   This class was a “sell out!”

In the past, we’ve featured succulent arrangements, herb gardens and pansy baskets, and classes on composting, bee-keeping, and a range of gardening topics.

We invite you to visit the Events page to learn what we’re making next!


Speakers Bureau

We’re thrilled to offer the presentations listed below.  To request a speaker use the form at the bottom of this page.  And see the list of scheduled speaking events on the Events page. A request form is at the bottom of this page.


Keys to Successful Composting

This presentation is a basic primer on home composting and is suitable for people of all skill levels. It explains the benefits of composting, for both the gardener and the environment, and the process by which nature turns organic materials such as garden and kitchen waste into a useful soil amenity. Learn how to site, start and maintain a compost pile, what items should and should not be put into one, the proper ratio of “greens” and “browns” to keep the pile cooking, how to diagnose problems, and how to use finished compost to improve your garden.  A short video from Rutgers Cooperative Extension reviews the concepts in the presentation.


Right Plant Right Place

This program is a great general gardening primer. It answers all the basic questions one should address when selecting plants and shrubs for a garden. Learn about USDA plant hardiness zones, and the differing light, water, soil and pH needs that determine where (or whether) a plant can thrive. Learn how to amend your soil to improve drainage and fertility, or reduce compaction, and how to use mulch correctly to discourage weeds and retain moisture. The presentation introduces locally-appropriate plant species that are suited to different garden conditions, and which provide variety in the garden – different foliage colors, textures, seasonal interest, growth habit/shape, and bloom time.


Native Plant Gardening Part I: Native Plants, Ecological Impact

Increasingly, gardeners are transitioning their gardens to plants that are native to their geographic region. Native plants tend to be better suited to local conditions, and therefore need less resources and pampering than ‘exotics’ (plants native to other regions) to thrive. And they are not invasive. Native plants also provide habitat for local birds, bees, butterflies and other wildlife, which evolved concurrently with regional trees and plants. Learn about the food web, the benefits of diversity in the garden, plant nomenclature, and some of the (NJ) native trees, shrubs and plants that can be an asset to the home garden while also providing habitat for wildlife.


Native Plant Gardening Part II: Going Native in Your Garden

This presentation reviews the concept and benefits of native plants, then goes further to examine the factors one should consider when developing a landscape plan – how to analyze the soil, sun and other conditions, to determine what native plants to include in a garden, and where.  Learn about additional trees, shrubs and plants native to New Jersey that can be an asset to the home garden while also providing wildlife habitat.


Starting a Community Garden

A community garden offers a place for local residents to grow vegetables if they don’t have a yard or a suitable plot where they live. Community gardens can yield produce for personal use, or for donation to a local food bank. Gardening together offers an opportunity to learn from experienced local gardeners, and to meet and collaborate with one’s neighbors. But establishing a community garden is a big undertaking. This presentation identifies the many issues a town or organization will need to consider and plan for when establishing a community garden – types of gardens, fencing options, water and light conditions, soil testing, mulch, budgeting/estimating costs, maintenance and more.  Includes a comparison of two gardens. A great overview for groups considering this type of project.


Keeping Pests out of the Garden Part I: Integrated Pest Management for the Home and Community Garden

This presentation explains the practice of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to deal with insects and diseases in the vegetable garden. IPM utilizes an array of cultural, mechanical, biological and chemical methods to keep pests and diseases at an acceptable level in the garden. Learn how the selection of resistant plants, crop rotation, proper watering and fertilizing, frequent inspections for problems, and encouraging beneficial insects can minimize garden problems.  The presentation identifies some of the most common garden insect pests, and offers specific techniques to deal with them.


Keeping Pests out of the Garden Part II: Key Plants, Key Pests

This presentation builds on Part 1, providing a more detailed discussion of common plant diseases and pests found in the vegetable garden, with a focus on the most likely host plants for specific problems, how to identify them, and what to do about them.


Harvesting and Food Safety in the Home and Community Garden

You may know how to plant, nurture and grow vegetables, but do you know the best practices for harvesting that bounty? This presentation gives advice on the best time to pick specific vegetables –tomatoes, beans, peppers, watermelons, kale and collard greens, cabbage, lettuce – and how to remove them correctly from the plant and store them for use.  Vegetables are good for you, but vegetables can cause serious illness if they become contaminated with listeria, E-coli or salmonella, or chemicals from a prior land use, improper manure applications or water runoff from another site. Learn how to evaluate a garden’s risk potential, and how to create a plan to monitor risks and avoid problems. Although this presentation is oriented toward food safety in community farming, the principles apply to any food gardening.


Hydroponic Gardening

Hydroponics is the practice of growing plants using nutrient-enriched water. This “soil-less” method of producing vegetables and herbs, although not at all new, is becoming increasingly popular on a commercial scale, particularly in urban areas where land is scarce or contaminated. There are many advantages, including the ability to grow produce year-round. Camden County Master Gardeners work closely with staff at the County’s hydroponic demonstration greenhouse in Blackwood, NJ, producing tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce without soil. This presentation explains their experience, as well as the different types of hydroponic setups – ebb and flow, floating, drip/vertical, aeroponic towers, aquaponics, etc.  Learn about the advantages and drawbacks of hydroponics, the learning curve for novices, and the costs and resources needed to be successful. Whether or not you plan to venture into the world of hydroponic gardening, this presentation is highly interesting.


Vegetable Gardening 101

Vegetable Gardening 101 provides beginning gardeners a simple step by step approach to a successful harvest.  This lecture begins with planning the garden, explaining site selection, garden layout options, and soil preparation.  The discussion moves to plant selection, so attendees can make informed choices on vegetables that will suit their site, garden size, and individual tastes.  Cool weather and warm weather crops are covered, including recommended planting times for both.  Planting techniques for direct seeding and transplants are described, and which plant varieties should be grown using which planting method.  Care and maintenance throughout the growing season are included, such as watering, weeding, and pest control.  Picking times and safe harvesting techniques complete the talk.


On the Road

The next time you visit a Camden County farmers market or a street fair, look for the Master Gardener Helpline table.

Our friendly volunteers are prepared to answer your questions and provide literature, or take your question for further study.  This “mobile helpline” is, of course, free to the public.  We invite you to check the calendar on the Events page for dates and places.