From the Reel to the Real, the Truth about UC Master Gardeners

May 22, 2023


The upcoming Paul Schrader film, "Master Gardener," fuses the gripping elements of a thriller with the serene world of horticulture, crafting a narrative that contrasts the real-life commitment of a UC Master Gardener. 

The drama “Master Gardener” brings to the screen the journey of meticulous horticulturist, Narvel Roth (played by Joel Edgerton), whose tranquil life at Gracewood Gardens - a magnificent estate managed for wealthy dowager Mrs. Haverhill (Sigourney Weaver) - gets entangled in a web of dark secrets with the arrival of Mrs. Haverhill's troubled great-niece, Maya (Quintessa Swindell).

This film draws parallels between this captivating story and the dedication of real-life UC Master Gardeners, who are similarly committed to fostering growth, not just in gardens, but also in their communities. The intriguing blend of thrilling drama with the art and science of gardening provides a fascinating backdrop to the film. Interestingly, it's also a nod towards the real-life commitment and expertise demanded from UC Master Gardener volunteers.

In the real world, becoming a UC Master Gardener isn't about unlocking dark secrets but rather about unlocking the secrets of nature. It requires a willingness to learn, dedication, and a keen eye for detail – traits our fictional Master Gardener, Narvel Roth, seems to have.

The journey to becoming a UC Master Gardener can be as intriguing (though, fortunately, far less dangerous!) as the plot of Schrader's film. Joining the UC Master Gardener Program begins with robust training with 50 hours of instruction in horticulture fundamentals. From understanding plant biology, integrated pest management, soil health, to irrigation principles, the learning curve is steep but rewarding.

Much like Narvel, UC Master Gardeners in real life spend a significant portion of their time nurturing gardens and landscapes. They are deeply committed to the plants in their care, developing a bond that might seem strange to those who don't share this passion. However, the role of a UC Master Gardener extends far beyond gardening for personal enjoyment. They are volunteers at heart, dedicated to sharing their knowledge with their community. This might involve educational programs, workshops, or community garden projects – a far cry from the chaos that descends upon Narvel and his new apprentice.

The film, as thrilling as it promises to be, paints a stark contrast to the joyful, community-focused reality of a UC Master Gardener. Yet, both convey the same underlying message: gardening is a serious commitment and a lifelong passion that can require dedication, patience, and constant learning.

So, as we await the edge-of-the-seat suspense and drama of "Master Gardener," let's raise a toast to the real-life UC Master Gardeners who, amidst their toil with soil, seeds, and shears, continue to bring beauty, knowledge, and growth to our communities. Without the added drama, of course!

If you are interested in learning more about becoming a UC Master Gardener volunteer, please visit our website at, and connect with your local county program. Here, you'll find information about the next training class and how to take the first step toward becoming part of the UC Master Gardener community.

By Melissa G. Womack
Author - Assistant Director, Impact & Communication