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Winter is the high season for gardening classes


December 9, 2008
By By Dean Fosdick The Associated Press

Dec. 9, 2008 – Jeff Downing recently organized a career day at the New York Botanical Garden for people considering becoming horticulturalists. He was pleasantly surprised when 128 people showed up for the two free sessions, which introduced landscape design, horticulture, floral design and horticultural therapy.

Jeff Downing recently organized a career day at the New York Botanical
Garden for people considering becoming horticulturalists. He was
pleasantly surprised when 128 people showed up for the two free
sessions, which introduced landscape design, horticulture, floral
design and horticultural therapy.

"That was a significant response," said Downing, head of the garden's continuing education program. "It took off faster than I expected."

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Some of those who showed up were simply looking for new gardening skills. An uncertain economy drove others.

Horticulture continues to offer job opportunities, in good times or bad, Downing said.

"Most people who get involved in our programs are career changers," Downing said. "They have had successful careers elsewhere but want something new. We've had surgeons attend. People from the legal community. It has something to do with an overall passion for plants. They want to get out of their office cubicles and get closer to nature."

The botanical garden's classes are many and varied. "Courses are designed to be attractive for anyone who's never picked up a trowel to professionals in the field," Downing said. "Many have earned certificates in the past and want to come back to broaden their knowledge. We even have pre-kindergarten programs. We can reach you pretty much at any point in your lifetime."

Like most such teaching institutions, the New York Botanical Garden offers more classes in winter than at any other time. That's when the gardening and plant professionals who teach the classes have more time.

Another institution that offers an array of educational opportunities is Longwood Gardens, a horticultural showpiece on the former Pierre du Pont estate near Chadds Ford, Pa.

"Mr. du Pont had a passion for horticulture and education, and his foundation supports the education initiatives with a substantial endowment," said Doug Needham, who heads the garden's education department.

Over the past three decades, about 5,000 students per year have attended its continuing education classes, intended for amateurs and professionals alike.

Also among Longwood's educational offerings:

– Travel grants for visiting school groups.

– A yearlong internship for four or five staff people from public gardens around the world. "We provide housing and pay," Needham said. Du Pont built tenant housing for grounds keepers, he said, and today the centre can accommodate 70 guests.

– A series of informal "sunset classes." "People come to hear speakers talk about things like bee colony collapse, orchid growing and photography,'' Needham said. "They can interact with the speakers over dessert."

The Chicago Botanic Garden is another horticultural institutions with a strong commitment to education.

"Some of the most popular and useful things are technique classes, where you're getting hands-on,'' said Jill Selinger, who heads the garden's continuing education program. "There's nothing like actually doing it."

Organic gardening and vegetable gardening classes are becoming the most requested continuing-education options, Selinger said.

"Someone on an (end-of-class) evaluation form asked for a course about canning. When was the last time you heard of people wanting to can fruits and vegetables in an urban area? We have to find an instructor, but we've included it on our futures list,'' she said.

Enrolling for a gardening class would serve as a great new year's resolution, Selinger said. "A few (sessions) are like armchair tours, providing a look at the gardens of Europe. Others are more practical. But they widen your perspective on the world.

"Whether you garden yourself or simply enjoy other people's gardens, continuing education is a good way to enrich your life. It keeps you connected."


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