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Winter is season for gardening classes

DEAN FOSDICK
For The Associated Press

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.”

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.

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.

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.”

– You can contact Dean Fosdick at deanfosdick@netscape.net.