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Opportunities abound to learn about gardening

By Dean Fosdick

Sunday, December 28, 2008

By Dean Fosdick

Acquiring skills can be simple or challenging.

Acquiring horticultural skills can be as simple as talking to a veteran gardener or as challenging as a graduate-level program.

Decide first if you simply want more practical knowledge or if you’re prepping for a career.

Once you get started, your taste for gardening classes is likely to grow, said Jeff Downing who runs the continuing education program for The New York Botanical Garden.

“I call it the ‘potato chip experience,”’ he said.

“Few people who’ve completed a class can stop with just one.”

Here are some learning options for gardeners — hobbyists or professionals:

UMaster Gardener classes (—gardeners) and other volunteer opportunities like the urban forestry program ( and 4-H Clubs (

UCheck with your county extension office or local garden clubs about learning opportunities. Volunteer activities open the way for community involvement and provide a lot of practical experience along the way.

UPublic gardens. Many, like The New York Botanical Garden, Longwood Gardens and the Chicago Botanic Garden, have written horticulture education into their charters. These programs range from pre-kindergarten lessons to graduate level work. Workshops, seminars and training are available year round.

UColleges and universities. The rewards are professional licenses, vocational certificates, specialized degrees and skills transferable to your own garden.

ULibraries. For self-directed research.

UCommercial nurseries, garden centers and stores. Many offer classes in basic gardening, ranging from designing window boxes to creating a holiday centerpiece. Some also offer seasonal or part-time jobs that pay while providing gardening know-how.

UDesigning gardens for schools or around public buildings. Help beautify historic monuments or roads. Volunteer at a school and soak up new gardening skills as you work alongside the younger set.

UDVD’s, CD’s, books, virtual learning. Learn at your own pace. Affordable and easy-to-understand educational tools are available for computers or in books.

UGarden shows. Meet and mingle. Talk with exhibitors about trends, and pick up the various guides and programs on hand.

UWork with and learn from farmers, public interest groups and other organizations. Try Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms ( or Go Native U, an informal education program specializing in wildflowers, plants and landscapes, and sponsored by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (