Grow Your Knowledge
I love working in the yard. I love to dig, plant, prune, mulch, water and fertilizeI guess I really like every single thing about gardening, except the mosquitoes. But as much as I enjoy spending uninterrupted hours physically toiling in the garden, my favorite part of gardening is actually sharing what Ive learned from the time I spend outside.
Some of this knowledge comes from my personal success growing flowers and vegetables, and an even greater share of it is a direct result of the mistakes Ive madeand fortunately learned from. While I enjoy writing and speaking to groups about gardening, my true passion is simply answering questions and helping folks figure out how to make their own gardens and landscapes thrive.
Im pleasantly surprised by how often I can answer horticultural queries from my friends and neighbors, and I often have been asked, How do you know so much about gardening? Well, heres my secret: Atlanta is a hotbed of garden education.
It wasnt always that way, though. I remember a conversation I had about 15 years ago with a friend of mine who had enrolled in an evening class on perennial gardening at a local university. I commented that Id be interested in signing up, too, to which her response was Do you even know what a perennial is? That stopped me in my tracks. While I did know the difference between an annual and a perennial, there was an inference that horticulture was only for advanced gardeners, not for people like me, a beginner who planted annualszinnias in the summer and chrysanthemums in the fall.
It used to be if you didnt grow up with parents or grandparents who gardened, it was hard to learn about gardening. Im lucky. My mother and grandmother gardened, so I grew up with the bug. Armed with the basic tools I learned from them and others, I gained confidence in my ability as a gardener, sought out classes at local garden centers and the Cooperative Extension Service, became a Master Gardener, and the rest is history.
So, where do Atlanta gardeners find information when they are ready to leap into gardening and learn all they can about horticulture? The answer is everywhere! Saturday morning radio is an easy first stop, followed by lots of great how-to shows on TV. When you are ready, you can find gardening classes, seminars, clinics and workshops offered in almost any location imaginablelibraries, botanical gardens, local colleges and universities, garden centers and hardware stores, to name a few.
I called upon a number of Atlantas renowned horticultural experts and asked them for their impressions of local gardening education and where they suggested that gardeners (novice, intermediate and advanced) turn for expert advice.
“Gardening education has definitely changed in the last 20 years that I’v been involved with it.”
Tara Dillard, The Better Gardening Show on CBS46
According to Tara Dillard, host of the Better Gardening Show on CBS46, Gardening education has definitely changed in the last 20 years that Ive been involved with it. She credits HGTV and other cable channels for the increase in the knowledge base of the beginning gardener. Dillard teaches many types of students throughout metro Atlanta, including those whose goal is employment in the horticultural and landscaping fields, and she says students have changed. They are better able to articulate what they want to learn, versus just taking anything that the teacher thinks is appropriate, she says.
Sara Henderson, another well-known garden educator and owner of Gardenmakers landscape design and consulting business, travels from South Atlanta to Dunwoody and points in between to teach. Her classes at the Spruill Center and the State Farmers Market draw hundreds of gardeners anxious to learn everything they can about soil preparation, container gardening, landscape design, flowers and vegetables. She muses that in todays busy world, theres a real need to return back to nature and reduce stress by feathering your nest and creating a comfortable environment.
“If the Georgia Native Plant Society meetings are any indication, there is an increasing interest in native plants and removal of exotic invasives. “
Theresa Shrum, Eco Terra Landscape Consultants
Joining a plant society is a terrific way to learn about gardening in Georgia. The Georgia Native Plant Society (GNPS) and Georgia Perennial Plant Association (GPPA) are highly recommended by Dillard and Henderson. If the Georgia Native Plant Society meetings are any indication, there is an increasing interest in native plants and removal of exotic invasives, says Theresa Schrum of Eco Terra Landscape Consultants, an award-winning garden designer, educator and native plant enthusiast. She particularly recommends the Lunch and Wildflower series offered at the Georgia Perimeter College Botanical Garden. These Wednesday seminars, sponsored by GNPS, offer guided plant walks and hour-long talks on a wide range of topics.
A plethora of plant organizations can be found in Atlanta. Name a type of flower, tree or shrub, and theres bound to be a group that meets to promote and educate people about it. Active in the Atlanta area are the American Hydrangea Society, the Rhododendron Society, the Herb Society, the Camellia Society, the Rose Society, the Hemerocallis Society and the Orchid Society, for starters.
“People who seek gardening education seem to fall into three catagories: native Southerners very familiar with plants that do well here but want something different, newcomers who gardened in other states but need help gardening in Georgia, and enthusiastic beginners, who know neither plants or techniques but are eager to learn.”
Ralter Reeves, The Lawn and Garden Show on WSB Radio
Community neighborhood and garden clubs are another wonderful way to get involved in gardening and learn, as most clubs include education as one of their goals. Search online for these plant societies and check listings in local newspapers and magazines for contact information.
According to Walter Reeves, popular host of WSB-Radios The Lawn and Garden Show, People who seek gardening education seem to fall into three categories: native Southerners very familiar with plants that do well here but want something different, newcomers who gardened in other states but need help gardening in Georgia, and enthusiastic beginners, who know neither plants or techniques but are eager to learn.
Whether you are a beginning gardener, a newcomer to Georgia or an experienced gardener looking for some new ideas, the Cooperative Extension Service in your local county is an excellent source for information about gardening. This service, part of the University of Georgia, provides horticultural information in person, online and in written form. Most counties offer low-cost classes for homeowners and professionals, on a variety of topics that appeal to both beginners and experts.
Gardeners today are not just interested in pretty plants, says Gary Peiffer, Horticulture Department Head for the DeKalb Extension Service. They are a lot more knowledgeable and they are looking for plants that take less care and require less use of fertilizer, pesticides and water. They want color and garden interest, but they want to protect the environment and encourage desirable wildlife.
For the more intensive gardeners who have time for community service, there is the Master Gardener training series, composed of 22 training sessions. This is a great opportunity to learn about many areas of horticulture, and then be prepared to share that information with fellow citizens.
“Gardeners today are not just interested in pretty plants. They are a lot more knowledgeable and they are looking for plants that take less care and require less use of fertilizer, pesticides and water.”
Gary Peiffer, DeKalb Extension Service
Have you ever considered attending a technical college to gain gardening expertise? The 22-year-old horticulture education program at Gwinnett Technical College, headed by Dr. Richard Ludwig, has quietly become one of the most respected education venues in the area. Many of the classes are offered online, providing accessibility for those students who might not be able to attend on site. Ludwig estimates that 25 to 40 percent of students enrolled in the classes take one or two online classes; most students are between 30 and 50 years old.
Offering a beautiful site for horticulture classes, one of the best-known garden education programs is held at the Atlanta Botanical Garden (ABG). Education Director Tracy McClendon says the Gardens educational mission is to improve public understanding and appreciation of plants, gardens and nature through educational and interpretive programming for adults and families. McClendon says the broad appeal of the educational offerings is evident in the wide range of programming available: summer camp and drop-in programs for kids, classes for adults (everything from drawing orchids to caring for orchids, landscape planning and design, trough building), and many hands-on, practical workshops are offered for all experience levels of plant lovers.
“[Our goal is] to improve public understanding and appreciation of plants, gardens and nature.”
Tracy McClendon, Atlanta Botanical Garden
The majority of the instructors at the ABG are staff, along with local, regional and national experts. Based on demand, new classes are added from year to year, while classes like Basics of Southern Gardening and Made for the Shade are offered annually.
Over the past 15 years, the intimidation factor in the gardening world has mostly disappeared. Increased technology has helped bring horticulture to everyonefrom novice to expert. The ability to research and learn from the Internet and the abundance of television programming for the gardener has enabled the beginner to get comfortable with gardening and allowed those with more advanced or specific interests to find what they need, as well. I still like to plant zinnias and mums, but thanks to education Ive been able to learn about and find cultivars that are the absolute perfect plants for Atlantas climate. Have fun exploring the world of gardening education in your own community, and take advantage of everything thats available.