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Spring Awakening: How Does Your Garden Grow?

Brian Sullivan, NYBG’s vice president for landscape and glasshouses, teaches a horticulture class in the native plant garden. (Photo courtesy of New York Botanical Garden)

Classes online and on-site offer an array of horticultural help

By Wendy Greenberg

The air is warmer and daylight lingers longer. Lime green leaves are painting roadside landscapes. So often spring awakens an urge to seek greener thumbs, or greener yards. After all, it is the Garden State.

If you are so inspired or maybe just want to experiment with the garden hand tools you have, you are certainly in luck. A bounty of classes and programs beckons to help would-be plant whisperers find their voices. Some of the area’s most respected and scenic public gardens are at your service with on-site and online courses, ranging from landscape design to wellness and therapy, to native flora, and some unusual offerings.

Who knows, after taking a few courses and learning from them, you might end up being a person who knows everything about caring for the garden (maybe you will find out that removing old grass and laying a fresh layer of sir grange zoysia turf from Musturf can do miracles). Plus, chances are that these courses can help you grow a green thumb, with which you can create an outdoor space that looks amazing. Of course, you would need a few tools and equipment for doing those things, but that is not a problem. With the advent of technology, everything can be found on the Web. The best part is besides finding new tools for gardening, you can also source used products in UK, USA, and other countries across the globe.

“People are thirsting to be in the outdoors more,” said Barbara Corcoran, vice president of continuing and public education at the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG), in the Bronx.

Both the NYBG, and other venerable gardens such as Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pa., and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, welcome learners, as do a few other venues.

Orchids are big this spring (and always!) and classes about growing and caring for orchids are featured during NYBG’s annual “The Orchid Show,” on view until April 22 featuring a series of installations by acclaimed Belgian floral artist Daniel Ost. Longwood Gardens concluded its “Orchid Extravaganza” but features orchids in a free, online course, Everything About Orchids, which is open until May 6.

Students in the Landscape Design class at New York Botanical Garden. (Photo courtesy of New York Botanical Garden)


NYBG’s adult education program-the largest plant-related continuing education program in the country-is a way to expand horizons, jump-start careers, or just learn more about horticulture and related interests, says Stevenson Swanson, NYBG’s science media manager.

Art is inspiration for many gardens (and vice versa, see Georgia O’Keeffe events listed on page 41). At NYBG, a new series of weekend watercolor workshops-one-day sessions dedicated to basic watercolor techniques and focused on various botanical subjects-is part of the Botanical Art and Illustration program, the oldest botanical art certificate program in North America. Colorful plums, cherries, birds of paradise, and spring tulips are topics for special watercolor classes this spring.

But look also for the certificate programs, designed to deepen horticultural skills and knowledge. Botanical Art and Illustration is one of seven certificate programs (complete with a graduation ceremony). Others are in Landscape Design, Botany, Floral Design, Gardening, Horticulture, and Horticultural Therapy.

Summer intensive programs offer a way to earn in just a few weeks a substantial share of the credits required for many certificate programs. Horticultural therapy, the topic of summer intensive classes from June 11 through August 25, teaches the use of plants as a therapeutic skill. Floral design is the topic of a summer intensive program, as is gardening, with classes in Soil Science. Likewise, the summer intensive Landscape Design offers classes like Plants for Landscaping.

Like fresh bouquets, summer classes in flowers-Dauntless Dahlias, Lush Peonies, and Foolproof Hydrangeas-may appeal to the senses. Imagine the creativity that can be harnessed in Bonsai for Beginners, a weekend workshop, and Container Gardens, during two Saturdays in May.

The Urban Naturalist program offers seasonal intensives in spring or fall, and the Wellness track offers classes like Herbal Saturday: Reduce Your Stress.

A student arranges roses in a New York Botanical Garden Floral Design class. (Photo courtesy of New York Botanical Garden)


The array of some 600 sessions in the catalog is the result of NYBG’s emphasis on education. “Consumer education is important at the New York Botanical Garden,” explains Corcoran. It is one of three main missions: horticulture, scientific research, and education. The Botany Certificate Program is said to be the oldest in the country.

“Education is fundamental to the garden,” Corcoran says. “Horticulture education has been the mainstay for the past 75 years. We have always offered classes.” The majority are taught by top botanists and horticulturalists on staff. “We are so lucky to have amazing resources here,” she adds.

The organization is also known for teaching botanical artists how to blend artistry and scientific accuracy to document plants and flowers. “Being where we are, we can draw from the top artists in the country,” says Corcoran.

With their ears to the ground, so to speak, program coordinators act as advisors to the continuing education department, and receive feedback from students, who mostly request longer classes, according to Corcoran.

With so many exotic offerings, what about those of us who just want to improve the look of our front or back yards?

“You can’t go wrong with The Fundamentals of Gardening,” she recommends. The four-session course, at various times of year, explores the basic principles of successful and environmentally-friendly gardening (Held on days, evenings, or Saturdays).

Also for basic home gardeners is Introduction to Landscape Design, in three sessions at various times of year. Students will be introduced to the terminology, concepts, and basic principles of landscape design, recommended for students with little or no background. From this course, they may also learn best practices to grow various plants, how to pick a growhouse for the climate from the best greenhouses reviewed, different soil types, and more. (Held days or evenings).

Longwood Gardens continuing education. (Photo by William Hill, courtesy of Longwood Gardens)


Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pa., may be about an hour and a half away from Princeton, N.J., but that doesn’t stop a devoted contingent of Princeton-area residents from attending classes in floral design and ornamental horticulture, says Matthew Ross, Longwood’s director of continuing education.

In addition to popular on-site courses, online classes have become popular too, such as the current orchids course; digital garden photography; and a series of courses in partnership with North Carolina State University.

Longwood offers 175 courses, targeted to different audiences. It draws students from everywhere-some stay in area hotels and make a vacation out of taking a class, says Ross. Class registration covers admission to the garden for the day.

“Online classes allow us to reach new audiences,” Ross says. “Anyone can connect with us and learn from the experts and experience the beauty of Longwood.”


In addition to the online orchids class, Longwood is developing another free course focused on aquatic plants and its extensive waterlily collection, for next summer.

Upcoming online courses include Annuals, Perennials, and Vines (opening July 9), and Trees, Shrubs, and Conifers (opening September 10). Both of these six-week courses (with registration fee) invite students to learn to identify and appreciate commonly-used plants, and include visuals from photo stories, presentation, and online fact pages. They are co-offered with North Carolina State University.

A favorite course, Plant Science: Understanding Plants, is considered a stepping stone to the Ornamental Horticulture program, where students get a chance to explore the wide range of diversity of the plant kingdom, and basic nomenclature and taxonomy. It will be offered online for the first time this fall.

Want a more formal education? Three programs offer a Certificate of Merit: Ornamental Horticulture, Landscape Design, and Floral Design.


For more than 60 years, Longwood has been providing innovative courses for both garden professionals and consumers of horticulture education. “Longwood encourages learning at all levels,” says Ross. “Even the experienced gardener and professional will pick up new tips and techniques.”

Each year, 30 percent of the classes are completely new. “We constantly look for the top trends in horticulture,” he explains. “The continuing education team holds brainstorming sessions throughout the year, and we look for rising stars and top professionals in the horticulture world as potential instructors.”

One of these classes will allow students to build a one-of-a-kind wire tree in Sculpted Wire Tree, a fall class taught by New Orleans artist and horticulturist Taylor Williams (October 20, 8am to noon and 2 to 6pm).

On September 4, 6:30 to 8:30pm, join three National Geographic Explorers as they take students on a photographic journey through the Amazon and the interconnected nature of the regional flora and culture. Learn how the indigenous people of the Amazon regard their trees, both for physical and spiritual uses, and how this reverence can protect people and their ecosystems. The evening includes a dessert reception at the waterlily pools.

“For many, this is a way of treating themselves and their gardens by finding new skills that will cultivate both personal growth and success, and it can translate to a better garden as well,” says Ross.

And, in Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden offers a Certificate in Horticulture and Master Composter Certificate, and courses such as Grow a Culinary Garden (April 15, 2 to 5pm) and other tours and events.

While the Brooklyn Botanical Garden does not offer strictly online classes (although they point out that all classes are listed online), the spring-summer catalog offers new gardening classes and an extensive lineup of speakers and exhibition-related offerings.



Bronx, N.Y. 10458-5126

Adult Education: 800.322.6924

(Classes are also held at Midtown Education Center, 20 W. 44th Street, New York, N.Y.)

“Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawaii”

May 19 through October 28

NYBG’s landmark exhibition celebrates the artist’s time spent in the Hawaiian Islands in 1939. Some of the associated events are classes, a symposium, and a flower show in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory focusing on the flora and ecology of Hawaii. An art exhibition in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library and Art Gallery will feature 20 of O’Keeffe’s works, including paintings not seen together in New York since their 1940 debut.

Georgia O’Keeffe: A Creative Life, An Evening with Roxana Robinson and Linda M. Grasso

June 13, 6:30 to 7:30pm

A symposium about the importance of landscape in O’Keeffe’s creative life, with two O’Keeffe experts.

Georgia O’Keeffe and Hawaii: A Sense of Place

May 18, 10:30am

A panel moderated by curator Theresa Papanikolas explores the influence of the natural environment on O’Keeffe’s art.

Summer Intensive Programs

A way to jump-start a career change or accelerate progress toward a certificate in Floral Design, Botanical Art, Landscape Design, Horticultural Therapy, or Gardening by completing up to half the certificate requirements in just a few weeks.


1001 Longwood Road

Kennett Square, PA 19348


There are many offerings at Longwood, online and on-site. Here are few:

A Floral Portrait

April 21, 9am to 1pm

Painter and educator Gerald Simcoe offers a course for more advanced painters focused on the historical approach of famous French and Dutch painters.

Making a Milpa

April 28, 9 to 11am (taught in English) or 1 to 3pm (taught in Spanish)

This class will be offered in both English
and Spanish. Each student will take home a starter pack to begin their own milpa, which
is the traditional Mesoamerican home farm/
garden plot.


June 10, 9am to noon or 1 to 4pm

The first book printed was by English botanist and photographer Anna Atkins in 1843, who pioneered the use of the cyanotype process to capture images of botanicals. The class explores the history of the process, and hands-on exploration using plant material from Longwood.

Photo Op!

June 12, 6:30 to 11pm

Four different photography instructors help participants capture the evening beauty of Longwood. Then get a chance to get the perfect shot of the newly revitalized Main Fountain Garden. (Photos may not be sold for commercial use.)

Everything About Orchids

This new online, free program is open until May 6. Self-paced, students can learn through video lectures, discussions, and forums about Longwood’s renowned orchid collection, and how to grow the plants at home, in floral designs, or in landscapes.


990 Washington Avenue

Brooklyn, N.Y. 11225


Certificate in Horticulture

Courses toward a certificate in horticulture focus on horticulture in an urban environment. The program is designed for people interested in a career in horticulture and for highly motivated home gardeners. Courses range from Beginning Botany for Horticulturists to Urban Garden Design.


Gardening to Support and Attract Birds

April 8, 6 to 8:30pm

Waking the Garden for Spring

April 18, from 6 to 8pm (preregistration required)

Explore the fundamentals of springtime garden care. Learn how and when to prepare your soil for new plantings, and get tips on how to plant seeds, transplant, and propagate.


This year, Lambertville Goes Wild sponsored a three-part series, Learn to Landscape: Dream, Design and Detail at the Lambertville Public Library (now completed), but classes may be scheduled in the future. The website has resources on the National Wildlife Federation Garden for Life Wildlife Certification Program, a USDA plants database, and more information.


Rutgers University Continuing Studies offers some gardening classes with preregistration
and fees such as Shrubs for New Jersey Gardens, Container Gardening with Annuals,
and other classes.


930 Spruce Street, Trenton, N.J. 08648


Bruce Crawford: Garden Design for Beauty, Sustainability, and Pest Resistance

June 2, 1 to 3pm

Mercer Educational Gardens

431 A Federal City Road

Pennington, N.J. 08534

Crawford is director of Rutgers Gardens, Rutgers University, and an adjunct professor in the Landscape Architecture Department at Rutgers University.


The Rutgers Master Gardeners of the Cooperative Extension of Mercer County is a group of volunteers who provide horticultural information and programs to the community. They are trained by faculty and staff of Rutgers University and its New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station.

The Master Gardeners staff a Helpline and encourage calls or an office visit with home gardening, insect or wildlife questions.


March – October, Mon – Fri. 9am to 3pm

This magazine cannot guarantee space availability in classes noted. See websites for class and/or garden visitation fees.