Garden clubs build skills

IT seems fitting to start the new year with a story about horticultural education, since theoretical and experiential learning underpins everything we do in our gardens.

For the hobbyist gardener there are many ways to improve knowledge and skills, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Not all hobbyist gardening clubs and societies have websites, but many do, so search the Internet for the name of the organization below or ask friends how to obtain contact information. I would add that every garden club should have a website to advertise their respective benefits and to recruit new members.

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Gardening clubs offer an easy choice for hobbyist gardeners to gain knowledge with the added benefit of social interaction and making new friends during club meetings. Most gardening clubs hold monthly meetings that include a show and tell segment, some club business and a lecture of educational value. Garden clubs also operate annual plant sale days, field trips and specific member benefits.

The following list is not exhaustive but summarizes gardening clubs on the North Shore: Capilano Garden Club, Deep Cove Garden Club, Delbrook Garden Club, Lynn Valley Garden Club, North Shore Community Garden Society, Park & Tilford's Friends of the Garden, Upper Lonsdale Garden Club and the West Vancouver Garden Club.

There are also specialist gardening clubs that pursue knowledge within one specific discipline of horticulture. These organizations operate monthly programs similar to gardening clubs. Most are not located on the North Shore but these groups may be worth joining depending on your specific interest.

The following list is not exhaustive but summarizes some of the topic-specific gardening organizations in our region: the Alpine Club of B.C., B.C. Fruit Testers Association, B.C. Fuchsia and Begonia Society, B.C. Primula Group, Burnaby Cactus and Succulent Club, Capilano Flower Arranging Club, Desert Plant Society of Vancouver, Friends of UBC Botanical Gardens, Ikenobo Ikebana Society of Vancouver, Pacific Northwest Palm and Exotic Plant Society, Vancouver Dahlia Society, Vancouver Hardy Plant Group, Vancouver Orchid Society, Vancouver Rhododendron Society, Vancouver Rose Society, Vancouver Shade Garden Society and the West Coast Bonsai Society.

For the hobbyist gardener probably no other group is as well known as the Master Gardeners Association of B.C. which is a non-profit volunteer association based at VanDusen Botanical Garden with members from all over the Lower Mainland.

It is important to understand that the term "Master Gardener" is not a professional designation in B.C.; the term is strictly a hobbyist designation because the term is not officially recognized by the province's Industry Training Authority.

The great advantage of joining this group is the opportunity to work in VanDusen Botanical Garden and to learn from knowledgeable gardeners.

Beyond gardening clubs and societies the hobbyist has few options for horticultural education beyond going to school full time for professional training, an option that does not suit most hobbyists. There are some universities that offer adult continuing education via night school or Saturday school. VanDusen Botanical Garden offers a number of hobbyist garden courses on evenings and weekends, some courses are taught by the VanDusen staff gardeners.

The UBC Botanical Garden also offers hobbyist gardening courses with the botanical garden's staff teaching many of the courses. Capilano University from its North Vancouver campus offers three day-long courses in gardening at a basic level. These programs are: A Year in Your Garden: Spring, A Year in Your Garden: Summer and Campus Plant Walk. I could not find any North Shore school boards that offer any gardening-related continuing education courses for adults. Perhaps there is market demand on the North Shore for such programs.

There are organizations like the Edible Garden Project, the North Shore Recycling Program and the Lynn Canyon Ecology Centre that co-operate to offer gardening programs through their GardenSmart workshop series. The GardenSmart workshop series demonstrates sustainable gardening techniques that help North Shore residents to reduce waste, support our local ecology and grow their own food. Visit www. northshorerecycling.ca for more information.

Beyond the suggestions for hobbyist gardening education mentioned herein, self-study on the Internet or reading books remains one of the easiest ways to improve your knowledge.

However, after several thousand years of gardening throughout human history, the best way to learn is still done through mentoring from an experienced horticulturist. And even today in the modern era, mentoring is used worldwide by businesses, universities and non-government agencies as the best way to teach theoretical information and practical skills related to gardening. So maybe it's time to befriend a gardener?

Todd Major is a journeyman horticulturist, garden designer, writer, consultant and organic advocate. stmajor@shaw.ca

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