Down to earth – time to go back to school

With the outdoor gardening season on hold for the winter and the holidays behind me, my evenings and weekends feel like they’ve been blown wide open. And although I’m tempted to fill the time by curling up on the couch to read a good book with a dog on my feet, I’m feeling slightly more ambitious than that. I have no excuse — like needing to spend every waking moment in the garden — not to learn something new. Professionally it works out that most of the industry conferences and trade shows are held over the winter when we’re all a little less busy. I can look forward to spending at least two work days this winter wandering a trade show floor ogling tools and listening to lectures on gardening and plants. I never leave a conference without a few new ideas, which is exactly why it’s important to go.

The equivalent for non-professionals is a flower show. Although I’ve been disappointed lately in the number of tool vendors, the lectures are usually stellar and the display gardens well worth the price of admission. But we have to wait until the end of February for the Rhode Island Flower Show and all the way into March for Boston’s.

Around this time a few years ago I studied to become certified as a Rhode Island horticulturist through the Rhode Island Nursery and Landscape Association (RINLA). The best part of the training was the winter tree identification class I took at the University of Rhode Island (URI). Every Tuesday and Thursday for a month I came home with endless twigs, pages of notes and a burning desire to be able to name every tree I walked under. Which is very nearly possible after committing a few characteristics to memory such as the shapes of leaf scars, buds, and bark. In fact, the timing of the class is brilliant because by learning to recognize trees when their clothes are off, you’ll be able name them year round. This winter RINLA is offering the same class to the interested public and you won’t have to take a test afterward. Even though some of the identifying characteristics have stuck in my brain, I’m giving half a thought to enrolling in “track two” for a refresher. Check it out here:

beeswax lanterns in the makingOr, I might go to bee school. Even though I can’t quite imagine where in my tiny garden I could site a hive without constantly walking through the bees’ flight path, even though my husband just bought me a whole gallon of local honey, and even before making candles this Christmas from a friend’s unfiltered beeswax, I’ve been curious about keeping bees.

The R.I. Beekeepers Association is offering classes at URI and Rhode Island College that cover every topic from the honeybee life cycle to choosing an apiary, and from catching swarms to over-wintering. The fee is surprisingly low — barely more than the cost of a movie ticket per class — and includes a beginner beekeeper textbook and a one-year membership in the association. Check out for more information. Who’s with me?

If I was very ambitious, I’d make the trek to the Boston area for classes offered at Arnold Arboretum ( and through the New England Wildflower Society (NEWFS). The NEWFS  certificate in native plant horticulture and design is especially intriguing even though — or maybe because — it would be like going back to school. Some classes are required, others elective, but they all sound fascinating enough to justify both the financial commitment and the drive. See what I mean here:

In the meantime, while I hem and haw and inevitably talk myself back onto the couch, they’re offering one of their electives, “Native Plants for Four-Season Gardening,” in this very neighborhood, at Blithewold on Feb. 4. There’s no excuse not to learn something new that night at least.

Update: I did actually sign up for bee school! (Who’s with me?!)

2 thoughts on “Down to earth – time to go back to school”

  1. Kris, I was just doing some research on bee keeping and thought, maybe I should look into a class to start. Which day/place did you sign up for? I was thinking the Friday at RIC might be doable.

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