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February: The ‘love to learn’ month in the garden

If you long for some gardening love this February, use these cold, hard-to-garden-in days to further your education, and perhaps kick off a whole year—maybe even a lifetime—of garden learning. The options are many and varied.

One exceptional opportunity is to become a Master Gardener, which affords the chance to be both a learner and a teacher. The nonprofit Alabama Master Gardener Association works through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System to provide continuing education opportunities and offer horticultural help to others through volunteer and community service programs.

Becoming a Master Gardener requires 50 hours of instruction focused on gardening practices and pest control, and 50 hours of approved volunteer service. It’s a commitment, but it’s a commitment that keeps on giving—to you and to others.

There are some 35 local Master Gardener associations throughout the state and many are enrolling for upcoming classes. Go to http://mg.aces.edu/ or contact your county Extension office to find out more about the programs.

If you want to help cultivate a new generation of garden lovers, consider volunteering with, or enrolling your youngsters in, the Alabama Junior Master Gardener program, which is also coordinated through Alabama’s Extension System. To learn more, go to www.aces.edu/junior-master-gardener/index.php.

I often cite the Extension System as a go-to resource for gardeners for good reason. This more than a century-old organization provides exceptional resources that can help answer virtually any gardening question, resources that are science-based and specifically targeted toward Alabama’s gardening needs. Go to www.aces.org to find contact information for your local Extension office and also access Extension’s plethora of online materials.

Public gardens, local nurseries are resources

Alabama’s public gardens are yet another great source of garden learning. Located throughout the state, these gardens and arboretums offer chances to wander through some of the nation’s most beautiful plant collections and participate in workshops on a wide range of subjects. A list of most of these gardens can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_botanical_gardens_and_arboretums_in_Alabama.

Local nursery and garden centers also often offer workshops on everything from plants to gardening projects to culinary or food preservation classes. If you’re not familiar with your local nursery and landscape businesses, check out the membership list of the Alabama Nursery and Landscape Association’s website (https://alnla.org) for some options. 

Yet another resource for gardening events is the Alabama Tourism Department (http://alabama.travel/), which provides an online calendar of events that include flower shows, garden tours and other garden and outdoor educational and recreational opportunities.  It can also help you find garden-related travel experiences in the state.

And still another option is to join a gardening club or plant society. These organizations range from plant-specific groups (ones that focus on wildflowers and native plants or on cultivated species like camellias, roses and orchids, to name a few) to those with a more general gardening focus. The Garden Club of Alabama’s website (http://gardenclubofalabama.org) provides links to all the official garden clubs in the state or do an online or library search for Alabama garden clubs and plant societies to find ones that pique your interest.

Finally, never underestimate the knowledge of your gardening friends, relatives and neighbors. These seasoned gardeners have so much experience to offer and most of them will relish the chance to share it with you.

Oh, and if you’re thinking of gardening as a career, a great resource is the Alabama Green Industry website at www.alabamagreenindustryjobs.org. It has information on career options and on community and four-year colleges that offer horticultural degrees.

You can also use this short, chilly, love-laced month to tuck in and read books and magazines and explore the many resources that may help deepen your love of gardening—and learning. What a great Valentine gift to yourself and your garden!

Katie Jackson is a freelance writer and editor based in Opelika, Alabama. Contact her at katielamarjackson@gmail.com.