Garden Lessons from Arboretums

Add arboretums to your urban garden tool kit as handy resources for learning and networking.

by Jean M. Fogle
Arboretum workshop

Courtesy Morton Arboretum

Arboretums, like Morton Arboretum near Chicago, can be found in or near urban centers. By enrolling in arboretum workshops and seminars, you can increase skills that you can put to use on your urban farm.

Moving to Chicago after college was a shock to my system. I found myself suddenly surrounded by buildings instead of the lush cornfields of Indiana. Thrust into a world of gray, I craved green.

Soon, I discovered Morton Arboretum in nearby Lisle, Ill., and it became a welcome haven. I could spend the day strolling through the gardens, refreshing both my body and mind. While I knew that arboretums collect and protect plants, I had no idea education is part of their mission.

Today’s arboretums and botanical gardens offer a lot to urban farmers. They strive to connect people with plants. Hands-on and educational experiences hosted by arboretums give gardeners the tools they need to live sustainably in an urban environment.

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Most arboretums are close to major urban centers. Find one in your city, and get a schedule of its classes, workshops and events. Arboretum activities can be a great way to learn how to make your urban oasis flourish.

Arboretum Classes

Arboretums bustle with classes on weekends and evenings. Get savvy on topics ranging from urban landscaping to environmentalism to culinary delights. Check out classes on vertical gardening, small-space landscaping, square-foot gardening and rooftop gardening. Want to blow away friends and family in the kitchen? Learn to cook with the herbs you grow or find out how to use medicinal plants native to your area. For the urban environmentalist there are classes on composting, rain gardens and rainwater harvesting. Arboretums can also clue you in on growing backyard fruit trees and keeping city chickens.

Arboretum Clinics

It’s time to tackle that plant problem that’s troubled you for years. During the growing season, many arboretums offer plant clinics where you can meet one-on-one with plant experts. Most clinics encourage you to bring plant samples from your garden, so the experts can help you diagnose your plant’s ailment and advise you on how to treat it. Plus, if you ever find pruning a daunting task, see if the local arboretum has a pruning clinic.

Arboretum Walks

For all those multitasking mavens, exercise both your body and brain with an arboretum walk. Owl walks, lizard walks, insect walks, butterfly walks, geology walks and even full-moon walks are great ways to learn more about your environment. Bird walks are always popular at arboretums, and each season features different birds in your area.

Arboretum Seminars

Keep your eye out for seminars offered by your local arboretum throughout the year. Seminars can last anywhere from several hours to an entire day. Many are free, but seminars that offer hands-on training might require a fee. You can learn about city beekeeping, worm farming and kitchen-garden design. During the holiday season, popular seminars include wreath-making and using natural materials for decorating.

Master Gardener Training

If you’re ready to share your love of urban farming with your surrounding community, consider enrolling in a Master Gardener program offered through your arboretum. Master Gardener training requires 40 to 60 hours of classroom coursework. After becoming certified, Master Gardeners give back to their community by teaching gardening classes, helping plant school and community gardens, giving lectures, and more.

In addition to Master Gardener certification, you can also become a Master Naturalist.  This also involves at least 40 hours of classroom training and community work.

Get greedy with your urban farming knowledge. Arboretums and botanical gardens offer a wealth of information that should not go to waste—not to mention, a place to relax and escape the bustle of city life. Check out your local arboretum today, and it could soon become your favorite place to learn.

About the Author: Jean M. Fogle is the author of Tricks for Treats (BowTie Press, 2010) and Salty Dogs (Wiley Publishing, 2007). She lives in Fort Valley, Va.

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