Budding Horticulturists Discover World of Plants Courses and Nature Walks Unlock Nature's Hidden Treasures

By Lee Lawrence, | The Christian Science Monitor, April 28, 1998 | Go to article overview

Budding Horticulturists Discover World of Plants Courses and Nature Walks Unlock Nature's Hidden Treasures


Lee Lawrence,, The Christian Science Monitor


Despite forecasts of rain, nine hearty individuals clad in Windbreakers and hiking boots congregate in the parking lot of Carderock Recreational Area in Great Falls Park, Md., early on a Sunday afternoon.

The group includes a lobbyist, a college senior, a commercial-construction estimator, a proposal manager for Boeing Co., and an environmental scientist. They wait expectantly at the open tailgate of a station wagon to receive magnifying lenses and copies of "Newcomb's Wildflower Guide" from Stephanie Mason, senior naturalist at the National Audubon Society.

"It's a really big plant world," she says. "In Maryland alone, there are over 2,200 species of herbaceous plants. Sometimes people get frustrated - that's why you have 'keys.' " Keys are the characteristics of a plant that unlock the secret to its identity. They are the components of what Ms. Mason calls a plant's "composite picture." They help people make sense of the teeming flora that surround them. They are just some of many tools people acquire when they enroll in courses, lectures, or nature walks offered by museums of natural history, botanical gardens, arboretums, horticultural departments of community colleges, local nature centers, branches of the Audubon Society, or commercial nurseries. The content ranges from introductory classes on ecology to plant identification, from instructions on landscaping or pruning to garden photography or ikebana flower arrangements. Broad-based curricula tend to encompass the wildlife and insects that make up the local ecosystem and often involve field trips or laboratory work where students examine specimens, identify plants, and learn about pollination and seed dissemination. Mary Metler has garnered useful information in evening horticultural classes at Prince Georges County Community College in Largo, Md. Although she has worked for two years at Behnke's nursery in Beltsville, Md., the classes give her a broader base of knowledge useful in and outside her job. "They give me more than I need to know for my job," she says. "But now I can go into the woods and tell my kids this is a certain plant, and I can teach the people at work about plants." Like Ms. Metler, many who sign up for horticultural and natural history classes also love to garden. "There are also people who want to know more about plants or young homeowners who want to start a garden and want to do it right," says Diane Lewis, program coordinator at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Md. …

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