University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Winter Article


By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor

Winter is a great time for gardeners to head back to school.  Garden centers, colleges, garden clubs, Cooperative Extension programs, and botanical gardens all offer learning opportunities for both novice and experienced gardeners.

Start by checking out the classes available through your local college or university.  Many of these are held at night and on weekends to accommodate the schedules of working people.  In winter, full service or complete garden centers and stores often sponsor free seminars and classes on starting seeds, houseplant care, planning the garden, and other seasonal activities.  Many will offer classes throughout the year, so if interested, ask to be put on the mailing list.

Visiting an arboretum or botanical garden is another good way to "garden in the winter."   Many offer seminars, lectures, and even tours throughout the colder months.  Head north to the Montreal Botanic Gardens where you can visit ten exhibition greenhouses.  Each house offers a look at a different type of gardening or plant family from rainforest plants and tropical ferns to arid region plants, among others.

Take a walk around the grounds to observe the winter landscape and see how certain trees and plants are protected against the elements.  It may give you a few next ideas for your own landscape and garden.  For more information, call (514) 872-1400 or visit http://

 Both The Friends of the Hort Farm and the Vermont Community Botanic Garden (VCBG) in S. Burlington offer a series of talks in the winter and spring, along with walks, workshops, and other activities.  Events and membership information for The Friends can be found at http:// Call (802) 863-1308 to learn more about VCGB and its activities.

 If you are an avid gardener and are interested in sharing your knowledge with others as a volunteer, enroll in the University of Vermont (UVM) Extension Master Gardener program.  The next course begins in February.  For information, contact Nancy Hulett, Extension home horticulture program coordinator, at or call (802) 656-9562.  Or learn more at the Master Gardener Website: http://

 You will receive instruction over a 14-week period from experts in vegetables and fruits, entomology, ornamentals, turf, and other horticultural fields.  To earn certification as a Master Gardener you then need to complete 40 hours of community service, sharing your gardening knowledge with school and community groups, homeowners' associations, and others through workshops, projects, and the local media.

 But you don't have to be a certified Master Gardener to pass on your love of gardening to others.  Offer to teach gardening to a local 4-H club, scout troop, or youth group.  If your town has a community gardening program, ask if you can join the board or volunteer to teach a workshop or two in your area of expertise.

 If you are a parent, work with your child's teacher to plan a unit on growing seeds or composting everyday kitchen scraps.  Or if your gardening experience is limited, then why not help the class make decorative flower pots by stenciling designs on a terra cotta pot.   In preparing for the class you will expand your own knowledge on the subject while instilling in children an enthusiasm for gardening and the environment.

 Join a local garden club or horticultural association to meet people with similar interests.  In Vermont there are groups devoted to the art of bonsai, African violets, and railway gardening, among others.  Meetings are often listed in the home and garden section of newspapers.

 Consider joining a national organization that caters to your specific interest, such as orchid growing or organic gardening.  Many of these groups have a newsletter or magazine that allows you to read up on related topics.  Some have local chapters that you could join.

 A good way to find out about these organizations is to do an Internet search.  Or check out the listings on my Website at  Another excellent source is the Directory of American Horticultural Associations, published by the American Horticulture Society.  Your local library may have a copy.

 If you're interested in outdoor flowers, you may want to consider my UVM course, soon to be offered totally online as "Herbaceous Garden Plants Online!"   It will be one of the first such course offerings in this field on the Internet, will cost less than most other such online courses, and will allow you to work at your own pace.   The course will cover more than 150 garden plants in over 400 pages of notes, and another 250 pages in 32 lectures and 90 mini-lectures.  The lectures are also available in audio as well, on 14 CDs, and streamed with real audio on the internet.  To learn more, visit the Website:  http://

 Finally, don't overlook many of the fine programs offered on public television and cable stations.   Although some are geared to beginning gardeners, many offer step-by-step instructions for the advanced gardener, such as how to design a working landscape plan, plant an English cottage garden, or build a trellis for climbing roses.  Most will tell you how to get additional information.

 There also are an abundance of garden magazines, some addressing a broad range of subjects, others focused on a single topic such as railroad gardening.  Check out the selection at your local bookstore or library or ask fellow gardeners to share the back issues of their favorite magazine.

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