Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Favorite Classes

My garden knowledge comes from taking classes, from reading, and from doing. The first garden book I ever bought was The American Horticultural Society’s Encyclopedia of Gardening. It’s a big, expensive book, but it’s a seriously good place to start. The first classes I ever took were at The Morris Arboretum in Chestnut Hill, PA. I really love taking classes to learn new things and they have some great classes, especially for beginners. I was a sponge soaking in new information every year. I took classes in cottage gardening, shade gardening, perennials, container plants, rose care, pruning, dividing, lawn care, soil, composting, dry flower wreath-making, botanical drawing, botanical watercolor, and more. I took at least one class a year there, sometimes more, for many years. The Morris Arboretum has been an essential part of my learning and growth as a gardener.

Wreath I made in a dried flower wreath-making class at The Morris Arboretum.

While most of those classes were for growing my garden skills, I particularly enjoyed the botanical drawing and watercolor classes I took there. I have always loved botanical illustration and drool over antique prints and illustrations by The Philadelphia Society of Botanical Illustrators at the Philadelphia Flower Show each year. One of the classes I took at the MA was on collecting antique botanical prints, taught by Denise DeLaurentis. Denise co-authored a simply GORGEOUS book named “The Art of the Garden: Collecting Antique Botanical Prints.” While I personally do not own any antique botanical prints, I found this book a delight to read and gawk at. This book has tons of beautifully reproduced full color illustrations by such notable artists as Basil Besler (1561-1629), female artist Elizabeth Blackwell (1700-1758), Pierre Joseph Redouté (1759-1841), the unique and stylistic work of Johann Christoph Volckamer (1644-1720), and more. It’s a feast for the eyes for anyone who loves plant illustration. I have grandiose dreams of one day being a world-renowned botanical illustrator, however, I am far, far, far away from that now. Here are some of my meager attempts at botanical drawing from my classes at the MA. The Calla Lily was the first drawing that I did in my classes.

Calla Lily drawing.
Lily drawing.
Drawing of a miniature rose.

There is something very calming and meditative about sitting in front of a flower, staring at it for a couple of hours, engrossed in all of it’s splendid details. As a graphic designer, I spend all of my time working on a computer. So to draw again is so much fun for me. I always loved to draw. When I was a kid I wanted to be a “horse illustrator.” Not sure there’s much call for that. Not that there’s much call for botanical illustrators anymore either.

A couple of years ago I discovered that Longwood Gardens had lots of interesting classes. Wow! Suddenly I had too many fun classes to choose from. So far I’ve taken classes in vegetable gardening, carnivorous plants (one of my favorite classes EVER!), garden lighting (a real eye-opener), propagation, botanical drawing in colored pencils, and I attended a one day symposium on “Ideas for Impact” (truly enlightening).

The carnivorous plants class was truly fascinating. For example, I learned that the Thread Leaf Sundew is lined with tiny droplets which act like glue. Insects get stuck and the threads will turn towards the bug, suffocate it and digest it right on the plant. It literally sucks out the insides and leaves the exoskeleton. Gruesome, eh? But sooooooo cool to think a plant can do that. The Pitcher Plant catches rainwater to drown it’s poor victims. It produces a nectar to lure them in. The inside of the Pitcher Plant is lined with tiny hairs that point down, so when the insect falls in it can’t climb back up. The famous Venus Flytrap has three spikes inside to sense when there’s an insect. It will close on the creature and suck it’s insides out, again leaving just the exoskeleton. The flytrap can only open and close a few times and then it will die. So don’t be messin’ with it trying to make it close or you’ll kill it. (That means you, Leisel! Stop pokin’ my flytraps when you come to visit.) We got to plant our own container of carnivorous plants and a couple of bog plants. I have already posted pictures of this before, but here it is again as a reminder.  The plants have done so well that they are actually too crowded in their pot now and need to be divided among two pots.

My pot of carnivorous and bog plants.

I have the new class catalogs for both The Morris Arboretum and Longwood Gardens and will need to decide what to take this year. Decisions, decisions. Will it be a class on tropical plants? Maybe succulents or intro to botany. Actually I think the orchid repotting class might be best. My poor, lone orchid will thank me for it later.

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