My Botanical Solstice
Normally, I treat the summer solstice as an ultra-relaxing holiday, getting up extra early to watch the sun rise and then spending as much of the day as possible outdoors – often sitting in the garden reading a novel while I soak up the glorious Maine summer light. This year was different. I did get up extra early on the solstice, but not to have as many hours as possible for relaxing out of doors. Instead, I got up early because I needed to be out of the house early to make the 90-minute drive to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, where I was taking the first course toward my Certificate in Native Plants and Ecological Horticulture, a three-day class in basic botany called “The Life of a Plant.”
With an early start, I was able to arrive at the garden more than 30 minutes before the start of class. After checking in, I sat down at an outdoor café table to eat the breakfast I had packed while I reviewed the reading from Brian Capon’s Botany for Gardeners (Timber Press, 2010) assigned for this first day of class. Class began with brief introductions, followed by a lecture of about an hour. The rest of the day was spent either out in the garden, applying what we had learned to real plants or examining plant material in the classroom. The course was organized so that the first day focused on basic plant organs, cell structure, and on the basic life processes of photosynthesis and respiration. The second day of class focused on flowers and sexual reproduction in plants. The third day focused on seeds, germination and growth. Brief quizzes each afternoon helped us to reinforce knowledge learned that day. It was a wonderful experience. I was impressed with the flexibility of the instructor, Lauren Stockwell, who was guided by the interests of the students and very open to drawing on their knowledge and particular expertise. This meant that we learned not only from Lauren but also from one another.
This course is required for both the Certificate in Native Plants and Ecological Horticulture and the Certificate in Botanical Arts. Our class was evenly divided between those with a primary interest in botanical arts and those with a primary interest in horticulture (although these two categories are hardly mutually exclusive), and the two groups often brought different perspectives to the course material, which expanded everyone’s horizons. One student was particularly likely to ask intriguing questions that never would have occurred to me (like “Can plants photosynthesize too much and OD?”) Another student was a high school science teacher and contributed educational tools to the course (like a microscope that could be attached to a laptop computer and used to take photographs of plant structures not visible to the naked eye). We spent a lot of time looking very closely at plant structures, both with the microscope tool and with hand lenses. I had never looked at the inside of a seed before, to see the structures that will emerge when the seed germinates. I was also amazed to discover that the blossoms of chives and clover are not individual flowers but inflorescences of many, many tiny flowers (very beautiful flowers in the case of red clover).
My experience of this first class has left me eager for more. I’ll be back at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens this weekend for a class on Gardening for Wildlife with Doug Tallamy.