Picture yourself in the classroom again, blank notebook page in hand, debating whether to raise your hand and ask a question or wait and hope that someone else will do it.


If you are at all interested in learning a little or a lot about gardening, now is the optimum time and best place to do it.

This winter and spring hold some wonderful opportunities to get some horticulture education, perhaps meet new gardening friends and to ask all the questions you want -- at little or no cost.

Our own Department of Recreation and Parks is offering four one-lecture classes taught by former "Green Piece" columnist and horticulture consultant, Miriam Mahowald.

"Trees in Your Landscape" -- from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday,March 13, at Cedar Lane Park West -- will cover tree maintenance as well as selecting and planting new trees.

Recent research has negated the planting rules you might have learned a few years ago, and many disease-resistant tree varieties adapted to our area are now available.

You can follow up with "Pruning Know-How" (10 a.m. to noon Saturday, March 16, at Rockburn Branch Park). "Gardening With Fruits and Berries" (7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, March 20, at Cedar Lane) will acquaint you with edible aspects of a landscape.

But I'll bet the best-attended class will be "Enhancing an Established Lawn" (7 to 9 p.m.Wednesday, March 27, at Cedar Lane). Each class costs $6. Call 313-7254 for registration and information.

Brookside Gardens in Wheatonwill offer many interesting classes this spring, most of them free. Area experts will be presenting information on "Groundcovers," 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 13; "Continuous Summer Bloom -- Annuals," 10 a.m.Friday, Feb. 15; and "Plant Whims," about unusual plant forms, 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21.

"English Gardens, American Style," (7 to 9p.m., Feb. 28 and March 1, $15) taught by Anne Brooks of Hollywalk Nursery, promises practical advice on adapting English plants and style to Central Maryland.

There is a two-session course on "Making Vegetables Grow" (7 to 9 p.m., March 19 and 26, $15) and a two-session course on "Making Fruits Grow" (7 to 9 p.m., April 2 and 9, $15). Both are taught by Mahowald.

"Better Lawns" (10 a.m. Friday, March 8), explained by the Montgomery County Urban Agriculture agent, and a hands-on demonstration on "Care of Your Roses" (2 p.m. Saturday, March16) also look promising.

Brookside Arboretum (near Randolph Road and Georgia Avenue), is an easy drive for Howard County residents. Call 301-949-8230 for more information on these classes and more.

Cylburn Arboretum is another nearby institution that offers free lectures of local interest. Cylburn contains many gardens, a nature preserve, trails and an herbarium as well as the mansion, where lectures anddemonstrations are conducted. Today at 2:30, you may catch a presentation on "Pruning" by Gerald Moudry.

At 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, "Cultivation and Use of Herbs," by Marlene Lufree will be offered. Cylburn is located at 4915 Greenspring Ave., between Northern Parkway and Cold Spring Lane in Baltimore. More information can be attained bycalling 301-367-2217 between 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

David Campbell, who heads the landscape maintenance department at Howard Community College, will again be teaching his eight-week (2 hours per week) course on "Landscape and Grounds Maintenance" for Howard Community College's Continuing Education Program. Campbell directs his expertise at the homeowner as well as the professional horticulture student.

The Office of Continuing Education will also offerfive weeks (4 hours per week) of "Floristry: Basic Floral Design."

Mary Sue Jacobs' course includes flower arranging from corsages towedding center pieces. There is a materials fee, but you get to takehome all your creations. Spring session registration begins March 4.Call 992-4825 for class times and fees.

Metzler's Garden Center in Columbia has established a tradition of "Winter Workshops," offeredon Saturdays in February and March. This year's schedule looks outstanding.

How about "Vegetable Gardening for the 90s" (10:30 a.m., Feb. 16), taught by Scott Aker, our county extension agent; or "Wildlife and Environmentally Friendly Landscapes" (1 p.m., Feb. 16).

Thelist also includes sessions on herb gardening, lawn care, landscape design and water gardening. For complete details and pre-registration, call Metzler's at 997-8133. The cost is $3 for each class.

If the classroom-note pad-question period isn't for you, or your schedule is just too full already, don't give up. There is an information bonanza at the Howard County Library. And not just in books.

I hope I'm not giving away a secret that should be kept, but the videocassettecollection at our library has been growing by leaps and bounds.

The Audio-Visual Department is located on the first floor of the Central Library in Columbia, to the right of the stairway.

There are more than a dozen instructional videos available on many aspects of home gardening in the bin "Home Improvement."

While you can't interact with a videotape, you can get to see actual garden conditions and step-by-step outdoor demonstrations if the tape is well-presented.

Although many of the titles are listed in the computerized library catalog under the subject "gardening," they are interspersed with the book listings and finding them can be frustrating.

It's better to go to the bin and "browse," as the librarian told me. But you will only see what is not checked out.

Most of the videocassettes come in a series. For instance, the Morris Video series contains titles like "Pruning," "Annuals and Hanging Baskets" and "Exclusive Lawns."

I liked the information presented in the tape I sampled here, but the advice is a little West Coast-oriented and the format a little stodgy and disorganized. Ed Hume, the series narrator, is not an exciting speaker.

I was really disappointed with my tape from the "Joy of Gardening" series. I enjoyed Dick Raymond's book by the same title, and I understand that his PBS series, seen in New England, is good. But the series tape on "Compact Gardens -- Small Space and Containers" (not narrated by Raymond) was superficial to the point of being misleading. It was also boring.

By far, the best tape I reviewed was "How to Design and Build a Vegetable Garden" from the "Yardening" series, presented by garden writer Jeff Ball. Ball is an engaging teacher andexplains plenty of "why's" along with "how-to's." I'm looking forward to viewing his "How to Grow Cool Weather Vegetables" and "How to Grow and Cook Fresh Herbs."

The library also has tapes on landscape design, rose care, house plant tips and how to build an underground sprinkler system. The "Cooking" bin offers "Victory Garden Recipes -- From Garden to Table" with recipes demonstrated for 22 vegetables, arranged chronologically by season of harvest.

Instructional videocassettes can be checked out for seven days free of charge, but there is a stiff overdue charge of $2 per day. You must sign a waiver agreement before checking out tapes.

The list of educational opportunities for gardeners goes on. I haven't even mentioned the Master Gardener program, local garden and environmental club activities or the National Arboretum.

Howard County gardeners have a uniquely rich season for learning.

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