The Final Exam

After sixteen weeks of class, twenty quizzes, a weed research project, two field trips, a propagation experiment and oodles of self-study time, Master Gardening school is over. I loved every minute start to finish. It was thought provoking, eye opening, steeped in tradition and filled with personal nuance all at once. 

I was pretty sure the lessons on lawns, pesticides and vegetable gardening would have little use in my world. I prefer an organic garden – in fact, it gives me great pleasure to pull those weeds out by their gnarly necks, and there’s never been a desire to create a full-fledged vegetable garden, or have a lawn to mow.

But it was really fascinating to learn to read the pesticide labels. We spent almost an hour on a class project comparing the active ingredients of the major pesticide/insecticide brands, and figuring out what they will and will not do. Creating and maintaining a lawn is a work of art, and diagnosing its ailments could be nothing short of scientific.

We learned to identify the palates of particular insects and the dinner preferences of wildlife (moles eat meat, voles are vegetarians). I’ve already used the integrated pest management approach to rid my irises of those miserable little aphids by moving sage, oregano and peppermint nearby to mess with their aggravating little noses. I have a wealth of new knowledge inside my brain.

The final exam arrived two weeks ago by email. We were given one week to answer 50 questions and the whole thing was open-book. Success was only a matter of finding the exact answer written by an “acceptable” source – meaning that we are not to accept for fact anything that’s written on a gardening blog, or take for gospel the advice from your neighbor’s grandmother.

Some answers came easily; there were two that took several days. It took even more time to answer the question on treating Hemlock Woolly Adelgid because I have realized the Hemlocks at the back of our property and two by our neighbor’s house have this ailment, and I’ve spent hours re-reading everything.

This is a Hemlock on our property, and exactly what Hemlock Woolly Adelgid looks like.

I submitted my completed final exam to our instructor last Monday. On the first day of class, an official name-tag was promised for each volunteer who completes the course and passes the exam. I received the email a few days ago requesting my name-tag selection, so I assume I’ve passed the class. Which means, technically, I am now fully trained and properly prepared “to guide homeowners in making environmentally sound decisions in their landscapes” – even if I’m still unsure about making sound decisions in my own landscape.

Every rust spot, curled, dropped or spotted leaf sends me running for the textbook, and I’ve noticed more than a few million more insects than I ever knew occupied my garden. Then I’m in a panic to determine whether it’s a beneficial insect, or an invasive creature that should be terminated forever. Heaven forbid I kill the wrong insect. It’s exhausting.

And about that vegetable garden. 

My husband and I were having lunch one day last week when we rather abruptly decided to plant a vegetable garden. Maybe it’s because we’re not doing our own grocery shopping these days and you don’t always get exactly the selection you were hoping for, or maybe my fascination with gardening is rubbing off on him. But we’ve planned, talked about and negotiated the details of our little garden over a lunchtime planning session on most every day now for a solid week.

It was during our second lunchtime session that we decided on the list of seeds we’d order: broccoli, asparagus, radishes, spinach, romaine lettuce, mixed lettuce, green beans, russet potatoes, little red potatoes, sweet potatoes, bunching onions, cherry tomatoes, spaghetti squash, summer squash, banana pepper, cauliflower, bok choy – maybe we need more space.

The area behind my shed seemed to be the perfect spot, except that it does eliminate a major part of the area that Mr. Boggs prefers for doing his business in some sort of privacy – although now he seems to simply enjoy lying in the fresh soil. I’ve told him that we’re all sacrificing something these days.

If only we could grow toilet paper.