Learning to Grow

The best part of my job is teaching, especially the plant production course (kind of Floriculture and Nursery management rolled into one). Today all the students are back on campus, and it’s an energy infusion for me, after weeks of quiet and mountains of paperwork.  I made copies of the syllabus, and walked in to a class full of unsuspecting and slightly stand-offish students. They stared at the list of plants I handed them for the "crop lottery", where they draw for what they will be growing for the semester – from classic red geraniums to cutting-edge Colocasia (bartering is allowed for 5 minutes). They’re faced with the daunting responsibility of bringing a crop from propagation stage to market in a mere 14 weeks, on top of all the other work their class schedules throw at them. I must say, the indifference exuded by 19- and 20-year-olds can be palpable.

What I already know is that by the end of the semester, they will have…bonded over stacks of pots and wheelbarrows full of growing media; made 34 extra trips to the greenhouse to water and fertilize; critiqued each other’s growing skills and resultant products; quibbled over pricing their plants for the Hort Club Plant Sale; fretted over bud removal and pinching timing; freaked out over fungus gnats; and pleaded for another gorgeous hanging basket to take home to their family.  The joy of growing plants; of having a tangible, living, breathing (transpiring) thing to show for your academic efforts, is indisputably gratifying, as well as a hell of a lot of fun – especially when compared to chemistry lab. But I’ll let them figure that out.

Alicain Carlson of the 2008 class shows off her tropicals grown from tissue culture starts, all ready for the Big Plant Sale. She’s now a graduate student in Horticultural Science at North Carolina State University and hopes to pass all this on to her future students.

2 thoughts on “Learning to Grow”

  1. Horticultural production was one of my most loved subjects! In our second year we were just assigned a plant species that we had to grow 60 of, the methods of propagation and growing on in the greenhouse environment were entirely up to us individually. Some plants on the list were best grown from seed, others cuttings. We were expected to find all that out for ourselves, then grow the crop according to our research. Brilliant fun. We all learnt a lot in that subject, I can tell you! It illustrated for a lot of us first hand the methodical nature in which a good horticulturist goes about his or her business. That is, comprehensively understanding the requirements a plant has before attempting to grow it yourself is the only way to learn how to grow plants, any plant, successfully. I loved our production subject!

  2. Jimbo, I sure wish I had two years to teach it. Oh, the things we’d grow… Unfortunately, the undergrad curriculum is so crammed with other requirements, the students often have to choose between horticulture courses or soils, business management, plant pathology, etc. Too many courses, not enough academic hours allotted. It’s amazing how many students get through our program without ever growing a plant…

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