Posts Tagged ‘Sheridan Samano’

Class: Botany

This is the first class I started with Sheridan Samano, and the most recent one that I finished. It is usually held over an eight-week period, but with her more intense travel schedule, it was condensed to eight classes in four weeks. To be honest, two classes each week probably helped me on the quiz we started each class with, since it hadn’t been a full week since I had learned the information.

This class, even more than the ecology class, felt like a college class. There was a lot of information to cover, and we even had a text book. I recommend Brian Capon’s Botany for Gardeners to anyone that is interested in the why behind the how of gardening. It is accessible without being shallow, and is small enough to not intimidate. There were a couple of corrections to the book that we got in class. The favorite color of bees is yellow, not purple and blue, and there are more than four hormones that we now understand. We talked about a fifth, briefly, but apparently the number keeps growing.

Botany is an under-studied and under-researched field. Sheridan herself got into it kind of sideways, since her first interest is birds. She started learning about botany to better understand the birds’ locations and habits. Being a botanist isn’t a show-stopper of a career like a marine biologist or an avian biologist. After all, they’re just plants, right? How exciting could that possibly be? It turns out, even if you don’t take into account carnivorous plants, it can be quite exciting.  Everyone should remember from their middle-school and highschool science classes that plants are the primary producers. They are the organisms that take sunlight and make food that every other organism uses one way or another. The ways that they have found to survive and thrive in all sorts of environments to continue to do so are fascinating.

We all know that plants have been around for a long time. There are four classes of plants: Bryophytes (moss), Pterophytes (ferns), Gymnosperms (“naked seeds”), and Angiosperms (“vessel seeds”). Bryophytes, or non-vascular plants, are the oldest. Angiosperms are both the newest and the most prolific. They are also mostly what we use in our gardens. After all, the bulk of gardening is done for flowers and for fruit (technically just a fertilized ovary) which are only found in this class.

The variety found in plants is both fascinating, and potentially challenging. Anyone who gardens has run across the fact that some things just won’t grow in some locations. With this class, those locations have gone from large areas to very small ones. Don’t plant native Colorado plants in what used to be your vegetable garden. Their death will have nothing to do with elevation, water, or sunlight. It will have everything to do with the fact that they are designed for a harsh environment, not the lush richness required by vegetables. Don’t plant broad-leaved, shade-loving plants in a sunny spot around here. That death will have everything to do with the sun. When choosing indoor plants, bear in mind that most commercial houseplants are tropical plants that grow in the shade. They can handle the limited sun of a house without growing toward any sun they can find.

As with anything, the more I learn, the more I find that I don’t know. However, this class was a fantastic start to understand the whys behind so many gardening hows. Also, as long as you aren’t a Poison fan, here’s a conversation-starter for you. Every rose does not, in fact, have its thorn. They have prickles.

Class: Gardener’s Ecology Course

This is my second course with Sheridan Samano, but the first one I have completed. She recently retired from teaching college-level biology to focus on her tourism company. Unlike the landscapers and homesteaders I have been learning from, this class felt like a college class. But it was the kind of class you hoped to get, the kind where the professor is so excited about the subject that you can’t help but get caught up in the enthusiasm.

It is a six-hour class. Usually it is broken up over three weeks, but this particular round was two three-hour Saturdays. It was an intense amount of information, but very useful. We covered general ecology information before we moved on to more Colorado-specific information.

Ecology is the study of interactions between an organism and its environment. When we think of this, we tend to think of plants and animals. In fact, ecosystems are named for their dominant plant species. However, it is the abiotic, non-living, factors that determine the dominant plant species. The plants then determine what animals can be supported in that area. What does this mean to a gardener? If you don’t have the right abiotic factors, sunlight, temperature, moisture, etc., then your plants are going to have a difficult if not impossible time surviving. I spent the drive home on the first Saturday noticing that there was still snow on the north-facing slopes despite the unseasonably warm weather. In the northern hemisphere, the north-facing slopes are cooler and wetter than the south-facing slopes, due to less sun exposure. That would not be the place for an early spring garden.

When we were discussing biotic (living) versus abiotic (non-living) factors, it was interesting to note that soil is considered a biotic factor. The minerals worn from rocks are abiotic, but when you add in the organic material and the organisms that make that organic and inorganic material available to plants, it becomes biotic. In other words, it’s a living organism that you can kill. This becomes important when you think about fertilizers. Too much or the wrong thing can kill the soil as much as the plants that are using it.

I am very interested in the idea of making gardening easy. I like to garden, but I have a lot of interests. I only have so much time to devote to each. When you think about fertilizing, instead of automatically dumping on x product, organic or not, at y time because you always do, think about whether or not there’s a need for it. Are you seeing evidence of a lack of particular nutrients? Is it a vegetable garden where you know that you don’t leave any vegetation to decompose for use the next year?Those are the times that Sheridan suggest that you fertilize. That way you are providing what is needed, but no more.

I really enjoyed this class because gardens really are little ecosystems. They can be healthy ones or they can be faltering ones. The more we understand that a garden is more than the plants we thought were pretty and plunked in the garden where we decided they should go, the more we can understand how to help a faltering garden or appreciate one that is a successful balance of so very many variables. I also now have a desire to take a trip out I-70 to the east so that I can watch the march of all the different ecosystems we have, here, in Colorado.