Howdy GA family,

Jeffrey Helton, AmeriCorps VISTA, here again to reflect on some of my experiences with Grow. This time, the spotlight is on the Master Gardener classes that I’ve been attending for about a month now.

But let’s backtrack a little.

Overlooking the first four years or so of my life, where I mostly chewed on my Crayolas and enjoyed physical comedy, I’ve always been academically minded. Soon after I started kindergarten, I learned to hound after good grades as if my life depended on them. I even believed that it did for a while. At some point, however, my perspective shifted. Although my understanding of academic excellence was still tied to dreams of future success, what I was learning in school felt interesting but only loosely relevant to the world outside of the classroom, and I  found myself more and more enamored with all things abstract. These days, I spend my free time pondering different philosophical theories and dissecting their presuppositions and their consequences. (Feel free to copy that sentence for your online dating profiles. I am 100% certain that you’ll either be more successful or you won’t.)

More often than I like to admit, I’m lost and wandering the wild gardens of my own mind.

After I graduated college, my academic nest vanished, and I’ve had to learn to navigate the real world. The process has been tough. I often can’t seem to remember things that “actually matter,” like when rent is due or how to spell my landlord’s name. Still, I am actually happy for a chance to put away the books, put grad school on hold (perhaps indefinitely), and learn about the other half of this life equation.

When I found out that I’d be taking a Master Gardeners class with some of my coworkers, my feelings were a bit mixed. On one hand, I’ve always thrived in a classroom setting. On the other, I spent seventeen years of my life in that setting. On the third hand, I apparently have three hands; maybe I should get out of my head more often. Seriously though, I knew that this class would be different than any others that I’ve taken. I was both excited and anxious to start learning stuff that dealt with real-world concerns–stuff that would help me in my position as a VISTA.

In our first Master Gardeners class, I felt a little out of my element. I was the only man in the class, which was fascinating, since I’d never really given much thought to a gender divide in the gardening world. Furthermore, most of my gardening “experience” has been absorbed from online reading or from the wisdom of my workplace betters. My classmates were all asking questions pertaining to their personal gardens, illustrating how lived experience often trumps the abstract. I wondered if I’d be able to keep up.

So far, I’m optimistic. I’ve always had trouble learning science, but the Master Gardeners approach is so cumulative and integrated that I feel like a fog in my head has cleared a little bit. I speculate that a major reason that the Master Gardeners approach is successful is because it melds those textbook-y bits of knowledge with examples that the students can touch and explore.

Other memorable moments include:

  • Identifying bug varieties. I can genuinely see why people go into entomology. I swear I saw Jabba the Hutt speared on one of those little pins. The universe of bugs is the universe of science fiction–except perhaps way stranger.
  • A fasciated rose. Fasciation is process where the growth of a plant becomes abnormal, causing the plant to look ribbon-like. The rose that we were examining looked vaguely like a Fruit Roll-Up.
  • When Brandon Sears spoke on soil sampling, he actually had a soil probe on hand, and he had a neat, live demonstration of the water retention qualities of different soil types. It was the kind of demonstration that you might expect to see in a children’s classroom, but I think those approaches are underrated as tools for adults.

Besides that, the general atmosphere of the class is great. Everyone’s usually sharing and laughing and, of course, learning. I’m looking forward to our next meeting!