Pictured Above: Spring Gardening School Keynote Speaker Doug Tallamy | Rob Cardillo photo

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s annual Spring Garden School has been an opportunity for the past 30 years for people who love gardening to go back to school to learn more from local Master Gardeners.

This year, for the first time, the now all-virtual program will be focused exclusively on sustainable gardening methods.

“We have a true environmental focus this year, which was a conscious choice,” said Roxanne Zimmer, CCE’s head of Community Horticulture, of the event, which will be held on March 20, the first day of spring. “Climate change is more understood as something gardeners need to address, in terms of degradation and loss of habitat, awareness and being more proactive.”

The work putting together the Spring Gardening School began last October, when Ms. Zimmer contacted national best-selling author and educator Doug Tallamy, who will be the keynote speaker at the event.

Mr. Tallamy, a professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware, is the author of “Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard” and “Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens.” His latest book, “The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees,” is due to be published later this month.

Spring Gardening School Organizer Roxanne Zimmer

“With spaces that have been developed, we need to think about collectively introducing plants to the area that can make a difference to our biosphere,” said Ms. Zimmer, who pointed out that, while many gardeners know the valuable service oak trees play in the ecosystem, many do not know that there are smaller varieties of oaks that they can plant if they have limited space.

“Removing or reducing your lawn is significant,” added Ms. Zimmer. “Replacing it with native plants is something that every homeowner can do.

Mr. Tallamy, along with 13 other presenters, are planning to lay out just how any gardener can build these ideas into their home gardens.

This year’s presenters will cover truly sustainable topics ranging from gardening for the birds to replacing your lawn with gardens to backyard beekeeping, edible landscapes, culinary herbs and the best natives to plant in tough places that are too hot, cold, wet or dry.

In a normal year, the Spring Garden School would take over the Riverhead Middle School, with attendees enjoying the buzz of activity and community spirit of a bunch of adults going back to school.

Last year’s event, which had to be cancelled at the start of the pandemic, had been sold out before the coronavirus wrecked our social calendars. 

This year’s digital format has several perks — attendees can choose from a “Seedling” $50 ticket, which grants access to three workshops and the keynote address, or a “Full Bloom” ticket, for $75, which enables them attend live sessions and then watch recordings of concurrent sessions later.

Due to digital license restrictions there is still a limit to the number of people who can register, and Ms. Zimmer is urging gardeners to book their tickets early before they sell out.

“We’ll be closing registration March 12, or sooner if we hit our limit,” she said.

She added that Cornell Cooperative Extension has been receiving a growing number of inquiries since the pandemic from libraries all over Long Island whose patrons want to take workshops on gardening.

On a weekday morning in mid-February, she said, she led a session with 77 people from the Adirondack Garden Club who want to start seeds now.

“People are more curious about how to garden, and the interest has grown with many people who have never had gardens before,” she said. “We all learn by doing.”

She added that this year’s virtual format has made it easier from people throughout Long Island and farther afield to register to participate in the Spring Garden School, since they don’t have to travel to Riverhead.

For more information or to register for Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Spring Gardening School, visit ccesuffolk.org/events/2021/03/20/2021-spring-gardening-school.                —BY

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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