What happens in 'A Year in the Garden'? | February 1, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - February 1, 2013

What happens in 'A Year in the Garden'?

From botany to a pruning demonstration, students gain hands-on knowledge of gardening

by Rebecca Duran

A large display of annual California native baby blue eyes greets visitors to Filoli in February.

"That's the wow factor when you first walk in," said Mimi Clarke, who will be teaching the fourth year of "A Year in the Garden" series from February through September, with a break in August.

"There's two classes per day, so there's a morning session and an afternoon session," Clarke said. Classes will be taught on a Wednesday and Saturday of each month, with Wednesdays already sold out. "Typically, we'll spend the morning in the classroom, talking about one of the more textbook topics, like botany. In the afternoons, we walk through the garden and I'll do walk-and-talks, like a plant i.d. walk or a pruning demonstration."

Clarke, who worked at Filoli as a gardener for nine years, still taught classes as she started her own business, Fiddle Fern Landscaping. While she taught a limited amount of classes on Saturdays at the garden, she found that students wanted more.

"I got asked the same questions like 'Oh, what do you fertilize with? How's your soil so great?' I just came up with the idea of doing a 'Year in the Garden' for people to come back each month, to see the progression and see how the garden operates all year-round. I cover propagation, botany, soil science, plant i.d., several different pruning classes," she said.

Becoming well-rounded and oriented with key components of gardening are Clarke's goals for the class, including soil, fertilizing, pest management, pruning, and general care along with the language of plants.

Clarke walks students through the garden, demonstrating techniques and talking about how things are done, whether it be maintenance or pruning demonstrations, something she spends a couple hours on.

"There's a few spots that I kind of highlight throughout the course of things that I want people to see at different times of the year, so we'll revisit it," Clarke said in reference to the annuals display. She adds that the group will come back a few times throughout the year to "talk about what's going on with the buds and just how they're maintained" as well as when the tulips are being planted and the progression throughout the year.

Clarke first came to Filoli as a summer intern while studying horticulture at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo before returning as an employee right after graduating. Clarke's own grandparents had greenhouses, and she worked in her mom's flower shop throughout her childhood in Hawaii. "I think gardening is just kind of in my blood," she said.

During her time as an intern, she learned from the gardeners there at the time and enjoys passing on her knowledge.

"It was so valuable for me to be taught and I take real pride in what I do," she said. "It's fun to talk about what I love and know how to do. When students ask what they might think of as silly questions that are really basic, it makes me think back to the basics of things."

Students get access to the garden when Filoli is closed. They get to see the garden through different seasons, which Clarke said was really important to former students. In the panel garden, Clarke shows rose plants as an example of a plant she would prune one month and would revisit several months later for the group to see the results.

The demographic of the class is typically homeowners who have gardens, and Clarke said the level of experience has varied greatly.

"Last year, I had a gardener who worked for a woman full-time and she paid for him to come to one of my classes," she said. "It's really great to get people who already have some gardening background or that even garden professionally to come be in one of my classes. That wasn't common for some of my classes. One of my visions is to gear a series, whether it's this one or another one, for gardeners — people who are gardening and doing this as a line of work to help enhance that knowledge."

There is also a second part to the series, in which students who completed Part I or have prior knowledge will take two class sessions during three days and expand their knowledge.

Some of Clarke's friends, as well as her mom, have taken classes from her at Filoli.

She believes Filoli is the perfect classroom and despite other offers, has never thought about branching off to teach at other places. She credits her specific ways of doing things from what she learned there.

"To teach here, for me, it's a full circle," she said. "It's pretty special."


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What: A Year in the Garden, Part I

When: Wednesdays (filled) or Saturdays, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., monthly beginning Feb. 6 or 8 through Sept. 14

Where: Filoli, 86 Canada Road, Woodside

Cost: $540 for nonmembers, $450 for members for the series

Info: www.filoli.org or 650-364-8300

What: A Year in the Garden, Part II

When: Wednesdays, 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Feb. 20, April 24 and June 19

Where: Filoli, 86 Canada Road, Woodside

Cost: $260 for nonmembers, $215 for members for the series

Info: www.filoli.org or 650-364-8300

Editorial Intern Rebecca Duran can be emailed at rduran@paweekly.com.