Branching out

Learn how to grow your own at local gardening classes

Kim Romska finishes planting a perennial while garden coach Marnie Brennan gives students tips on how to plant at the Garden Shop’s Roots Camp.

Kim Romska finishes planting a perennial while garden coach Marnie Brennan gives students tips on how to plant at the Garden Shop’s Roots Camp.

The following places offer gardening classes throughout the season, most ranging from $0-$15: • Garden Shop, 3636 Mayberry Drive, 825-3527,; • Moana Nursery, 1100 W. Moana Lane,825-0602,; • Rail City Garden,1720 Brierley Way, Sparks, 355-1551,; • River School Farm, 7777 White Fir St., 747-2222,

I’ve never had much experience with plant life beyond trying to maintain some catnip once for the enjoyment of my cat. Even that didn’t last long—good thing he prefers to play with laser pointers.

I live in a high-rise condo. I don’t have a yard, so I don’t have much opportunity to grow things, although some of my neighbors have lovely potted plants on their balconies. All in all, I rely heavily on grocery stores. So when my editor asked me to take a home gardening course and write about it, it seemed like a nice change of pace. It turns out local nurseries offer gardening classes, often for free, nearly every week in the spring and summer for people who want to grow their own food and flowers. Gardening wasn’t a New Year’s resolution, but hey, it’s never too late to add to the list, right?

So last Saturday at 10 a.m., I was primed to get down and dirty at the Garden Shop at Caughlin Ranch for its monthly course: Root Camp. While most classes at the shop are free, this course has a $15 drop-in fee due to materials costs for the hands-on seminar.

Class action

Upon entering the spacious white shed in the back of the shop, I was greeted by my classmates, many of whom were returning students from Root Camps past. All were women with the exception of one older man in the back row. They had come prepared with questions scribbled on note cards for gardening coach and Garden Shop marketing manager Marnie Brennan. A spunky, animated woman with short gray hair and an inviting smile, Brennan knew the answer to every question and then some. She’s a radio host on the side—the voice of the Impatient Gardener on Fox 1270am, every Saturday at 8 a.m.— and knew how to engage a crowd, animatedly talking with her hands and miming with her own human limbs how a tree’s roots grow.

Brennan focused Root Camp on three sections: plant selection, sun requirements and soil considerations.

I can honestly say I learned something: When choosing which plant to grow, you must first consider how much room you have available, how big it will grow, and how much water is needed. If its water and food requirements aren’t met, then, like a human infant, the plant will get bored and unhappy. I also learned that chemistry goes beyond the classroom. The symbols on that organic bag of soil? They stand for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Knowing how much of each the plant needs makes all the difference.

Most importantly, the success of a plant starts at its roots.

“Realistically, I worry more about what’s going on under the ground than what is on top of it,” Brennan explained. “If I don’t have a healthy root, I won’t have a healthy plant. Period.”

As for a fast fun fact? When it comes to manure, birds have the best type, particularly turkeys. Their droppings naturally produce slow-releasing nitrogen, and the iron is instantly available for all your plant’s needs. Bat guano also has a wonderful slow release, but it’s a bit more costly. The worst, said Brennan, you could use is horse—it’s full of salt and seeds. Don’t pretend you didn’t want to know that.

The class ended outside. Gloves on hands, we helped Brennan plant a tree in a hole she’d dug earlier that morning. While we circled around and observed the speed of the water soaking into the soil, I patted myself on the back for successfully completing Root Camp—the New Year’s resolution I never knew I had.