They blinded me with science

by Caroline Brown

Last night I went to the first official master gardener class–last week was just the orientation. I spent at least 4 hours trying to get through the first chapter of the RI Sustainable Gardening Manual–“Basic Botany.” Yikes. Words that I hadn’t seen since I was in college–gymnosperm, xylem, and phloem for example–initially brought me frightening flashbacks.

The lecturer did a pretty good job, though, of helping the roomful of gardeners and gardener-wannabes understand why botany is important to gardening. That’s what was missing for me as a semi-sober college sophomore who only wondered, why should I care about the parts of a root or the structure of a leaf? When will I ever need to know about palisade cells? It seemed at the time like a cruel punishment by scientists who only wanted you to memorize something.

Learning about the real-life connection between botany and gardening kept me awake through the 2 1/2 hour class even though I was running low on steam and energy (although admittedly, for old times sake and because I arrived on campus early, I went to the library and took a nap in a study carrell.)

For example, flower buds require a period of dormancy–where the the temperature is below a certain level, say 45 degrees. The number of hours of dormancy hours varies depending on plant. Forsythia requires a very short dormancy period. That’s why the yellow blooms of forsythia (like this one, photo courtesty of are one of the first signs of spring here in New England. Forsythia, image courtesy of

Another example has to do with stoma, the tiny openings on the bottom of leaves that allow water evaporation. When a plant can’t absorb enough water from the ground, the stomata will close to slow evaporation. Some leaves will wither and crumble. But the leaves of rhododendrons, a broadleaf evergreen, curl up in a tube. In New England, this usually happens in the winter when they can’t intake water from the frozen ground. That’s what’s happened here (photo courtesy of
a very sad & cold rhody

So that’s why it happens!! I always thought the leaves were just cold.

I learned a lot of other examples but this post is already too long……


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