Science in the Garden

Seedling cross-section

Seedling in compost

Tree branch

Leaf structure

fall leaves

Darwin orchid







WEEK 1 – January 9 – Seeds

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  • Seed types, geographic distribution, basic structure
  • Seed dormancy, germination and ecology
  • Seed collection, storage, seed banks and national security
  • Seed savers, heirloom seeds and genetically modified organisms (GMOs)

WEEK 2 – January 16 – Stems

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  • Stem structure, types and functions
  • Water and nutrient transport
  • Soil-root-stem continuum
  • Stem structure and plant form and how they relate to pruning, staking and training plants
  • Wood, food and fiber from plant stems

WEEK 3 – January 23 – Leaves

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  • Basic structure and types of leaves
  • Water, gas exchange, photosynthesis
  • Modified leaves; spines, ferns, photosynthetic stems and more
  • Leaf chemistry, composting and the leather industry
  • Variegation and leaf pigmentation
  • The chemistry of fall color
  • Leaves as diet staples through history

WEEK 4 – January 30 – Flowers

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  • Structure and basic floral biology
  • Darwin, orchids and bees
  • Breeding flowers as big as your head
  • Why aren’t my hydrangea flowers blue?
  • Tulipomania

Science in the Garden - Suggested Readings


Some recommended books and journals. Specific readings will be provided when class begins.

Faith in a Seed by Henry David Thoreau
This classic Thoreau tome is a poetic observation of nature, ecology, and the relationships among land, plant, wildlife and humans.

Plant Identification Terminology by James G. Harris 
A reference rather than a fireside read, this is an excellent basic booklet to help the gardener understand basic terminology and plant structure.

Plants and Their Names by Roger Hyan and Richard Pankhurst
A fun reference that provides meaning and context for botanical names. A must have for the etymologist in every gardener.

The Miracle of Trees by Olavi Juikari
An interesting little book with short (sometimes 1-page) chapters on a wide range of tree biology/sociology topics.

A Natural History of Trees by Donald Culross Peattie
An excellent read for those interested in native trees, where they grow, how they are used by humankind etc.  Two editions; Eastern and Central North America, Western North America.

A Plant Hunter in Tibet by Francis Kingdom-Ward
One of the best of the plant explorer writers – Kingdom-Ward is a master storyteller. This is a fun read for anyone interested in plants, how they got to our gardens and the intrepid explorers who collected them.

The Why and How of Home Horticulture by D.R. Bienz
A good all around home gardener book that covers a wide range of topics from house plants to vegetable gardens, soil, pruning and more.

The Plantsman by the Royal Horticulture Society
This is a quarterly journal for the budding plant geek. Fabulously detailed articles cover specific plants and plant groups in a scholarly but accessible way. One of the best plant journals out there.

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Last Updated: 2/1/2013