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Plant Studio: The New York Botanical Garden’s New Online Classes for the ‘Plant-Curious’

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Plant Studio: The New York Botanical Garden’s New Online Classes for the ‘Plant-Curious’

January 31, 2024

If you’re a gardener in the New York City area, you’ve likely toyed with the idea of taking a class at the New York Botanical Garden to stretch yourself in new directions—maybe even towards a new career. But if you’re anything like me, you never enrolled because while the garden is inspirational, it’s a big schlepp from where I live. Starting this winter, I and other distance-challenged gardeners may get our chance to study with NYBG after all. 

NYBG’s Continuing Education program has just launched a new series of online classes that they are calling Plant Studio. Unlike their rigorous certificate program, these classes are “bite-sized” and offer a flexible schedule, with pre-recorded content dropped weekly via an online education portal.

Photography courtesy of NYBG.

The Plant Studio courses were all shot on location at the New York Botanical Garden and take online learners inside the Garden&#8\2\17;s classrooms and gardens.
Above: The Plant Studio courses were all shot on location at the New York Botanical Garden and take online learners inside the Garden’s classrooms and gardens.

Up until 2020, the NYBG had never offered online courses because the institution placed emphasis on hands-on learning. “We have over 700 classes, workshops, and lectures a year, and about 16,000 students annually,” says Kay Chubbuck, NYBG’s Vice President for Education. “The Garden had been very focused on hands-on experiential education up until the pandemic, which makes sense for a program that offers garden design and floral design.” But when the pivot to online learning inspired many non-New Yorkers to sign up for classes, NYBG was compelled to take another look at its course offerings. “We found that there was an even broader audience of people not just in the New York Tri-State area, but even globally around the world.”

The orchid class includes a close-up look at the New York Botanic Garden&#8\2\17;s impressive orchid collections.
Above: The orchid class includes a close-up look at the New York Botanic Garden’s impressive orchid collections.

The Garden will continue to offer their in-person certificate and continuing education courses, as well as online courses that are taught live and synchronously via Zoom. What’s new are the five classes within Plant Studio. Chubbuck describes them as being targeted at the “plant curious” (versus the certificate classes for the “plant serious”). “They’re designed for people who like plants, may be curious about plants and always wanted to learn a little bit about landscape design or how to do a floral arrangement but didn’t have the time,” she notes. The classes are pre-recorded content and run two, four, or six weeks, but they are not fully self-paced—and that’s intentional, says Chubbuck. “These classes have start dates and end dates; the assignments have due dates. That kind of scaffolding sets people up for success. If there are no deadlines, it can be hard to really be motivated.”

In addition to the pre-recorded videos each course comes with relevant handouts and readings that enhance the learning experience. Students also do hands-on work, which is submitted to their instructor for evaluation via the online learning portal.
Above: In addition to the pre-recorded videos each course comes with relevant handouts and readings that enhance the learning experience. Students also do hands-on work, which is submitted to their instructor for evaluation via the online learning portal.

The team at NYBG settled on their first five Plant Studio classes—Plant Science, Landscape Design History for Beginners, Orchid Design, Container Gardening, and Pruning Basics—after surveying existing and potential students. The six-week landscape design course, for example, is an easier and abbreviated version of one of the Garden’s most popular Continuing Education classes. These courses are also designed to be season-less and non-place specific. “We wanted courses that could reach as many people across different planting zones, different time zones as possible,” says Chubbuck. For example, a class like Container Gardening, you can do anywhere. There’s also a hands-on element to some, like the Pruning and Container Garden classes, for which students will complete their own projects at home.

The two-week pruning class demonstrated proper pruning methods with detailed videos by the NYBG staff.
Above: The two-week pruning class demonstrated proper pruning methods with detailed videos by the NYBG staff.

Plant Studio also offers gardeners an opportunity to meet key figures in the garden, who don’t have time to teach a conventional class. For example, Marc Hachadourian, the Director of Glasshouse Horticulture & Senior Curator of Orchids at NYBG, co-teaches the orchid class. Registration for spring is open now, and Chubbuck says we can expect another five classes to (hopefully!) be introduced before the end of the year. 

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