Seeds of knowledge

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A grandmotherly woman named Loretta handed me a slice of coffee cake, pulled up a stool, and told me to introduce myself as I entered the Washington Park Field House for the Seed Starting Workshop for Beginners. Seated on benches around large wooden worktables, fifteen other gardeners from the South Side smiled and nodded sympathetically when I admitted to being a college student with no gardening experience. The endearingly diverse group, made up of everyone from the confident elderly to the meek young, had come together for the second installment of the Washington Park Conservancy’s Birds, Bees & Beets 2011 lecture series.

The lecture, given by Kristen McPhee from the Chicago Botanic Garden, and the workshop that followed were filled with enthusiasm and nurturing support for beginner gardeners. McPhee’s language was clear and her scope comprehensive, as she walked participants through the process of turning a measly packet of seeds into a thriving vegetable garden–from setting up seedling-growing stations indoors to calculating germination time. To the delight of everyone present, some gardeners offered their own quirky suggestions for completing each step cheaply or for free, like using Christmas lights or radiators as heat sources and making newspaper cups to hold baby seedlings. Afterwards, Washington Park Conservancy President Madiem Kawa led a hands-on session for the new gardeners to test the various methods for housing seedlings, which–despite its educational content–might have been just a good excuse to play with dirt. Throughout the workshop, participants traded stories about obscure and coveted heirloom tomato varieties and predicted when the last frost will occur.

If you’ve finished your spring cleaning and are looking for a way to usher in the spring time, the Washington Park Gardening Lecture Series is hosting three more sessions in the coming weeks. Future lectures are set to address backyard beekeeping and food preservation. As this workshop proved, there’s a strong network of support in the Washington Park Conservancy for green-thumbed South Side residents; people of all skill levels are welcome. With the support the Washington Park Conservancy, at least a dozen private and community gardens are bound to pop up on the South Side this season. Washington Park Field House, 5531 S. King Drive. Call (773)203-3418 to register.