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Gardening Wars

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Recently, I had a shocking realization: I have turned into my mother.

The moment of clarity came as I was up to my elbows in an ornamental bush, attempting to thin out the overgrown deciduous shrub so my neighbors would stop glaring every time they had to leave the sidewalk to get around it.

I have spent years teasing my mother about her propensity to aimlessly wander the yard or garden, a weeding tool clutched in her hand as she scans the ground for offending vegetation. It's not uncommon to find various gardening tools left by a tree or bush she got halfway through trimming before her attention was drawn away by a more pressing project.

So, I was chagrined to find myself in the same situation. I hadn't meant to prune the bush. I had meant to mow the lawn, but that led to fretting over ugly spots in the grass, which, in turn led to an internal monologue about if 1) the less-than-green color was a result of bugs, and 2) if so, how could I tell and what could I do? and 3) would those bugs bite or lead some kind of rebellion if I attempted to get rid of them?

Rather than fall into a panic spiral over my lack of yard-maintenance knowledge, I ignored the grass altogether, grabbed a clipper and began hacking at branches. It was, I'll admit, cathartic.

But there must be a better way. After all, many people consider gardening relaxing and fun, and few of us are born with innate knowledge of all things green. I began a quest to find where the answers lay. First stop, the Idaho Botanical Garden.

A Boise institution, it not only offers visitors the chance to tour beautifully maintained gardens, but it also presents a bevy of educational opportunities.

Garden staff hosts a year-round series of adult education programs dealing with all levels of gardening, as well as lectures about Idaho ecology. While the summer program is nearly over, there are a few classes remaining in the series.

Among them is Idaho Underground on Aug. 2., which helps frustrated gardeners understand the fundamentals of the area's soil, what it needs, how to water and how to make growing things a whole lot easier. The class begins at 9 a.m. and costs $10 for garden members or $15 for nonmembers. Call 208-343-8649 to preregister (required) or check out the class schedule at idahobotanicalgarden.org.

My next stop was the University of Idaho Extension Office, hidden near Hawks Memorial Stadium on Glenwood Street. As a university with a strong agriculture base, the University of Idaho has a plethora of experts at its disposal. And handily enough for Treasure Valley residents, some of them are located in the Ada County branch.

Among options for the horticulturally deficient is the master gardener program. The program allows more experienced gardeners to earn the coveted title, but to do so, they must spend an allotted amount of time teaching others.

Susan Bell, a 24-year veteran horticulturist with the office, suggests a series of classes designed for beginning gardeners offered in both the spring and fall. It's $150 for the entire series and classes are held either for half a day, once a week, or evenings.

Staff also offers a lot of walk-in and phone-tutoring for desperate gardeners. Anyone with questions is invited to call the extension office for some expert advice. Having a problem with a plant? Bring in a sample and they'll analyze your problem for you. Give them a call at 208-377-2107.

I'm already busy digging up samples of my lawn, although I've got my guard up for the militant grubs.