I participated in an online planting course for My-Garden-School several weeks ago, excited but somewhat sceptical I embarked on the 4 week Planting with Grasses course under the guidance of Michael King, Grass and Perennials guru.

Not having much idea what to expect I am surprised how much I did learn and in fact how much more I could have learned had I had the time to invest in the homework and extra study time that always makes courses like this so valuable. They are like a full stop in life where you can (should) put all your efforts into one subject. Stop multitasking and just focus for a period on one thing. To become absorbed in your subject and really bury yourself in it.

OK so some of that is about me trying to do too much at once.

I will admit I didn’t know who Michael King was when I said yes to the course. It was all a bit last minute and I felt as if I was skidding  into class totally unprepared. And, I was. I was unprepared for the depth of knowledge shared, the expectation of time commitment for completing homework and the sheer volume of back reading I would want/need to do.

Now not everyone wants to study the way I do and some people are faster and less easily distracted than I am but I found Michael’s enthusiasm and level of knowledge challenging and it made me want to do my own research and get up to speed so I could try to engage more with the teaching. I already had 2 of the recommended texts (Rick Darke and Neil Lucas) , barely opened let alone read or studied and bought a 3rd half way through the course because I was inspired to know more about grasses.

For me the downside was that it was too much in too short a space of time and I simply could not shoe-horn it into the 4 week window allotted. Once teaching stopped, although learning material remains available for a period,  it loses something of it’s import when no one else is in the (virtual) classroom so to speak. I’ve studied virtually before and this is a common theme. There is a sense of someone is ‘watching’ and so we do our homework and follow our classes  and we are ‘seen’. When no one watches? well the pressure is less.

OK more or my own learning predilections I suspect not everyone needs to be a crowd pleaser when they are learning!

Joyfully the learning materials could be downloaded and printed, to be scribbled on during the half hour video lecture. Annoyingly the 30+ pages per week guzzled printer ink like it was vintage Dom P (a bottle of which is about what it cost to top up ink cartridges!). That said I would mentally factor this into the course costs in future because they were so worth printing and have since been extremely useful as a resource for my own planting designs since. Lots of great pictures IS a bonus as is being able to read the plant names and not try to scribble down close approximations to what you think you’ve heard being said in planterly Latin!

Getting direct feedback from an expert was daunting on occasion and being asked to work in a completely manual way (sketching, hand drawing and so on) was also a challenge, though one which has opened my eyes to my own talent for sketching. I realise that this, long ago ignored, skill is in fact a very useful tool for visualising schemes and luckily for me doesn’t take me too long to do. PLUS it makes my note book look arty and creative. One day it may even get into the Moleskine Blog!

OK maybe not!

Is it worth the money?. Well Yes, I think it is. Next time, and I fully expect there will be a next time, I would make certain I had  emptied my diary accordingly and done some reading around my topic beforehand to make sure I made the most of the course. The quality of content and amount that is packed in to these short courses along with WHO is teaching you, makes them very interesting courses for Pro and amateur a like and in some cases unmissable.




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