There is no question about the value of good seed catalogs and web blogs when it comes to picking up useful tips for gardening. Nothing, however, beats a good, live lecture by someone who knows what he or she is talking about.
There are all sorts of educational events this time of year, running right through the Alaska Botanical Garden's Spring Conference in early March -- this year featuring the Victory Garden Guy in those red suspenders, Roger Swain, www.alaskabg.org; call ABG at 770-3692.
Next week there are two great events of interest to the Southcentral gardener. Both are not only open to the general gardening public but welcome the public with open arms. Don't be shy. You will see lots of other gardeners you know and meet some you didn't. Plus, you will learn a lot of stuff directly applicable to Alaska gardening.
The first is the 30th Alaska Greenhouse and Nursery Conference, Jan. 26-27 at the Anchorage Hilton. This is a professional greenhouse conference held each year, but it is also open to the public. If you have a backyard greenhouse, this means you. Heck, even if you don't, consider attending.
Look forward to educational programs ranging from heating a greenhouse with a solar panel hot water system to how the professional nurseries produce hanging baskets. You will be privy to research announcements covering things like growing small fruits in Alaska, the best lawn mowers and more. As critical as Alaskans are, this conference is doing something right to last 30 years. It is always fun and usually includes a small trade show. For more information go to www.uaf.edu/ces or call 786-6300.
The keynote speaker at the Greenhouse Conference this year is Harvey Lang, director of technical support for a company called "Syngenta Flowers." Never heard of them? Syngenta is a huge player in the vegetable, annual and perennial flower business and lots of what we buy from local nurseries are sourced from them. Wonder what is coming to greenhouse benches in the near future years? Harvey Lang is one who helps decide.
Right after the first conference, the Fifth Annual Alaska Peony Growers Winter Conference will take place, also at the Hilton, Jan. 27-28. This conference will be of interest to those who love peonies -- and who doesn't?
Some may remember that a UAF professor discovered that Alaska can supply the huge world market for peony flowers in August because no other location has them in bloom at that time. As a result, a little industry has sprung up and now there is an association for Alaska peony growers. These folks know how to grow peonies in our climate. Anyone who wants to know how to grow even just a few peonies in the yard should consider attending.
There is another great reason to attend the Alaska Peony Growers Winter Conference and that is to hear one of the world's premiere peony growers, Roy Klehm. Roy is the fourth generation to be running Wisconsin's Klehm's Song Sparrow Farm and Nursery. These folks are purveyors of the world's finest peony stock and their website -- www.songsparrow.com -- and catalog are full of beautiful peonies. I have mentioned it in years past, so many of you already have seen pictures of Roy's peonies. Call 800-553-3715.
I heard Roy speak at a conference at Ohio State a few years back. His story is fascinating and as you listen you will surely pick up a lifetime's worth of knowledge -- he isn't that old, but you know what I mean -- of how to grow peonies. Peony fans should not miss this opportunity. Again, you don't have to be a professional grower to attend the conference.
So, just because it is winter, with sub-freezing temperatures predicted far out into the future, you don't have to stop learning about gardening. Lectures and conferences are all part of this process. And, if you want to get out of the cold while you get better educated, there are always lots of seminars at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show down in Seattle, Feb. 23-27.
Jeff Lowenfels is a member of the Garden Writers Hall of Fame. You can reach him at teamingwithmicrobes.com or by calling 274-5297 during "The Garden Party" radio show from 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays on KBYR AM-700.