Desert Landscape School: Professional Training Available For Everyone

By Warren Tenney

There are people who love desert trees and plants and want to learn more about them. Then there are those who want the knowledge and skills to confidently take charge of any desert-adapted landscape – design it, lay the irrigation, select and plant the trees, shrubs and groundcover, prune, tend and keep it thriving. These are the people who put in the money, time and effort to earn a credential from the Desert Botanical Garden. The Garden’s Desert Landscape School just became a bit easier to fit into your schedule and your budget.

The Desert Botanical Garden in the City of Phoenix has offered a professional landscaping course since 1997. More than 1,200 people have earned the Desert Landscape School credential. The Garden was eager to train landscapers in the techniques that have kept its 55-acres of plants flourishing for more than 70 years. Many Valley cities were designing desert-adapted landscaping into their buildings and parks and sent their landscaping crews to sharpen their skills. Some professional landscapers still take the course but the course has attracted a variety of people over the years. Students have included accountants, lawyers and administrators who wanted to change careers and start new landscaping businesses. Professional landscape designers and architects who move from other states have attended to learn about desert-adapted trees, shrubs and groundcover plants. Homeowners now make up the majority of students taking the extensive landscape course.  Some come seeking information about how to care for their own yards. Others come specifically to learn the skills and knowledge they will need to redesign and install their own landscaping.

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In the past, the Desert Landscape School program was taught over seven months. It met for four hours every week, included six exams and cost $1,250. That was a lot of money and a tough schedule for working adults with families. Drop out rates ranged from 10 percent to 20 percent.

For the past two year, the Desert Botanical Garden piloted a new idea with help from a Flinn Foundation grant. The Garden broke down the seven-month Desert Landscape School into six certificate courses. If you successfully complete all six courses you earn a Desert Landscape School credential. So far, the dropout rate has been less than 2 percent.

These new courses are two hours every week for 10 weeks and costs range from $259 to $374 depending on the course and whether the student is a Desert Botanical Garden member. Cities can now send their landscaping crews without the expense of becoming a corporate member of the Garden.  In September 2015, a storm (later determined to be a microburst) caused $100,000 worth of damage to the Tempe Center for the Arts landscaping.  The City of Tempe turned to the Desert Botanical Garden for help with specific plantings and to minimize damage in the future. Six members of the Tempe Center for the Arts maintenance and landscape team began the Desert Landscape School courses this spring as part of that effort.

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Desert Landscape School  Photo: Desert Botanical Garden

The six courses in the program are offered twice a year.  One track is offered 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays, the other at 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays. The classes have up to 30 students. The more hands-on courses have fewer students because it allows instructors to spend more one-on-one time with students. All classes are designed to be primarily outside, with students working and walking in the Garden. When students visit the Garden with family or friends, they can point to trees they’ve pruned or planted or irrigation systems they’ve installed.

There is a proctored exam at the end of each course. If it is an installation course, the exam is performance-based to determine if a student gained the knowledge and skills needed to plant a desert tree correctly and install an irrigation system that works. If it is a knowledge-based course, then there is a written exam. For example, the exam that follows the Desert Plant Palette course includes identifying the scientific and common names of 50 plants set up in an exam room.

No, it’s not for the weekend gardener, but if you successfully complete all six courses you will earn a credential from the Desert Botanical Garden’s Desert Landscape School. That credential gives homeowners the confidence to take charge of their own landscape and gives landscapers the knowledge and skills to better serve their clients.

For 48 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org

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