In November, I will be taking the first course in a four-part Landscape Design School offered by the Garden Club Federation of Maine.

Nancy, my wife, took this course sometime in the 1980s and used a lot of what she learned to turn our grounds from a former strawberry field into an attractive and colorful place to live. Although she passed a lot of the information on to me over the years, I jumped at the chance to take the course myself – so I could learn the things she didn’t think to pass on.

Be forewarned: Creating an attractive home landscape is not the purpose of the course, according to Harriet Robinson of Otisfield, who revived the program in Maine after an absence of about a decade.

“The whole reason this was set up in the 1930s was to give women who were garden club members credentials so they could serve on city boards,” Robinson said. “They could say, ‘I have taken this course, and I understand landscape design.’ ”

Fortunately, women now have easier access to government boards than they did in the 1930s, but the lectures still offer a lot of useful information about design of public spaces, planning, proper land use and what makes a design efficient and pleasing to the eye. People interested in serving on planning or zoning boards and other citizen groups would still find the information helpful.

The course, held in Falmouth over just two days in November, is both intensive and extensive. It’s made up of 10 lectures from people who teach or have taught at the University of Maine, Bowdoin and Tufts; landscape architects; a city planner and an artist. They’ll give an introduction to landscape design and history; speak about public landscapes as well as color and the landscape; and review the basics of site plans and designing to help the environment. Oh, plus there is one lecture on developing your garden at home.

Keep in mind, this is just year one of a four-part program.

Robinson said she revived the course in Maine for selfish reasons – so she could take it herself. “I’ve talked to a lot of people who have taken it, and they all said it was fabulous,” she said.

People who complete the entire program and pass the optional tests are eligible to join a Landscape Design Consultants Council affiliated with National Garden Clubs. The nearest council now in operation is in Massachusetts. Although still four years off, Robinson looks forward to becoming a member, she says, because the council sponsors interesting programs, including tours of terrific gardens that are usually private.

Allison Towne-Dimatteo, a landscape architect with Oak Point Associates in Biddeford, will be teaching Principles and Elements of Landscape Design. She had taught it before the Maine program went dormant and said it is the only teaching she does and she enjoys it. In her experience, the students are usually mature and focused.

Jeff Levine, director of Planning and Urban Development for the city of Portland, will teach two classes – one on Space, Design and People and the other on Urban Planning.

He used to teach at Tufts and at the University of Massachusetts and wanted a chance to get back to it despite his busy schedule. Beyond that, he thinks the public should understand what goes into site planning for city projects.

Three things are key, no matter the project, Levine said: functionality, how people use a space and where the shade is.

“No matter how pretty a public space is, if it isn’t functional, people won’t go into it and use it,” Levine said.

I never intend to serve on a public board – or even design a new garden for our home. Still, this course should be a lot of fun. I’m hoping it will give me a better appreciation of the gardens we visit in our travels – although Nancy warns me it could have the opposite effect: I might scrutinize the work of professional garden designers and become a whole lot more critical.

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at [email protected]

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