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Registration open for Certified Gardener training

Course covers a wide range of topics, including lawn care

Special to The Sun
The county Sustainability Campus in Blackwood has several gardens and an educational area.

The Camden County Certified Gardeners are gearing up for a new season of their horticultural training program.

Sessions will run from 9 a.m to noon every Tuesday and Thursday from Jan. 23 to April 11 at the Camden County Sustainability Campus in Blackwood.

The program will feature lecturers and university experts discussing topics that include gardening, pest management, vegetable gardening, flower gardening and pollinator preservation, among others.

There is also a volunteer component: Participants must donate 60 hours in the first year to receive certification. County-certified gardeners volunteer and lecture at farmer’s markets, libraries and plant clinics throughout the county and answer questions.

“We’re a very diverse group of people,” said Caliope Bledy, coordinator for the Certified Gardeners. “We have retired lawyers, teachers, nurses and business people, all who have that common love of gardening. And we welcome all new gardeners into the fold …

“It’s a very welcoming organization.”

The gardener’s training consists of 24 sessions, with students required to attend 19 of them in person; they will be recorded and have Zoom links.

“It really brought my awareness up about native plants, what plants are native to the area I live in,” Bledy remarked of the training. “It also helped me to understand better what we’re doing between spraying and cultivating lawns that really aren’t good for the environment.”

Bledy graduated from the course in 2022, and noted that this year – because she didn’t blow leaves or use lawn fertilizer – she noticed an increase of birds and bees in her garden. Thanks to working in the education garden, Bledy was also exposed to more types of vegetables and learned how to compost and enrich soil.

“I think people are becoming more aware about ‘leave the leaves,’ because a lot of our bees and caterpillars nest in the ground or in the leaves and twigs and logs and things,” Bledy explained. “Not blowing the leaves allows for some pollinators to have a habitat throughout the winter.”

Other ways to help the environment through gardening include reducing lawns and not using chemicals on them and spraying for mosquitos.

“Reducing just standing water in our lawns can be a lot more effective in reducing the mosquito population rather than spraying our lawns,” Bledy pointed out.

The noprofit Certified Gardeners operate several county greenhouses, such as a hydroponics greenhouse where everything’s grown in water, an educational greenhouse and a greenhouse where gardeners prepare the plants sold at their annual sale event, the Gardeners’ main fundraiser.

“We have water garden, vegetable gardens, native plants,” Bledy pointed out. “Our big goal is sustainability, so we’re trying to get the message across about how to preserve our pollinators, how to have gardening that’s good for the environment.”

The group has also donated grapes to local wineries this year, and in 2024, the gardeners want to increase programs offered to the public so those who can’t take the course can increase their gardening skills.

Camden County residents can register for the training online or call the gardening helpline with questions at (856) 216-7130. Send emails to njgarden@camdencounty.com or visit the Sustainability Campus in person at 508 Lakeland Road in Blackwood.

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