Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott teaching a Great Course

I was researching a blog post about my local library, digging deep into its online resources, and came upon something I associate with a high price tag –  Great Courses. Yes, if your library system, like mine (but not others in the DC area) subscribes to it, there’s lots on offer there for free (though not all courses). The courses claim to offer “unlimited video learning with world’s greatest professors.” Oh boy.

Eager to see if they deigned to cover gardening, I scrolled to the  Hobby and Leisure category and, along with photography and dog training, found some actual gardening courses and experienced a gasp of anxiety over the possibility that they’d hired a know-nothing to do the job. (Memories of bad information from “experts” on “content mills” never seem to fade.)

But oh no, Great Courses is legit! Their two gardening teachers are none other than Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott and Melinda Myers, and I couldn’t have chosen better myself. They’re both up-to-date on the best, evidenced-based gardening know-how, and great good communicators, too.

Having now watched a few lectures, I was impressed with the company’s high production values, too, including great graphics (possibly the best graphics I’ve ever seen illustrating pruning – a task not easy to demonstrate).

Linda’s “Science of Gardening”

This course should be required viewing – for Master Gardeners, garden communicators, and most of all, anyone who’s ever portrayed plants or products in a black and white, binary way. (You probably don’t know who you are.)

Linda’s chapter on “Weeding out the  Myths” could be especially impactful if the right people watched it – with an open mind. Which is required if you already have strong feelings one way or the other about permaculture, glyphosate or native plants.

On the great native/nonnative plant debate, Linda challenges the claims of native-plant superiority and argues against mandates requiring their use in landscapes (as opposed to in ecological restoration projects). She has a great list of things that benefit wildlife even more than focusing on plant origin, in her view – like creating vertical structures, and reducing the amount of highly managed lawns.

Melinda’s Courses

Melinda Myers teaching a Great Course

Melinda has four Great Courses so far: on food gardening, container gardening, “Make your Trees and Shrubs Thrive,” and “Your Best Garden and Landscape in 6 Lessons.”

As a pruning geek and shrub advocate, I homed in on her tree and shrub lectures and was thrilled to learn a few new things about pruning. And having followed Melinda’s teachings in print and YouTube over the years, I don’t doubt her advice one bit.

A fun part of watching Melinda’s videos was recognizing photos of some of the gardens I’ve seen with her, as part of garden blogging or writing events over the years in various cities. Like the garden in Buffalo above. (Right, Elizabeth?).

More Great Courses I Want to Take

The company soon found me and sent me their fancy print brochure, in which I found a few off-topic courses I’d like to take:
  • What Makes Music so Powerful and Stirring?
  • Writing Creative Nonfiction
  • Gain Strength and Flexibility at Any Age
  • Improve your Writing by Rediscovering the Lost Art of Crafting Sentences
  • Master the Art of Moving Meditation and Improve your Physical Fitness and Mental Well-Being

The Cost of Great Courses

Here’s where I’m honestly confused because the cost seems to vary between free (if they’re available through your local library) to $16 on sale to a full price of over $500 per course. For example, “Science of Gardening” is on sale now for just $25, the “regular” price of $234.95 having been crossed out. Or you can subscribe to “Great Courses Plus” for $49.95 monthly or $360 annually. Or just use the free 14-day trial to binge-watch quickly or start paying, for more.

What it’s Like to be a Great Courses Professor

Just curious, I asked what it was like to work with Great Courses. Linda wrote:

I really enjoyed working with the Great Courses staff. They recruit lectures..and they don’t tell you who recommended you. So that’s rather intriguing. Normally it’s faculty with academic teaching, so it’s interesting that they found me. I am apparently the first faculty from WSU invited to do a production.

They built me a great set and I worked with two content editors to make sure that all the demos and props were just right. I can’t say enough about the professional quality of the production.

They are located in Chantilly, VA and that’s where their studios are (part of The Learning Company). Field filming was obviously as local as possible. They pay all travel and expenses, and then you collect royalties every year, just like with books.

And from Melinda:

The first two were shot in Virginia just outside Washington DC where Great Courses are headquartered. We worked on two properties owned by employees – one large and one small as well as a botanical garden and garden center.

The next two were shot in WI with the production company I use for Melinda’s Garden Moment TV. This was much easier, as I could create, monitor and tend the gardens throughout the season. Most of the food gardening video was shot at my place, as well as the trees and shrub planting. Since I regularly produce video in the area, it was easier to find nearby locations where I could shoot other demonstrations.

This was a long term goal for me – track and demonstrate gardening and landscaping planting and care throughout the season/year to help gardeners understand gardening concepts for greater success and satisfaction.