Green fingers, spring seedlings and growing overseas varieties – that`s what`s on the timetable for horticultural students at Otago Polytechnic this month, as they roll up their sleeves to herald the start of the planting season.

With spring just round the corner, 15 students on the year-long National Certificate in Horticulture course at the Cromwell campus are starting to cultivate a variety of plants, vegetables and flowers. Students are encouraged to grow plants they are interested in, and as a result some new species have been introduced this year, reflecting the interests of a number of overseas students on the course.

Horticulture lecturer Jo Wakelin said students were thoroughly getting stuck into potting, propagating and pruning, and were enjoying learning about native New Zealand and Central Otago plant life as well as some unfamiliar species from further afield. Students grow a wide variety of plants in the Polytechnic greenhouses, including herbs, vegetables and fruits for the Polytechnic`s catering school,” she said.

“Among a bigger number of Kiwis in this year`s class we have six international students, five from India and a Japanese girl. Thanks in part to that international `flavour`, we`ve added several new and interesting plants to the programme to expand students` knowledge and interests, such as in the Himalayan chestnut which comes from a very cold area.

“Students have learned how to break the dormancy mechanism in the chestnut seeds after collecting them in autumn, and they`ve been germinated and potted up. By engaging students at the first stage of the plant`s life, it enables them to watch and learn from the plant`s growth and gain a real understanding of its development. “We also work to the Campus` sustainable practice ethos by growing drought-resistant plants propagated from a water conservation garden.

“As well as the drought-resistant plants, by the end of the year we also have a huge array of plants such as petunias, gazanias, sunflowers and geraniums to veggies, herbs, lots of tasty varieties of tomatoes, artichokes, black mulberries, figs and rhubarb. “We also have a variety of natives, tussocks and trees, many of which are snapped up by locals at our famous giant plant sale.”

The Polytechnic`s Central Otago campus annual plant sale has been a popular fixture for the region`s gardeners for the past 15 years and will be held this year during Labour Weekend (October 23). “The Polytech is all about learning by doing so there`s always a lot going on. Students really benefit from seeing their work used as delicious ingredients for the cookery students, and have a real sense of achievement by selling to the public,” said Ms Wakelin.


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