Trying to master Master Gardening

Retaining information is hard when your brain is filled with weeds

September 30, 2010|Susan Reimer

I've always thought college was wasted on the young, and that I would be a much better student today than I was when beer and cute guys were competing for my attention.

I always thought that my focus, honed to razor-sharpness by years of successful multitasking, would be stronger now, and so would my ability to remember something I wanted to know — instead of something someone else needed to remember to take to school the next day.

Um … not so much.

After years as a gardener, I am taking the Master Gardeners course offered by the University of Maryland Extension. (Talk about closing the barn door after the horse is out.)

I finally have the time to do this, and I thought I had the brains, too. But it looks like I have lost a lot more than "a step" since my college days. I can't remember how to get to class, much less what they are trying to teach me once I get there.

It has been decades since I memorized anything, and apparently that isn't a skill that stays with you. So I guess it didn't make much sense to start with a course that comes with a 600-page book and a vocabulary list that goes on for pages.

My head is spinning after the twice-weekly, three-hour classes, and when my husband asks what I learned, my mind is a complete blank.

I was feeling panic — like my mind was going — until I arrived home about the same time my neighbor got home from her cooking class. "What did you learn to make?" I asked Ginger, whose class is a much shorter drive home than is mine. "Something with onions and carrots and celery," she said. "It had a name. I forget."

After years of coaching my children through math and Advanced Placement classes, and urging them over the phone during college to make flash cards, I am spinning my wheels when it comes to learning all the material I must remember for the big three-hour test at the end of the course.

Should I use a yellow highlighter? Should I write an outline of the chapters on notebook paper? Should I sit in class and take dictation on my laptop? Should I use Post-It notes? Should I join a study group? Should I make flash cards?

Instead, I am doing everything at once, and nothing is sticking.

It is not like I am in class with a bunch of geniuses in their 20s. Many of my classmates are retired, or close to it, and have decided that they, too, would like to know how to do a better job in the garden and to teach others. It is possible we are all stuck in neutral, but I am too ashamed to ask whether anyone else is having as much trouble retaining this information as I am.

I don't know. Perhaps I should have tried to do one of those puzzle books first, the ones that are supposed to hold off dementia. If that went well, then perhaps I could have considered jamming ecology, botany, taxonomy, horticulture and entomology into one six-week course.

Our teachers try to reassure us by telling us the final will be "open book." The answers to the questions will be right there in that 600-page book or in the 60-plus pages of handouts and notes we will have collected.

Yeah. Right. Like I am going to remember where to find them.

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