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Wish you could get a little more gardening know-how under your belt, but feel reluctant to part with your hard-earned cash to do so? Save your budget for spring planting. We went looking around the Chicago area and found that there's a lot of garden education out there for little to no money.
Want to learn more about migrating birds that stop in Chicago area gardens? Hook up with a group of experienced birders for an informative hike. Does your front door need dressing up with some winter containers? There are plenty of free demos at independent garden centers such as Sid's Greenhouse in Palos Hills, the Chalet nursery in Wilmette and The Growing Place in Aurora.When it comes to bang for your buck, a membership to The Morton Arboretum in Lisle or the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe (each is $65 per year for individuals) gets you access to their interpretive trails and display beds with trees and shrubs that are noteworthy for their color or shape, even in winter.
"Most, if not all, of the plants around our visitor center are labeled," says Karla Lynch, the arboretum's manager of education. The arboretum's library is a great place to hang out on a cold, winter day.
So take a hike. Cruise the online garden magazines. Join a garden club. Sign up for an e-newsletter. Call the nearest garden center for free classes. Visit the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum's exhibit, "The Extreme Green House" and butterfly habitat on Thursdays when the museum admission is free.
Walk and learn
*Wooded Island Bird Walks
Where: Chicago's Jackson Park (meet at Clarence Darrow Bridge, just south of the Museum of Science and Industry)
When: 8 a.m. Saturdays in November
Tips: Bring binoculars and a field guide.
Info: Call Doug Anderson at 773-493-7058
*The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
Where: 2430 N. Cannon Drive
When: Free on Thursdays; 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Info: 773-755-5100 or naturemuseum.org
Join a garden club
"For an avid gardener, winter classes that inspire you to dream and plan are the best," says Carol DeJong of Tinley Park. DeJong, a member of the Orland Park Garden Club, pays $15 per year to attend the club's monthly evening meetings that feature a variety of horticultural speakers. To find a local garden club in your town, visit the town's official Web site or contact the Garden Clubs of Illinois at 630-617-9269 or gardenglories.org.
Take a class
* Urban Composting with Little or No Outdoor Space
What: free lecture
Where: Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St.
When: 6 p.m. Nov. 13
Info: 312-742-1168 or millenniumpark.org
* Chalet nursery's Holiday Celebration
What: free demonstrations in the nursery's education center including designs for outdoor winter containers)
Where: 3132 Lake Ave., Wilmette
When: 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Nov. 22 and 23
Info: 847-256-0561or chaletnursery.com
* Planning ahead: Come January, watch for garden centers to rev up their classes, says Tony Fulmer of the Chalet nursery in Wilmette. And next year, check the Chicago Flower and Garden Show, which will be held March 7-15 at Navy Pier, for classes included in the price of admission. For more information, see chicagoflower.com or call 773-435-1250.
Read it and reap
Some of the best resources for expanding your gardening know-how are local Web sites. Visit them from home and you'll save on gas.
*The University of Illinois Extension's Horticulture (http://web.extension.uiuc.edu/state/hort.html)
*Chicagoland Gardening magazine (chicagolandgardening.com)
*The Morton Arboretum (mortonarb.org)
*Chicago Botanic Garden (chicagobotanic.org)