Santa Monica Public Library and the Office of Sustainability and the Environment are teaming up to teach community gardeners how to grow greener.

Beginning in January, the Green Garden Academy will be Santa Monica’s official school of sustainable gardening, offering free monthly classes covering everything from irrigation to edible landscaping. Hosted one Saturday of every month at the Main Library, the three-hour courses will be taught by Russell Ackerman, an ecological landscape designer and water resources specialist for the city of Santa Monica.

“We’re actively reaching out to tell the local community to save water and resources in the gardening series,” Ackerman said.

As nearly half of all water use is consumed by landscaping, Ackerman hopes that the series will help the city meet its goal of reducing water use by 2010. An Office of Sustainability study found that a person can save as many as 55,000 gallons of water per year by growing native plants. This practice also cut garden maintenance hours by 75 percent and waste by as much as 80 percent.

“We can make a more sustainable community just by making simple changes to the types of plants we’re choosing and the way we’re maintaining our gardens,” Ackerman said.

Beginning today, participants will be able to sign up online for up to four classes at a time. Students are encouraged to attend as many classes as possible, but can also pick and choose which topics they find most interesting. Topics include bird and butterfly gardens, a compost workshop and “Lawn Be Gone.”

“The idea is just giving them a basic framework, the basic tools that they can use to make this transition to something that’s more sustainable,” Ackerman said.

Aimed to benefit both beginners and experienced gardeners, the lessons will involve power point presentations, hands-on activities, trips to local gardens and plenty of time for questions and answers. Ackerman will also be bringing in a number of special guests to cover certain areas of expertise.

As students progress, they will have the opportunity to earn the Green Thumbs Up Award and have their garden featured online.

“That’s to recognize what our students are doing, incorporating the knowledge into their gardens,” Ackerman said.

Each class will be assigned a point value, and students who accumulate at least 17 out of the 34 available units will be eligible for a Green Garden Academy diploma and “Commitment to Sustainability Award.”

“In the end, what we’re doing is offering to the community of Santa Monica an easy way to create a sustainable garden that’s really going to look beautiful,” Ackerman said. “It’s going to benefit our entire community with cleaner air, water and increased sustainability.”

The Green Garden Academy will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Main Library’s Multipurpose Room. Classes are capped at 40 students. All materials, as well as a box of produce for refreshment, will be provided. For more information, visit www.sustainablesm.org/landscape or call (310) 458-8972 or sign up online at greengardenacademy.eventbrite.com.

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