The Scientist Gardener: Plant Science for Green Fingers


The course introduces some fundamental plant biology that is relevant in the home garden context. We will look at how plants grow and acquire nutrients, and practical science-based ways to boost their growth. We will explore the differences between fertiliser use and organic gardening from a plant nutrition perspective.

The course will go on to introduce practical ways in which you can assess plant growth and performance in your own garden. We will introduce the principles of field experimental design that will allow you to objectively compare different varieties.

As part of the course we will discuss some of the issues in modern plant cultivation, including the loss of diversity in food plants, sustainability, crop response to climate change and cultivation of genetically modified crops.

Programme details

Course begins: 17 Jan 2022

Week 1: Plant growth and architecture: shoots and leaves.

Week 2: Plant growth and architecture: roots and soil.

Week 3: Water and nutrients. Should we grow organic?

Week 4: No sex please, we're plants!

Week 5: Plant sex.

Week 6: Assessing performance: Field experiments in the garden.

Week 7: Plant genetics and crop domestication.

Week 8: Agro-biodiversity, sustainability, and the future of food.

Week 9: GM crops - concepts and misconceptions.

Week 10: Around the world in 80 plants


Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from the January 1st after the current full academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.


Description Costs
Course Fee £229.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


Dr Ada Grabowska-Zhang

Ada is a Departmental Lecturer in Environmental Sciences and has researched ecology and conservation - she's also a keen vegetable gardener. She is Course Director for PG Certificate in Ecological Survey Techniques at Continuing Education and a Stipendiary Lecturer in Biology at Brasenose College, University of Oxford.

Course aims

To explore the aspects of plant biology underlying garden performance and to develop an understanding how these aspects shape the way we grow and breed plants.

Course Objectives:

1. To learn the fundamentals of plant biology relevant in the garden context;

2. To explore how we can objectively compare plant performance in our own garden;

3. To understand and discuss the issues relevant to the future of plant cultivation and agriculture.

Teaching methods

The course will be taught each week via a pre-recorded lecture of approx 1h duration and an hour's interactive online session with a mixture of discussion, problem solving and show-and-tell.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

1. Describe basic plant biology and how it translates to performance in the garden;

2. Be able to design in principle a simple field experiment comparing performance of vegetable varieties;

3. Engage in an informed discussion about modern agricultural techniques including GM.

Assessment methods

The assessment will consist of either: a mini-essay of about 1,500 words exploring in more detail one of the topics covered in the course, containing reference to scientific literature, or a 1,500-word write-up of an experimental design comparing plant performance, explaining what conclusions can be drawn from the chosen design.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form with any piece of work that is part of the assessment criteria. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form.


We will close for enrolments 7 days prior to the start date to allow us to complete the course set up. We will email you at that time (7 days before the course begins) with further information and joining instructions. As always, students will want to check spam and junk folders during this period to ensure that these emails are received.

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)