Spring cleaning often extends to the outdoors, with people taking a look at their gardens and wondering if they can do better. Halifax offers several courses to help turn gardening greenhorns into gardening green thumbs.

Ann Li Huestis teaches gardening at the Nova Scotia Community College.

She gets students thinking about which parts of their garden get sunshine and which sit in the shade and what plants work best on those locations. She also covers pruning, creating textural contrast and colour combinations.

“It’s a matter of figuring out their priorities and then we work on those areas,” she says.

Young families may want a garden that is safe for the kids to use, or even a separate children’s garden with robust, non-toxic plants and space to play. Learning about cultivating a vegetable garden or a berry crop are also fun for kids.

“And, of course, you always include some sand — there’s always sand castles to be built, right?” Huestis says.

Seniors have different priorities. “More raised beds, so that you don’t have to bend down, and a very safe walkway so you won’t be tripping or slipping,” she says. “Older people want to concentrate on areas that are closer to the house, so you don’t have to venture too far.”

Halifax gardeners will also want to think about how it will look in the winter. “If you just have flowers, you have a section that looks like it was nuked,” Huestis says. “If you have other structures, it will sustain that kind of a look, even throughout the winter.”

That could be benches and other man-made features that give the garden shape even under several feet of snow, or evergreen plants.

“My students are working on what I hope they will achieve, and that is to create a landscape that is beautiful starting in April and carries right on to October/November,” Huestis says.

NSCC’s Gardening & Garden Design Level II starts soon (go to nscc.ca or call 491-4911) and its prerequisite Level I next runs in the fall.

The Keshen Goodman Library is offering Fruits and Vegetables in Your Garden with Marjorie Wilson April 19 at 7 p.m. The free class requires registration via 490-5723.

Other gardening tips in Halifax can be found at the Ecology Action Centre (www.ecologyaction.ca/content/urban-garden-project) or the Halifax gardening blog seemoregreen.wordpress.com.