Opening Keynote and Session Speaker Kelly D. Norris

Kelly is one of the leading horticulturists of his generation. As a planting designer in public and private spaces, he explores the intersections of people, plants, and place through ecological, site-specific design, and art. An award-winning author and plantsman, Kelly’s work in gardens has been featured in The New York Times, Better Homes and Gardens, Martha Stewart Living, Fine Gardening, and Garden Design; and in numerous television, radio, and digital media appearances. His most recent book New Naturalism: Designing and Planting a Resilient, Ecologically Vibrant Home Garden (Cool Springs Press) debuted in January 2021.

In addition to this latest volume, Kelly has authored three other books: Iowa Gardener’s Travel Guide (2008); A Guide to Bearded Irises: Cultivating the Rainbow for Beginners and Enthusiasts (2012 [winner of the 2013 American Horticultural Society Book Award]), and Plants With Style (2015). Kelly has earned recognition from a variety of organizations, including early career and young professional awards from the Perennial Plant Association (2011); GardenComm (2018); the American Horticultural Society (2018); a Zone Horticulture Commendation from the Garden Club of America (2018); the Iowa Author Award for Special Interest Writing (2013 [the youngest Iowan to be recognized in the history of the awards program]); and a fellowship from the Chanticleer Foundation (2015) for his curatorial and plant exploration work at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden.

As the former director of horticulture and education at the Greater De Moines Botanical Garden for eight years, Kelly guided efforts in design, curation, programming, garden and facility management. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees in horticulture from Iowa State University.

Opening Keynote – New Naturalism: Lessons from Wild Plant Communities

An in-depth talk that applies elements of plant ecology and real-world examples from wild plant communities to the built landscape reveals Kelly’s love for native plants and his experiences with wild plant communities that have shaped his career in profound ways. As a so-called hort-ecologist, Kelly strives to interpret native ecosystems into beautiful, functional landscapes in the urban context. Too often, professional horticulturists appropriate plants as if they were inanimate objects, instead of truly understanding how plants interact and function within the landscape environment.

Session topic – Plants with Style

This is Kelly’s signature presentation that correlates to his book Plants With Style. Gardeners need chic, sustainable, thriving plants for modern lifestyles. Why settle for lackluster gardens filled with dull, ho-hum plants? Plants, after all, are the very essence of fashionable gardening. In this spirited, provocative lecture, plantsman Kelly calls for a garden revolution: out with boring plants and in with stylish alternatives that captivate and enthrall. A passionate horticulturist and lifelong gardener, Kelly is the ideal guide to the botanical riches available to today’s gardeners. In chapters on environment, structure, seasonal standouts, and plant combinations he shines a spotlight on A-list plants in every category – plants that will thrive, not merely survive. Along the way, he shows you how to forge a personal style in harmony with your garden’s setting and local environment. As Kelly puts it, “A garden is the best way to savor life on earth.” Let Plants with Style guide you to the plants that will provide a richer, more fulfilling connection between you and your own patch of soil.

Closing Keynote and Session Speaker Marianne Willburn

Marianne is an opinion columnist for the American Horticultural Society’s The American Gardener; the author of Big Dreams, Small Garden; and a contributing editor at GardenRant.com. A regular contributor to Better Homes and Gardens and other national gardening magazines, Marianne has also been a newspaper columnist for over a decade. She is the recipient of several Gold and Silver Media Awards from Garden Communicators International (formerly GWA). Her most recent book, Tropical Plants and How To Love Them, was shortlisted by the Garden Media Guild (UK) for the Peter Seabrook Practical Book of the Year. She is a University College London graduate.

Marianne believes strongly that you should never wait for the ‘perfect space’ to create a restful garden oasis for yourself and your family. She has spent much of her gardening life in small city and suburban gardens in places as diverse as California, England, and the Mid-Atlantic. In 2013 she began gardening intensively on ten acres in a rural corner of Northern Virginia with an ever-evolving mix of temperate and tropical plants.

Closing Keynote – Big Dreams, Small Garden

Garden building is a life-enriching process, but accommodating one’s vision with the practicalities of one’s space can be challenging and sometimes even discouraging. Tiny balcony, lack of privacy, HOA restrictions, tough neighborhood: If you’re struggling with a difficult, or very new outside space, you are not alone. By breaking down the process into manageable sections, shifting our perspective and cultivating a sense of contentment, we can create the garden that lives inside of us. Marianne will go over this process, sharing design tips and real-life gardens to help you get excited about your outside space – no matter what it is.

Session Topic – The Recycled Garden

Repurposing materials in your garden saves money and is an environmentally sound practice. Used carefully, those materials can also add whimsy and make your garden unique. Marianne will help you train your eyes to see the ‘treasure’ in ‘trash’ by utilizing a series of steps designed to help you figure out what you need and what you have. From cast off chairs – to the remnants of a building project – to natural materials gathered along a roadside, salvaged finds have the power to put an individual stamp on your garden without costing you a fortune.

Session Speaker Hallie Walker

Hallie moved with her family to a home on a two acre lot in Weddington, North Carolina, in 1989, three months before Hurricane Hugo removed more than 80 trees from the property. And so began a 'start with a clean slate' garden that became what is now a certified Native Plant Habitat Garden that was part of a tour for members of the North Carolina Native Plant Society, Piedmont Chapter. The garden now features more than 80 different native plants, some planted and others that decided this would be a good place to live.

Hallie has been an active Mecklenburg County Master Gardener since 2009. With her certification she has enjoyed teaching and giving demonstrations at many park and recreation centers and libraries, and at Wing Haven Garden. Most of these presentations include information about invasive exotic plants; plant selection and care of woody ornamentals; pruning annuals and perennials; and also pruning shrubs and trees. Hallie is a practicing member and volunteer with the Native Plant Society. She received a Certificate in Native Plants Studies from the University of North Carolina Charlotte Botanical Garden in 2021. She continues to enjoy gardening, learning, and teaching. 'When We Know Better, We Can do Better'.

Session Topic – Happy Healthy Native Plants

Many homeowners and municipalities have decided that adding native plants is an ecological improvement. Hallie will look at selecting, planting, and maintaining our native beauties in an urban location. How do natives differ from other plantings? The presentation will include things to consider when adding native trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses, perennials, and annuals to the home garden.

Session Speaker Paul Thompson

Paul (BS and MAg, Clemson) is a Distinguished Urban Horticulture Agent in York, Lancaster, and Chester Counties with the Clemson Cooperative Extension Service. He is a Certified Nursery Professional with the SC Nursery and Landscape Association (now known as the SC Green Industry Association). Paul coordinates the tri-county Master Gardener program, and conducts educational programs for consumers and horticulture professionals. He writes a quarterly column for SC Farmer magazine and is a regular guest on SCETV's Making it Grow. He has received many awards for his programming and communication efforts through national and state peer associations, including the SC Association of County Agricultural Agents 2015 Distinguished Service Award and the 2016 Louis B. Parson's Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Landscaping and Nursery Industry (presented by the former SC Nursery and Landscape Association).

Session Topic – How to Become a Plant Problem Detective

Learn the processes of solving the causes of plant problems. Often plant problems are not diseases or insects but are cultural or environmental issues. Paul will share his years of experience of being a plant doctor to help you solve the mysteries.

Session Speaker Jeff Gillman

Jeff is the Director of the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens. He holds a Ph.D. in Horticulture and a Master's Degree in Entomology, both from the University of Georgia. Jeff has authored or coauthored five popular books on gardening and the environment. He is a contributing editor to Fine Gardening magazine, and in 2018 he received the Garden Writers of America's Cynthia Westcott Scientific Writing Award for such material accessible to laypeople. He has appeared on Martha Stewart and Growing a Greener World, and is the cohost of the podcast The Plants we Eat. Jeff is willing to try just about anything to get people excited about the amazing world of plants; and the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens, with its amazing staff and facilities, is the perfect place to do it.

Session Topic – How to Build a Truly Interesting Garden

Flowers, trees, bulbs, and perennials are endlessly fascinating to the avid gardener; but what do they mean to the average passerby besides providing an attractive backdrop? How can you make a garden that is interesting and engaging for everyone? As the Director of the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens, it is Jeff's job to bring the world of plants to people. In this talk we will look at what it takes to make botanical gardens and backyards engaging and exciting for the average person.

Session Speaker Rob Last

With Clemson Cooperative Extension Service since March 2020, Rob is the Horticultural Agent covering Barnwell, Bamberg, Allendale and Hampton Counties. Rob graduated from the University of Nottingham in 2001 with a degree in Agriculture. Upon graduation, he began work as a grower producing leafy greens and herbs for national markets and grocery stores in the United Kingdom. He then moved to an advisory role recommending the use of fertilizers, agrochemicals, and environmental enhancement.

In 2007, Rob moved to Sarasota, Florida, to grow watercress and the raw ingredients for spring mix, and to adjust global fertilizer regimes to comply with more stringent regulations. Rob is passionate about soil health and its impact on crop nutrition and plant health. Rob says, “We can reduce the adverse effects of fertilizers in the environment, producing crops more sustainably.”

Through his work at Clemson Extension, he aides commercial horticultural operations with pest, weed, and disease management, and identification. He also offers various training opportunities and field demonstrations to apply the latest science-based research to the commercial farm. Working with homeowners to address their landscape pest, weed, and disease issues, he offers advice on propagation, planting, and pruning. Rob is also involved with school and community gardening projects. His most memorable experiences to date include creating instructional videos with coworkers and building the greenhouse at Wade Hampton High School.

Session Topic – Vegetable Garden Fertility

Rob will discuss vegetable garden fertility and advise how soil health can be improved to provide nutrients for plants, thus reducing fertilizer inputs. He will also look at alternative nutrient sources for vegetable gardens.