A gardener’s work is never done. In the best of times, that’s a motivator that results in a sense of satisfaction after a good morning of weeding or planting. But every now and then, gardening ennui sets in. And that’s when I know it’s time to find a good gardening symposium—a mental spa of sorts. If you’ve never experienced one, treat yourself. Not unlike the physical spa, you’ll be wondering why you waited so long and will emerge with renewed (horticultural) passion!
“Symposium” sounds dryly academic, but the Greek root of the word means “to drink together,” which sounds more like a party where I come from. The best horticultural symposia mix high-level ideas with fun sociability. Most are one-day events centered around a series of engaging talks or workshops presented by experts on all things plants and gardening. Topics I’ve heard include edible landscaping, designing a gravel garden, and the latest and greatest plant selections. Lunch and snacks are provided, and the host venue almost always includes vendors selling books, plants, and other garden-related fare. Overall, you can unabashedly express your love of gardening and be instantly simpatico with a group of otherwise strangers.
Winter has been the traditional time in the Southeast for garden symposia. One of my favorites, the Davidson Horticultural Symposium, comes at the beginning of March and is like convocation for a new gardening year. I always leave feeling revved up and inspired. Fellow gardener and symposia aficionado Mary Griggs describes it perfectly: “They always have a nice balance of discussion between design and plants. Always cutting edge! Plus, you eat lunch on china. How civilized!” And you may even have the opportunity to eat lunch with your favorite gardening expert. To talk face-to-face with speakers in a relaxed atmosphere is a cherry on top of the symposium sundae.
I’ve zeroed in on a short list of the bigger symposia below—ones that are recurring, that last one or two days, and that include at least four speakers. These may have different topics– like the whole subgenre of native plant symposia or local shorter, specially-focused events or master gardener symposia. Dates listed below are for 2020, but expect the same general time period for future years. Just don’t wait until the last minute to register, as it’s not unusual for them to sell out.
Maybe I’ll see you among the crowds—please stop and say hi! We’ll drink in the stories and insights of other gardeners together before heading back each to our own garden, refreshed and eager to do what we love in creative new ways.
Northern/Central Georgia Garden Symposium
The Inspired Gardener, January 25, 2020. Atlanta Botanical Garden.
North Carolina Garden Symposia
Davidson Horticultural Symposium, March 3, 2020. Davidson College.
Guilford Horticultural Society Gardening Symposium, March 7, 2020. Paul J. Ciener Botanical Garden, Kernersville.
Southeastern Plant Symposium, June 12–13, 2020. JC Raulston Arboretum, Raleigh.
Speaking of Gardening, August 14–15, 2020. Asheville.
Western North Carolina Gardening Symposium, early October. Flat Rock.
South Carolina Garden Symposia
Greater Greenville MGA Annual Symposium, February 8, 2020. Greenville.
Joy of Gardening Symposium, February 22, 2020. Richburg.
Southern/Central Virginia Garden Symposia
Winter Symposium at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, February 12–13, 2020. Richmond.
Shenandoah Valley Plant Symposium, March 20, 2020. Waynesboro.
Colonial Williamsburg Garden Symposium, April 17–19, 2020. Williamsburg.
West Virginia Garden Symposium
WVNLA Winter Symposium, February 12, 2020. Charleston.
—Paula Gross is the former assistant director of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte Botanical Gardens.
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