Gardening experts gather in Asheville for weekend of inspirational talks

GARDENING GURUS: Authors Thomas Rainier (left) and Roy Diblik will be among the speakers at the 19th Speaking of Gardening symposium, which will be held at the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway for the first time this year. Images courtesy of Timber Press

Aug. 11 and 12 will mark the 19th Speaking of Gardening symposium, founded by local horticulturist Hunter Stubbs — well-known for his work with the Richmond Hill Inn (where the conference idea originated) and B.B. Barns. Stubbs passed away in July after a battle with brain cancer, making the 2017 event bittersweet, organizers say. They vow this year, and in the future, to preserve and carry on his legacy.

“We’re all committed to not only continuing the symposium but also to really supporting what Hunter always wanted to do,” explains conference volunteer Sabra Kelley, “to educate different people no matter what their interest, whether amateur gardeners, plant breeders, landscape architects, or maintenance people — anybody who’s got an interest in plants.”

Kelley is one of about 10 volunteer committee members who coordinate the event, which receives financial support from Asheville GreenWorks.

That the symposium attracts a wide array of professional and home gardeners alike (and growers from around the region and elsewhere across the country) is what excites her most every year. This summer, she’s also thrilled about a move to the Folk Art Center, which will allow for more attendees than ever before.

“It’s two solid days of lectures and questions and answers and meeting other gardeners. It’s a really full weekend, with a lot of opportunity,” Kelley explains. She stresses that there truly is something for everyone, with talks that are “practical and inspirational” — from design concepts to the use of specific plants.

Keynote speakers are Roy Diblik, co-owner of Northwind Perennial Farm in Burlington, Wis., and Thomas Rainer, a landscape architect and author based in Washington, D.C. One of Rainer’s two talks will be “Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Gardens,” which speaks to a growing industry concern, Kelley says.

“Everybody’s realizing that the weather is no longer predictable, and we all need to figure out how to have a beautiful-looking garden without fighting Mother Nature constantly.”

Additional weekend happenings include book signings and a live auction of specialty specimen plants, cultivars not widely available — even some that have yet to be released to the trade.

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About Maggie Cramer
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