Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Occasional Time Indoors

It’s been a gorgeous week here – the perfect "run-up to Spring" kind of week.  My forays outside find Trout lily leaves emerging, Hepatica blooming and Toothwort foliage rising above the groundcover of fallen leaves.  But even in great weather, sometimes I stay inside to learn more by attending plant conferences.

Yesterday we held the Annual Symposium for the Georgia Native Plant Society – our 16th event.  Programs like these provide an array of different speakers, occasionally some workshops or field trips, and vendors of all kinds – especially plant ones! This year's topics included:

"Nuturing Gardens Inspired by Nature"

"Native Plants and Transportation Projects in Georgia: Constraints and Opportunities"

"Showy Native Woodies"

"Teaming with Microbes: The Subterranean Life of the Soil Food Web"

"Invasive Species: Making a Difference in Your Back Yard"

Throughout the year, from early Winter (the State Botanical Garden has theirs in January) to Fall, plant conferences pop up all over Georgia.  The Georgia Perennial Plant Association had theirs earlier this month. It is still not too late for me to tell you about four more events this year, including one this weekend:

The Spring Garden Symposium at Waddell Barnes Botanical Garden at Macon State College this Saturday, Feb 26th in Macon, GA.  Here is a link. 

The South Georgia Native Plant and Wildflower Symposium, Wednesday, March 23rd in Tifton, GA.  Here is a link.

Georgia Botanical Society’s Spring Pilgrimage offers speakers in the evenings and field trips in the daytime, April 15-17 in Carrollton, GA.  Here is a link. 

In May, the Florida Native Plant Society will have their conference May 19-22 near Orlando. You can find more details here.

And the mother of all native conferences will be having it’s 28th conference this year: The Native Plants in the Landscape Conference in Cullowhee, NC.  This year the dates are July 27-30.  Here is a link.

Even though I’ve been interested in native plants for about 10 years now, I have only this past year made it to the Cullowhee conference.  2010 was the 27th annual conference, demonstrating again the enduring passion and enthusiasm that folks in the southeast have for native plants.  This is a multi-day conference, starting with optional day-long field trips and workshops on Wednesday and closing with a final speaker on Saturday morning.  I know it was the length of the conference that kept me from attending in the past, especially when my children were young.  Now that I’ve been, however, I understand the passion for the conference and certainly plan to attend again. 

In case you were wondering about this conference (like I did for years), let me tell you about the conference organization, schedule and approximate fees (using 2010 figures).  The conference cost was $110 to attend if you stayed on campus and $130 if you stayed elsewhere.  Lodging and meals were available on campus for extra fees.  The Wednesday field trips were an extra $75 and they were optional.  The conference is always held at Western Carolina University, and lodging is available at some of their newer dorms – you can choose single person lodging (you have your own room) or double person lodging (the price is a little less and you can specify a roommate or take a random assignment).  Lodging included breakfast at the WCU cafeteria (eggs, bacon, grits, oatmeal, pastries and fruit – but get there before the kids do or you’ll stand in line!).  Lodging also included simple catered lunches and dinner.  I chose the 3- night lodging (Wednesday night through Saturday breakfast) with a roommate for $186. Four-night lodging is available for a little extra if you’re planning to do the Wednesday field trip, and two-night lodging is available if you are arriving on Thursday.  Some folks choose to use local nearby hotels instead and bring their own food or go out to local restaurants.

Here is some information about cost from last year.

As I said, a variety of activities are available on Wednesday for an extra cost (transportation and a bag lunch is provided).  Some field trips are all day, some are just half day trips.  Some field trips are easy on the legs, some are strenuous – all are rated so that you choose what is best for you.  Workshops are also provided and some have follow up activities on Thursday afternoon, providing a full day and a half of learning.  In the evening, there is a special dinner for field trip participants.

Here is the schedule from last year so you can see how it is organized.

The conference officially kicked off on Thursday morning with the keynote speaker followed by a second speaker.  After lunch, activities were offered: 3 walks, follow-up learning for Wednesday workshop participants, or an indoor activity.  It is very nice how the levels of activities vary to suit all types of attendees.  After dinner, the conference resumed again in the evening - another speaker and some time mingling with vendors and attendees.  The conference was held in a large air-conditioned arena with plenty of seating and lots of room for vendors.  I was pleased to see two of Georgia’s nurseries there as vendors: Nearly Native Nursery from Fayetteville, GA and Baker Environmental Nursery from Hoschton, GA.

Nearly Native Nursery booth
Baker Environmental Nursery

Friday was a full day of indoor presentations.  The morning had two sets of concurrent sessions, offering a total of seven different choices from which to pick two.  After lunch, we gathered in the arena for two full conference speakers followed by one more round of concurrent sessions (3 choices).  Having so many choices really makes the conference more personal and also allows you to interact with more people as you move from session to session.

Friday night was a picnic for those staying on campus.  There was also a talent show for those who choose to participate and then a live band.  The cooler mountain air made for a pleasant evening.

The conference wrapped up on Saturday morning with an inspiring presentation by Patrick McMillan about advocacy.  His presentation featured, in part, a specialized plant habitat on the coast that grew on large piles of discarded oyster shells – shells that were deposited by humans thousands of years ago for some unknown reason but which was a decision that shaped the plant community that lives there today.  His message (and I will paraphrase):  Thousands of years from now people will probably not know your name, but the choices we make live on.  Find your passion and be an activist for it.

I hope you will occasionally take time to come in from the yard, change into some clean clothes and participate in one of these conferences – including the annual GNPS one!

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