Where the Wild Things Are: Annual Symposium Addresses the Role of the Wild in Garden Design, Invasive Species Management and Human History

June 28, 2017

On May 13th, 2017, SHR’s Founders and staff welcomed a sold out crowd to learn from renowned experts in horticulture at our seventh Native Plant Symposium. Following a brief welcome by one of SHR’s Founders Robert Balentine and Executive Director Kelly Holdbrooks, keynote speaker Claudia West gave an engaging lecture based on her recent publication co-authored with Thomas Ranier, Planting in a Post-Wild World.

Claudia discussed the unique challenge landscape designers and gardeners face of bringing ecological value back into the urban landscapes and home gardens. She then identified the differences between the way plants grow in the wild versus the way they grow in nature and how our landscape designs can minimize maintenance resources by more closely mimicking the way nature “covers the ground.” Combining her innate intellectual curiosity with her dynamic delivery and compassion for nature, Claudia captivated the minds of symposium guests as she demonstrated how employing principles of the wildness into garden design and management can result in a thriving plant community that requires less work and creates an aesthetically pleasing outcome. Following her lecture, Claudia welcomed guests in the Chestnut Lodge library where she signed her books that were available for symposium guests to purchase.

After a brief break, the symposium addressed another kind of wild currently being managed by humans everywhere: the continuing threat of invasive species. Gary Kauffman, Plant Ecologist and Botanist for the USDA Forest Service, informed symposium guests why we should be concerned about the distribution and spread of invasive species. While passing around real-life examples of invasive species, Gary shared management strategies on how to control and contain those species that pose the greatest threat to the native ecology of Southern Appalachian forests. Gary also provided insight on which species were the most harmful to our landscape, such as ones that came in after a fire in Linville. To help empower listeners, Gary discussed best management practices for control and eradication of invasive species.

The symposium wrapped up its morning lecture series with a lively presentation from botanical illustrator Linda Fraser. Known for her work as the cover illustration on Allan Armitage’s book “Of Naked Ladies and Forget-Me-Nots: The Stories Behind the Common Names Our Favorite Plants,” Linda elicited a giggle from the audience as she shared her interpretation of the botanical illustration on the cover. With leaves folded crisscrossed at the lower half of the stem, this “Naked Lady” on the cover was drawn with an implied gesture of modesty. Befitting the larger theme of the lecture, the cover art example demonstrated the role botanical illustration played in humanity’s connection with nature throughout history. Linda reviewed the history of botanical illustration from 1450 BC to present day, highlighting the many ways plants were incorporated in the paintings, woodcuts, engravings and print. Art provided not only a way for people to connect with nature, but created an opportunity for plants to be classified as well.

Following a catered lunch by Randevu, symposium guests separated into two tour groups, each led by one of SHR’s founders and an SHR staff member. As misty spring clouds moved through our high-elevation gardens, a serendipitous contrast appeared: the grey backdrop of the day made colors on the blooming flowers that much more vibrant and bright. The magenta-purple compound flowers of Rhododendron maximum beckoned guests to enter the gardens through the Maple Entrance. On the Vaseyi Trail, a few Rhododendron vaseyi were still in bloom, showing off both stages of their development, with flowers and bright green emerging leaves present at the same time.

As guests departed, a native plant grown at SHR was given to each symposium in observance of National Public Gardens Day. Coordinated by the American Public Gardens Association, National Public Gardens Day is celebrated by public gardens across the country to raise awareness to the importance of “building vibrant, relevant gardens committed to community enrichment and environmental responsibility through community engagement, sustainable practices and conservation.” Recognizing the importance of shining a spotlight on the role gardens play in communities everywhere, SHR continues to participate in this important endeavor to acknowledge public gardens for their role in conservation and education.