The Buzz

Notes from the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference

I first began attending native plant conferences in 2013, as an intern with the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville. Looking around the 2017 Plant Natives! Conference hosted by Chattanooga’s Wild Ones chapter this past March, the attendees of these conferences haven’t changed much (standing together, we make a nice camouflage blend of Indiana Jones hats, head-to-toe khaki, and floral-patterned blouses), many of the same speakers are “making the rounds”, and the core message remains the same: let’s choose native plants for our gardens to develop spaces that reflect our natural heritage, are environmentally sustainable, and support our local ecosystems.
Nonetheless, the crowds keep getting bigger, I never fail to learn something new, and I always leave these conferences deeply inspired by the many astounding landscape projects that other gardeners and engineers are developing across Tennessee, and beyond. The choice to understand, cherish, and choose native plants, both in our gardens and where they naturally occur, is nothing new.  
But, new resources and enthusiasm for native plant landscaping continue to gain traction in a more diverse public, with major plant nurseries, and with commercial developments. Our first speaker, Claudia West, presented the teachings of her recently published book (co-authored with Thomas Rainer) “Planting in a Post-Wild World”. With less than 1% of “pristine” wilderness remaining, fostering landscapes that resonate with nature in our urban and suburban spaces is the movement we all need to take part in, not only to support environmental health, but also to enhance our own quality of life.
Having lived in Memphis for two years, I have been impressed by how green this city is; our fantastic, leviathan trees, our battles for fiercely-loved parks, the expanding greenways forged by the Wolf River Conservancy, and the many urban agriculture projects all contribute to an exciting atmosphere and identity.
While in Chattanooga, the Memphis Botanic Garden’s adult education coordinator, Laurie Williams, and I took the time to sit down with the leaders of the Tennessee Valley Wild Ones Chapter, and have begun the process of forming our own West Tennessee Chapter. We are beyond excited to envision the projects, programming, and botanizing adventures that could be possible!
If you’re interested in taking part, please reach out to us at or
By Carson Ellis, Curator of the Butterfly Garden
Posted by Memphis Botanic Garden News at 6:00 AM


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