30th-Annual Davidson Horticultural Symposium

Register now for a day full of gardening history, advice, and inspiration
Robin Wilgus
Each year, Davidson Garden Club member Robin Wilgus creates an original painting for the symposium.

The Davidson Garden Club participates in many activities expected of small-town clubs. The members have a fall plant sale. They put together the baskets of greenery that decorate the town at Christmastime. They meet once a month at a member's house for refreshments and a program.

But every March, the 40-member Davidson Garden Club puts on a one-day event that would seem impressive for a club twice its size. Tuesday, March 4 marks the 30th anniversary of the Davidson Horticultural Symposium. The event draws attendees from other states and speakers from other continents. It's still three weeks away, but the deadline to register is Feb. 24. And all 425 spots are expected to fill up. (Register here.)

The event takes place on a weekday in early March to coincide with Davidson College's spring break. The club holds the symposium on campus. Between the day's events, visitors can wander around the 450-acre campus that's been designated a national arboretum since 1982.

"It's total immersion," Cindy McIntosh, garden club member and publicity chair, says of the symposium. "If it were a language, that's all you would be talking for the whole day."

Each year, the club picks a theme. This year's choice highlights the club's 30-year, overarching focus for the symposium: "It's All About the Plants."

The day begins at 8 a.m. with coffee and refreshments, all homemade by garden club members. Kirk Brown, a horticulturist from Pennsylvania, will begin the day's speeches with a presentation on John Bartram, known as "America's First Botanist." David Culp, author of The Layered Garden, will give instructions on creating and maintaining your own layered garden. Holly Shimizu, executive director of the U.S. Botanic Garden, will discuss the evolution of U.S. gardens. Paula Gross, assistant director of the UNC-Charlotte Botanical Gardens, will share her favorite perennials. And Tony Avent, owner of Plant Delights Nursery and Juniper Level Botanical Gardens in Raleigh, will finish the day with a presentation on how pants are discovered, propagated, distributed to nurseries, and placed in our gardens.

The garden club has worked with other community members to round out the day. Dearness Gardens in Huntersville will set up an indoor nursery and have plants for sale. Park Road Books in Charlotte will provide a selection of gardening-related books, many of them written by the day's speakers. And Elizabeth Bradford, a local artist and naturalist, will display her work.

The Davidson Garden Club is a nonprofit and puts on the entire symposium with the money from the $89 registration fees. And the countless hours of volunteer work done by its members. The goal is to break even. The limit of funds has never affected the symposium's quality, though, or the members' determination to have the best speakers. The past two years, they flew in speakers from England.

The symposium appeals to all levels of gardeners, horticulturists, and landscape designers, McIntosh says. And she hopes that each one finds it inspiring.

"It gives you confidence that you, too, can go out and create something beautiful in your garden," she says. "Nothing presented seems overly challenging."

Thirty years ago, the members of the Davidson Garden Club must have thought the same thing about creating a top-quality symposium.

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