By Carol Michel
When I was asked to write a blog post about my experiences and impressions of this year’s GWA: The Association of Garden Communicators conference in Atlanta, Georgia, I answered, “Sure, happy to do so.”
Then came the time to write the post, just a week following the conference after-tours that took us to Athens, Georgia. What was my impression?
Over and over, as I thought about the conference, I recalled a quote in 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, regarding traveling to England. She wrote, “I remember years ago a guy I knew told me that people going to England find exactly what they go looking for. I said I’d go looking for the England of English Literature, and he nodded and said: ‘It’s there.’”
The same seems to be true of our annual conference. People who go find exactly what they are looking for.
Some are interested in the plants and the opportunity to scoop up trial plants from our exhibitors. It’s there. I perhaps foolishy, though hopefully, took home some camellias, hoping they might really live in my Zone 6a garden, along with a viburnum, gardenias, a couple of hydrangeas and several packets of seeds.
Other attendees go to meet the vendors and figure out if there is an opportunity to help them spread their message, whether it is about tree care, watering, plants, or fertilizing. It’s there. There were many wonderful, supportive vendors at the trade show, more than I could visit in the time it was open.
Or maybe they just want to meet some of their heroes of horticulture. This year we met
two world-renowned horticulture professors from the University of Georgia, Dr. Michael Dirr and Dr. Allan Armitage, and the equally famous football coach, Vince Dooley, whose passion for gardening was as strong as many of the attendees. These famous speakers reminded me that at my first conference, eight years ago, I got to meet one of my heroes, Jim Wilson of the long-running PBS show, “The Victory Garden.” If you want to meet your heroes, they are there.
A few years ago, I met two attendees who quietly admitted they came to the conference for the opportunity to see the gardens and didn’t really consider themselves to be “garden writers.” They said it was the best garden tour for the price. So if you want to see gardens, both public and private, they are there too.
Perhaps you just need a shot in the arm, a boost of your confidence, or some words of encouragement from other garden communicators who’ve been there and done that in the world of writing, speaking, and educating about gardening. You’ll find it’s there, too.
But what I found at the conference, both this year and in past years, was probably best explained by this year’s newest member of the Hall of Fame, Debra Prinzing. To paraphrase what she said in her video visit with us at the awards dinner, “You don’t go to the conference to do business, you go to build relationships.”
I realized then why I went to Atlanta this year, why I went to the previous seven conferences, and why I’ll be back next August for the conference in Buffalo, New York. I go for the relationships with other garden communicators – kindred spirits, all willing to help make connections, provide encouragement, educate on the latest trends and communication tools, and above all, share in the joy of the world of gardening. That’s what I went for, and it’s there. It’s definitely there.
See you in Buffalo!
Meet the Author
Carol Michel is a lifelong gardener with a degree in horticulture from Purdue University and a passion for all things gardening. She currently writes for Indiana Gardening and regularly posts on her own garden blog, www.maydreamsgardens.com. An award winning writer, she considers herself a gardenangelist, an evangelist for gardening, and draws inspiration and humor from old gardening books, old hoes, and her own adventures in and out of her garden.