–A big thanks to Intown Atlanta board member Laura Markson for this great write-up and the photos. Cross-posted over at her “Nurture Native Nature” blog.–

On a hot June Sunday afternoon a varied group of around 50 or so people interested in native plants came together for a panel discussion called Adding Native Plants to Your Intown Landscape. The event was co-hosted by the Intown Atlanta Chapter of the Georgia Native Plant Society and Trees Atlanta. It was held at the beautiful and green-centric Kendeda Center at Trees Atlanta.

The peaceful Trees Atlanta space with the easily recognized metal tree sculpture in the middle is a Platinum LEED-certified facility with many green features and perfect for a meeting that focuses on helping restore habitat using native plants in our own yards.

Grace Manning, Intown Chapter board member and my co-partner on the programming and education committee generously did the heavy lifting to make it happen. She works at Trees Atlanta and is on the board of the Intown GNPS so she was able to coordinate the many details needed for success.

Grace was behind the scenes making sure every detail for the event was taken care of!

We were lucky to have a small working group of volunteers helping to plan the event and volunteer the day of the panel.

Intown Chapter volunteers Tom Collins (R), who is also on the GNPS state board, and Matt Westbrook (L) helped make the day run smoothly.

The Jewish mother in me couldn’t help kick my habit of feeding people so I basically helped by bringing a Southern summer selection of home baked cookies, fresh strawberries, lemonade and sweet tea. I’m a firm believer that food is essential at any social event – it builds connections, shows generosity of spirit, and sets the moods.

The bumblebees on the flower cookies were a sweet reminder of the habitat value of native plants!

Grace wisely suggested we start the event with a native plant icebreaker she chose where everyone was given a slip of paper with either a common or scientific name of a native plant. Each person had to get up and pair up with the person who had the other slip. I’m not a big fan of forced social games, but this was such a casual activity and low-key crowd that I played along with everyone in the room. My slip was magnolia virginiana and I searched the room to find someone with a sweetbay or swamp magnolia slip.

My “match” was a young woman who was having an issue with her HOA calling the native plants in her certified Monarch Waystation pollinator garden “weeds”. She came to the right place for support and guidance from sympathetic audience members and from the panel who discussed her question about what to do to help HOA’s understand what native plants are. If we didn’t do the ice-breaker I wouldn’t have made this connection and learned about something I don’t know much about because I have never lived in an HOA community. I imagine there were many other interesting conversations and connections around native plants made during this activity.

This photo was snapped as the directions were given for the icebreaker…I can see the slips in everyone’s hands.

Our affable panel moderator was Baker Owens, one of our Intown Chapter board members.

Baker was such a natural moderator he may have just added this to his board role as chair of the communications committee!

The three panelist were varied in expertise and experience to give different perspectives and help support everyone who came to the event from newbies to the audience experts. Jane Trenton who has been a GNPS member for over 20 years brought seasoned expertise in adding native plants to the landscape, Alex Dileo our Intown Chapter’s fearless leader is relatively new to adding native plants to the landscape and was able to give confidence to others just starting out by sharing her experience converting her own yard to a GNPS Gold Certified Native Plant Habitat, and Kelly Ridenhour who is a licensed professional landscape architect, conservation ecologist, creator of the Atlanta Firefly Project, and a homeowner with a yard filled with native plants was able to pull from her interdisciplinary experiences to offer unique perspectives to benefit both people and nature.

Jane on the left and Alex on the right look like they’re listening and thinking about Kelly’s answer to a question.

The questions were varied and included: I have a lot of grass in my yard how do I begin to start adding native plants? Is it better to start planting natives or eliminating invasives? If you could change one current yard maintenance practice, what would it be? Is there any safe mosquito spray I can use on native plants? (the answer to this was no, with suggestions for wildlife friendly ways to manage mosquitoes and a reminder from Kelly that mosquitoes are part of the ecosystem), Should I be planting something that is native to the US and maybe even to a neighboring state, but not endemic to my region? The more casual, interactive format made it easy to answer all the planned and submitted questions. The discussions were collegial and collaborative and the answers were given as suggestions not rules. I learned different perspectives on a few things and enjoyed listening to the ideas of all the panelists.

This graphic from Diane Benson of Bee-Friendly Gardening perfectly illustrates the moving-the-needle-in-the-right-direction approach the Intown Chapter is taking to helping folks add native plants to their landscape.

I’m sure everyone would have stayed to the end of the panel discussion, but we offered just a little enticement to keep the sense of community in the room by giving everyone who came a raffle ticket for a chance to win a free native plant at the end of the panel. One of our chapter goals is to help get native plants into the yards of as many people as possible so giving a plant or ten away is a start.

The healthy, ready-to-go native plants raffled off included purple coneflower/echinacea purpurea, blue sage/salvia azurea, liatris aspera/button blazing star, and smooth ironweed/Vernonia fasciculata. The labels included growing conditions needed for success.

The plants were donated to our Chapter by Stolen Farms Nursery. I also made a “patio planter” with a coneflower (echinacea purpurea) as the center plant surrounded by other native plants from my yard to be more inclusive of anyone who may want to add native plants in a space that isn’t a yard. On our list next year is a native plant patio or balcony garden workshop.

The native plants mostly from my yard I put in the patio planter I made in a terra cotta pot I scooped up in my local Buy Nothing Facebook group included self-heal/prunella vulgaris, blue-eyed grass/Sisyrinchium angustifolium, partridge pea/Chamaecrista fasciculata, and river oats/Chasmanthium latifolium

When the event was over some people lingered a bit with old friends or new “plant friends” they met. Hopefully, everyone took something away from the panel and felt a little more connected to the growing Intown Atlanta native plant community. Our idea is some of the same people who came to the panel will help plan or come to the Pollinator Picnic at various intown parks in August, our epic native plant swap in September, a winter sowing workshop next January. or our show up for one of our ongoing restoration and advocacy activities. Over time, we’re working to nurture relationships and build a strong, dynamic community of people dedicated to using native plants to reclaim and restore nature.

Native plants including coneflower and river oats were added to even small strips along walkways at Trees Atlanta. We’re working to help everyone think like this!


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