February 10, 2010

Try a Winter Study Weekend, Join Others Like You!

If you are finding that waiting for spring is driving you crazy, or if you are looking for something more interesting to do on a long weekend other than the routine of running to the market, or shoveling snow, or, if you are bored with the lack of good plant programing on television, and content in the main-stream magazines, then consider attending a NARGS Winter Study Weekend.

NARGS stands for the North American Rock Garden Society, but don't let the name fool you, it's real name would be more accurate if it was called' The Wild Flower, Native Plant, Interesting Species, Shade Loving Plant, Wild Bulb, Interesting Rare Plant and Alpine Plant Society. For NARGS is simply a club of people, who love all plants.

Think about it, a whole weekend rubbing elbows with the worlds most informed gardeners, explorer's, botanists, growers, hobbyists and those who love the plants the discover, write about and collect. Essentially, NARGS it is an organization comprised of all sorts of interesting people with all levels of knowledge, beginners to experts, but all who are more serious about the plants the love, and all are totally obsessed with the worlds most interesting plants. Three times a year, the society comes together, once on the west coast at the Western Winter Study Weekend, once on the east coast, and the Eastern Winter Study Weekend, and once at a national location ( this year in Colorado) for an annual meeting.

All of these conventions are amazing experiences for anyone who would love to hang out with a bunch of people who love plants! I joined about seven years ago, and to be honest, I was afraid that I would find myself with a bunch of intellectuals who will talk Latin all weekend. Well, yeah, there is a lot of Latin during the slide presentations, and inside jokes about some species, but the entire experience was so much fun, that I have not missed one event since. And now, NARGS is my favorite plant society. I learn so much, and whenever I bring beginners with gardening, they leave totally pumped. It's just an amazing experience.


Membership is required to attend a winter study weekend, but, the cost also brings you an amazing four color quarterly magazine, with interesting articles and images of all sorts of interesting plants, not just alpine plants, but woodland plants, shrubs, and wild and native plants. NARGS is the premiere North American plant society, and there is hardly a well known botanist who isn't a member, so the company is impressive, and the people you meet at a NARGS weekend is basically the author list from Timber Press. The best part? You are having cocktails with a world famous plant explorer, an expert on wild bulbs from Turkey, and a hiking couple from Colorado, a radio host from Portland, a tax preparer who mountain bikes from Vancouver, and two students from Chicago. It's like a cruise of plant geeks! Food, drink, slide and powerpoint lectures with loads of gorgeous photos from expeditions and trips from Greenland to New Zealand.

I always find humor in the elevators at the hotel, crowded in with the other business folk who might be staying at the same hotel, would be a retired secretary with a tray of wild trillium's crosses not yet introduced , a young goateed hort student hugging a precious rare shrub he bought, and three NARGS members from the local chapter yacking about the last lecture and how funny the speaker was. Then, there are trips to local garden, sometimes hikes you can sign up on, or just hanging out in the coffee shops with other plant geeks.


I take so many notes of plants that I HAVE to get, or order or places to visit, that I now bring two note books. Then there are the plant sales areas at the weekends, that feature the areas best and most knowledgeable nurseries. For instance, last March, I attended the Portland OR meeting, and the entire weekend was so much fun, and it was SO inspiring, that between lectures, I kept running from the hotel to the first floor of the parking garage where the vendors were all set up, to buy plants for about 50 sellers.


These vendors are not just average vendors, since NARGS members expect more, instead, there were Rhododendron nurseries, specialized Hellebore breeders, incredible miniature shrub growers, and of course, alpine plant growers. There we're rare bulbs from Tibet, Pleione Orchid nurseries, and then the bigger of the best nurseries like Gossler Farms with a selection of shrubs starting to grow, Sisskiyou Rare Plant Nursery, and more. Each NARGS study weekend where every they are held, will only have the best of the best. After all, these are serious plant lovers.

Study weekends are called study weekend, only because they are chock full of lectures. Really, slide lectures on specific plants are the focus, with the worlds experts on each genus often presenting. The talks are often funny, informative, and always inspiring. I just don't know why anyone would go to any other plant conference? Most are so commercial and 'dumb easy' that I really can't bother. NARGS is a fun, friendly and smart group of people. Many have been members for decades, but there are also, many who are just attending for the first time, because a friend brought them. They may just grow a few ferns in their back yard, or started collecting some Hellebores, but by the time they leave a NARGS event, their suitcase or car is full of plants, and their notebooks are full of "gotta order this" or "This year, plant to visit here" sorts of notes.

This March, there are 2 Winter Study Weekends. The Western one will be in Medford, OR from March 5 - 7. Go to the NARGS WWSW website and see if it interests you. Here is what the hosting chapter, says about it: Our conference speakers will entertain you on the trail, as we armchair hike the mountain ranges of the Pacific Northwest – including Oregon's Elkhorn Mountains – and the Sierras, then explore the Dolomites, Altai, and beyond. You'll hear expert advice on growing alpine gems from around the world, and find out those most likely to adapt successfully in your garden. We'll also shop for plants, feast, and have fun all weekend long.
Don't miss this unique, one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience a Western Winter Study Weekend in the Rogue Valley, gateway to the Klamath-Siskiyou ecoregion.

The Eastern Winter Study Weekend will be near me, in Devons, MA on March 19 to 21. Here is a list of the speakers.

Gordon Hayward, author and garden designer, on the uses of stone in the garden.

Jan Sacks and Marty Schafer, proprietors of Joe Pye Weed's garden and Iris breeders, on small Irises.

Lauren Springer Ogden and Scott Ogden, authors and garden designers, on plant-driven garden design.

Bill Cullina, author and plant & garden curator, Coastal Maine Botanical Garden, on Trillium's.

Darrell Probst, Epimedium expert and plant breeder, giving two talks; one on,new introductions of Astilbes, Coreopsis, and more; and the other on Epimediums from the wilds to the garden. Darrell has traveled throughout China collecting and introducing most of the Epimedium in culture today.

Sally and John Perkins, Rhododendron experts, on ericaceous plants for the garden

Jeff Good, landscape director of The Fells, Newberry, NH, on design and restoration of the rock garden at The Fells.

So if you are looking for experiencing something incredible, consider attending one of these, or, the National Meeting of NARGS in Denver this July, where there will be days of planned hikes and trips too into the Rockies!


  1. Vivien Bouffard8:10 PM

    What a fabulous praise of NARGS in general and study weekends in particular! I haven't been to a weekend yet, but I agree with everything you say about the meetings, plants sales, etc. So, are you guys going to register??

    EWSW Registrar

  2. Thanks for all the great info. I'll definitely consider becoming a member and checking out the Denver meeting. It sounds like a great bunch of people.

  3. If you get a merit badge for recruitment...add one for me! I'm going to see if my friend Jeff will join (he will)and since he already lives in Colorado...go to the national meeting in July! I need to look at my work schedule,but I think I can. I grew up with summers in Old Snowmass; My Dad's ashes are scattered at the tree line above Lanedo.I'm not sure where that town is, that's hosting the meeting, but I'm sure it's great. You have successfully earned those two badges! I'd love to hear Bill Cullina talk on Trilliums, but that trip is out. Thanks for the excellent review for NARGS


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