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Symposium offers winter interest for the gardener

By Judy Hamilton
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gardeners in January can be a pretty desperate bunch. They are reading gardening magazines, perusing seed and plant catalogs, inspecting for rust and cleaning their tools, sowing seeds indoors, and wandering in the home improvement gardening centers for new products to use in the spring.The West Virginia Nursery and Landscape Association Winter Symposium may be just the ticket to brighten the day of gardeners during the bleak winter months. Although the group's membership is limited to those in the professional trade, they are bringing top-notch gardening and horticulture speakers to Charleston from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Jan. 24 for all gardeners to enjoy."It's always a really exciting event. Gardeners are for the most part very engaging and very fostering to others, as well as creative. When you get like-minded people together, there is a synergy. At the symposium, you have the rare opportunity to engage privately with the gardening experts," said Bill Mills, the 20-year gardener and designer extraordinaire at TerraSalis, in Malden, and the association's president.The event is at the Charleston Conference Center, Holiday Inn & Suites Charleston West, 400 Second Ave. SW, South Charleston. The symposium will feature four nationally known and four locally known gardening experts. It is open to the public. The cost is $100 and includes lunch."It's really nice to have nonprofessional gardeners attend. Fostering education is part of our mission. We are sponsoring several students from West Virginia University who are active volunteers at the botanical gardens in Morgantown," Mills said.Mills also will be a speaker at the event. He will discuss collaborating with artists, artisans, craftsmen and stonemasons in garden design and projects that call for commissions. His talk will feature Tessie Wallace, of Wallace Metal Works, a Charleston blacksmithing company.Rita Randolph, a horticulturist, photographer and writer from Jackson, Tenn., will talk about container gardening in four seasons. Randolph has written for Tennessee Gardener magazine for 10 years and wrote the Fine Gardening "Container Gardening" special issue in 2009. "Just because it's winter doesn't mean you have to hang it up," Randolph said as she described her enthusiastic presentations where she shares her knowledge and creative arrangements across the country.Randolph is living many a gardener's dream: She has a plant named after her, akin to an Academy Award for those with green thumbs. Rita's Gold is a variation of Boston fern she discovered in the 1970s. But with its pale color and slightly anemic look, other experts didn't immediately share her enthusiasm -- or recognize the uniqueness of her discovery.Finally, she says, "I showed it to Allan Armitage, a very famous horticulturist, and he studied it. Its botanical name is Nephrolepis exaltata. When I saw 250,000 ferns with my name on them at AG 3 [a plant cloning lab] in Apopka, Fla., I cried like a baby," she said.     Joseph Tychonievich, of Arrowhead Alpine Plant Nursery in Fowlerville, Mich., will speak on "Plant Breeding for the Home Garden" and "Designed by Nature." He has bred two types of Glass Gem popping corn that he will discuss.
"Plant breeding is really fun and easy to do at home. I've bred several plants, including tomatoes. That's how I ended up as a repeat guest on public radio's food show, 'The Splendid Table.' It has been a real passion of mine for most of my life," he said.If it sounds like a lot of work, Tychonievich begs to differ, adding, "To me, gardening is about having fun. I advise gardeners to enjoy it, try new things, start small, and don't bite off more than you can chew."Other speakers include:
  • Jason Reeves, a horticulturist at the University of Tennessee Gardens in Knoxville, Tenn., will speak on "One Man's Trash is Another Man's Treasure: Garden Art on a Budget," and "Blocking the View: Plant Selection for Screening."
  • David Culp, author, instructor and creator of the gardens at Brandywine Cottage in Downington, Pa., who will speak on "The Layered Garden."
  • Local speakers include Sunday Gazette-Mail columnist John Porter, who will discuss "Pruning"; landscape architect Ryan Seacrist on "Designing with Technology"; and professional photographer Steve Payne on "Creating Good Photographic Images."
  • Registration is requested by Jan. 22; call association Executive Director Julie Robinson at 304-553-1234 or email Find additional information on the event at
    Reach Judy E. Hamilton at or 304-348-1230.
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