Gardening with Purpose

It's a beautiful time for gardening!

By Mickey Stobbe ©2016
Penn State Master Gardener

Though it may sound a little “new age-y,” Kelly Norris wants fellow gardeners to adopt the mantra of “gardening with purpose.”

“It is a beautiful time for gardening,” says the energetic plantsman who was the first director of horticulture at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden.

Mr. Norris will be among the speakers at the 21st annual Garden and Landscape Symposium of Western Pennsylvania on April 23 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Shady Side Academy’s Hillman Center for the Performing Arts in Fox Chapel.

His book “A Guide to Bearded Irises” won the 2013 American Horticultural Society Book Award. His latest book, “Plants with Style: A Plantsman’s Choices for a Vibrant, 21st Century Garden,” showcases plants that will “make your jaw drop and your pulse quicken,” he says.

In his talk, he will discuss underutilized plants that have thrived in his garden. But in a phone interview, he wanted to talk about the questions consumers should be asking themselves when they’re plant shopping:

Can I eat it? Will it benefit pollinators? Will it live a long time? Is it drought-tolerant? Breeders should be growing plants to fit this new, sustainable paradigm, Mr. Norris says. He also challenges garden designers to change the way people see, appreciate and value the landscape.


“We’ve got to create both motion and emotion. We need to change out the product and change the dynamics in order to achieve gardening with a greater sense of purpose,” he says.

He uses urban green space as an example. “A life, a city, a living space without horticulture is a blank, destitute kind of existence. Horticulture is an act of humanity. It’s not just about aesthetics anymore.”

The number of people living in cities is growing. Currently, a little over half of the world’s people live in urban areas. By 2050, that will increase to 66 percent, according to projections by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Cities, as well as individual landowners, are looking at the contributions their spaces provide to the environment, Mr. Norris says.

The lifelong gardener holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in horticulture from Iowa State University. He says now is the perfect time to start blending your personal gardening style with environmental benefits.

“A garden is the best way to savor life on earth,” he says.

The cost is $120 for a day of lectures, breakfast and lunch. Register for the April 23 symposium by calling 412-482-3465 or go to A Garden Marketplace and Daffodil Show are free and open to the public.


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Plants with Winter Interest

Best Flowers of 2015


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