Garden Spark’s 8th season brings exciting new speakers Leave a comment

May 31, 2024

Wow, 8 years! Garden Spark, my speaker series on garden design and ecology, will return for its 8th season of in-person talks in Austin this fall. I’m excited to announce the new lineup of speakers!

This season we’ll explore the cultural significance of seeds and how those who keep them and sow them can be powerful agents for change; we’ll learn how a suburban gardener transformed his traditional lawn into a captivating native prairie garden; we’ll get field-tested tips on making a successful xeriscape garden and explore what “low maintenance” really means; and we’ll be inspired to upgrade a basic builder’s landscape into a garden with more function and beauty.

Talks are held on Thursday evenings. We’ll meet at Barton Springs Nursery in the fall and — new this year — at Leaf Landscape Supply North in the spring. I hope you’ll mark your calendar for the dates listed below and make plans to join us.

Tickets go on sale for each talk 4 to 6 weeks in advance and are offered to subscribers first. Talks tend to sell out quickly, so don’t miss out. SUBSCRIBE to Garden Spark’s email list to be notified as soon as tickets go on sale. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

And now, here are this season’s garden thinkers and presenters!

Jennifer Jewell. Photo: John Whittlesey

October 24: Jennifer Jewell

What We Sow: The Personal, Ecological, and Cultural Significance of Seeds

Gardens and gardeners are powerful agents for positive change in the world, helping to address challenges as wide ranging as climate change, habitat loss, cultural polarization, and individual and communal health and well-being. Jennifer Jewell, host of the national public-radio program and international podcast Cultivating Place, will explore that power through the lens of SEEDS: how they grow, where they grow, who grows them, who sells and/or controls them, and their care up and down the seed-sheds of our world. 

Jennifer will share fascinating stories of seeds and seed-keepers from her newest book, What We Sow: On the Personal, Ecological, and Cultural Significance of Seeds (2023). These stories are both cautionary tales and guiding lights in ways we can all sow, seed, and grow our world more beautiful, more delicious, more biodiverse, and more brave.

Speaker Bio

Jennifer Jewell is the host of the award-winning, weekly public radio program and podcast Cultivating Place: Conversations on Natural History and the Human Impulse to Garden and author of three books: The Earth in Her Hands: 75 Extraordinary Women Working in the World of Plants, Under Western Skies: Visionary Gardens from the Rockies to the Pacific Coast, and What We Sow: On the Personal, Ecological, and Cultural Significance of Seeds. Her greatest passion is elevating the way we think and talk about gardening, the empowerment of gardeners, and the possibility inherent in the intersection between places, environments, cultures, individuals, and the gardens that bring them together beautifully – for the better of all the lives on this generous planet.

Cultivating Place has several times been recognized by Garden Communicators International as Best On-Air Talent and Best Overall Broadcast Media. In 2023, Jennifer was honored with the American Horticultural Society’s Great American Gardener B.Y. Morrison award for horticultural communication. She regularly serves as keynote speaker for horticultural organizations large and small across the country, including The Garden Conservancy, The American Public Gardens Association, The American Horticultural Society, The Thomas Jefferson Foundation/Monticello, The California Native Plant Society, The New York Botanical Garden, Miami University of Ohio, and the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

Jennifer lives and cultivates her place in interior Northern California with her partner, plantsman John Whittlesey. You can find her on Instagram and Facebook and listen to Cultivating Place wherever you get your podcasts.

Michael McDowell

November 14: Michael McDowell

Lawn Free: How I Transformed My Lawn into a Prairie Garden

Why settle for a boring, thirsty lawn when you can create a dynamic prairie garden that changes with the seasons and benefits the environment? That’s exactly what Michael McDowell thought when he set out to create his Plano prairie garden in the suburbs 20 miles north of Dallas. Michael will show how he transformed his yard from a lawn-dominant landscape to a lawn-free prairie garden and how his vision continues to evolve as he and the garden mature. He’ll share his tips for gardening on a budget (hint: propagation and patience), explain how he’s stayed on good terms with neighbors and off the radar of property standards officers, and show how resilient prairie plants are in spite of extreme weather and other challenges.

Speaker Bio

Michael McDowell started gardening at a young age and planted many rows of evenly spaced marigolds and petunias. When he got his hands on a copy of Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region by Sally and Andy Wasowski, it changed his perspective of what a garden could be and, perhaps, should be in Texas. He began searching for the Texas native plants that he read about in the book and incorporated them into his landscape when he could find them. As native plants became more available and water became more scarce, he decided to focus solely on the plants that evolved to thrive on the Texas prairie with only the water and nutrients that nature provided. 

Michael gained familiarity with the ways of prairie plants in the privacy of his backyard. When he started removing his front lawn, an unconscionable act in Plano, he documented his progress on his blog Plano Prairie Garden. He thought his blog posts would provide evidence that his non-traditional landscape was intentional and not the result of laziness, should a property standards officer knock on his door. They didn’t. He now posts as Plano Prairie Garden on Instagram. His blog archives date back to 2009, and he regularly refers people to the Resources and Plant List pages.

Michael spends his work days as a compliance manager in the highly regulated insurance industry. He researches insurance statutes, regulations, and case law to ensure his employer’s business practices are compliant. Creativity with insurance laws can get you fined or imprisoned, so gardening is his creative outlet.

Danny Bravens

March 6: Danny Bravens

Searching for a Low-Maintenance Yard: Views on Xeriscapes in Central Texas

Everyone wants a low-maintenance yard, but what does that really mean? For four years, Danny Bravens’s design company, Native Son Gardens, has been yanking out lawns and installing native-plant gardens that can be used more while requiring less maintenance than a traditional lawn-filled landscape. In this talk, he’ll cover the many failures and successes they’ve had along the way, as well as the specific practices that they’ve adopted in their search for a lawn-free Texas yard.

Speaker Bio

Danny Bravens is the founder and lead landscape designer of Native Son Gardens and has always been drawn to nature. A few years ago, after a decade in the film industry, he started taking landscape design and botany courses as a fun hobby. When the pandemic hit and he lost a good-paying job, he decided to ditch film for landscaping and started this company the next day. It was a good decision. On the company’s first project, he met his partner, Hector, who manages the crew. Native Son Gardens has since installed well over a hundred landscape designs, redesigned the Long Center’s main entrance, experimented with seeded meadows, and grown a small company into a slightly less small one. It’s been both fun and hard, but also incredibly rewarding turning outdated lawns into sustainable and beautiful native landscapes.

You can follow Native Son Gardens on Instagram.

Toni Moorehead

May 8: Toni Moorehead

From Builder to Better: How to Upgrade Your Builder-Grade Landscape

Whether you’re building a house and need to make decisions about landscaping, or your house came with a generic “builder’s landscape” and you want to improve it, or you’re feeling stuck in a gardening rut, this talk is for you. Designer Toni Moorehead will explain how to apply right-plant/right-place principles and show you how to take your landscape from builder to better!

Speaker Bio

Toni Moorehead is a Texas Certified Landscape Professional and the owner/designer of Signature Gardens in Grapevine, Texas. While she grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm, she swapped cheese and snow for tacos and summer when she moved to Texas in 1986. Then, after working as a court reporter for nearly two decades, Toni traded transcripts for trowels and lawyers for landscapes and started her own garden-design business. She’s never looked back. Toni loves helping people learn to love gardening in Texas, and she shares about gardening on her blog Signature Gardens and on Facebook and Instagram. Toni is married to Dile and has two grandsons who live in South Carolina.


How to Attend

Subscribe to Garden Spark for first dibs on tickets! Simply click this link and ask to be added.

Sponsor Thank-You

Grateful thanks to longtime sponsor Barton Springs Nursery for providing a beautiful venue for Garden Spark’s fall talks! And big thanks to Leaf Landscape Supply (north location) for sponsoring Garden Spark’s spring talks! Their support makes it possible for us to learn from a variety of garden thinkers each year, and I hope you’ll patronize them when you’re shopping for plants and gardening supplies.

All material © 2024 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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