We don’t like promoting things here at Rant. We get lobbied by gardening-related PR and marketing all the time, and we mainly ignore it. Once in a while, though, something viable comes along. Something that looks kinda good. Something I actually want to tell our readers about, because I think they might benefit.  

This time, that rare thing is the upcoming Great Grow Along garden festival, happening March 19–21. I think it could fill a need and I know it has some good speakers and topics. As you are well aware, we don’t have our early spring home and garden events this year. Again. I know this will change—see that light at the end of the tunnel!—but not until 2022. For now,  the usual seminars, talks, or workshops that we might be enjoying at a hometown garden show or other place where people gather aren’t happening, for the most part. There are many virtual presentations from individual experts available; guest ranter C. L. Fornari outlined the good, bad, and ugly of these last month. The Great Grow Along is the first online gardening festival I’ve noticed.

I have to say, it looks ambitious. The three days include more than 40 sessions, 46 speakers, and 7 tracks covering edibles, planting for pollinators, DIY landscaping, urban gardening, houseplants, one catch-all track for specialty topics, and a few zone-specific talks. If I were to complain, I’d say there was no talk for my zone—minor point.

The speakers? Well, there’s Doug Tallamy. I guess he needs no introduction here. There’s also Brie Arthur, who’s known for her foodscaping advice; Amanda Thomsen, aka Kiss My Aster; Leslie Halleck, a gardening under lights expert; Teri Speight, a DC-based writer and coach I remember fondly from our Capitol Region Fling; and oh-so-many more.  Including a dear friend, Mary Ann Newcomer, who will talk about gardening in the West.

It’s organized by City Grange, a chain of Chicago nurseries. In an interview for Chicago TV, LaManda Joy (above), the mastermind behind this, said that the festival is aimed at “the 16 million people who started gardening in 2020.” She adds that others “might want to learn new stuff,” like working on pollinator gardens, a clear priority in the presentations.

The festival offers chat opportunities, but not direct interaction with speakers, as far as I could tell. Questions must be submitted online and relayed. The price, for a 3-day fest, is low; $29 gets you in and you can replay the sessions for months afterwards.

Expect a report later! One thing I do wonder, given the lower costs and efficiency of events like these, can we expect them to continue even past whatever “normalcy” turns out to be? Do we want them to? One benefit: speakers of this caliber are unlikely to be engaged by the small-to-middling in-person garden shows.