Be quick about it if you want access to Great Grow Along, which starts tomorrow, March 11,  with a welcome “happy hour” featuring Marcus Bridgewater (Garden Marcus). Then, the ambitious ten-day virtual festival is off and running, with Small Space Saturday, Sustainability Sunday, Make It Monday (DIY), Transformation Tuesday, Garden for Wildlife Wednesday, and more, through March 20. Along with diverse and interesting roster of presenters, this year’s version of GGA includes virtual tours of Chanticleer, Cheekwood (shown at top), Naples Caribbean Gardens, Franklin Park Conservatory, and Filoli. The tours kick off all five of the weekday sessions.

Did I say all this is free? Regular conference attendees (I attend art, journalism, and gardening events), know that conferences are normally very expensive propositions, with hefty registration fees and top-dollar hotel stays. Because Great Grow Along is virtual, it lacks these costs, so the only thing participants pay for is access to videotaped sessions after the live events are over. (And even that is only $29.95.)

From Tallamy’s 2021 presentation

Does this post sound way more promotional than we usually get here at the Rant? It does, but I think GGA deserves promotion. It’s so rare that gardeners who can’t travel all over the US to hear from people like gardening-for-wildlife guru Doug Tallamy, Slow Flower Society’s Debra Prinzing , and Epic Gardening’s Kevin Espiritu—just to name 3 of the 30plus presenters—have this kind of access all from one site, for one week. I have to admit that I am not familiar with many of the featured speakers, mainly because so many are younger gardening professionals who have made their names through YouTube, podcasts, and Instagram. Sure, there are authors here as well—I am used to attending talks by people known for their books—but it must be admitted that a large cohort of gardeners are not learning that way. GGA provides a curated nontraditional experience—a great alternative for those who like online learning but aren’t helped by the chaos of Facebook. There is also a robust houseplant element, with six 8 p.m. happy hour sessions, indicating, I guess, that houseplant lovers also like to party.

I think the five tours are a great addition—they emulate what traditional gardening conferences include and provide an inspirational component. 

Great Grow Along is largely the brainchild of LaManda Joy, of City Grange, a chain of Chicago nurseries. In an interview for Chicago TV, Joy  said that the festival is aimed at “the 16 million people who started gardening in 2020.” Here’s a post on that first festival, held last year.

Finally, full disclosure: I am doing a regional gardening talk (roughly Northeast/Midwest) on the final day, but I’m not posting this to promote it. Far from it. I’m posting because this is the type of fun/inspirational/educational event that we’ve always needed, but didn’t realize how much until all the spring garden shows went away in 2020-21.  Even without the pandemic, how could we get this many experts from all over the country together for one physical conference? Impossible. And certainly not for free.