Symposium Speakers

Saturday, March 14, 2020
University Center, University of Chattanooga

This year’s Saturday Symposium features Benjamin Vogt, author of A New Garden Ethic: Cultivating Defiant Compassion for an Uncertain Future and landscape designer of native plant gardens that artistically evoke natural prairies and woodlands.  Benjamin operates Monarch Gardens, which offers design services and online classes in native plant gardening. He also runs the Facebook page Milk the Weed, a lively space where 10,000 folks share the joys and purpose of milkweed, native plants, pollinators, and curbing climate change.

He has an M.F.A. (Ohio State) and Ph.D. (Nebraska) in English and has taught over fifty college classes for which he’s received multiple awards. You’ll find his essays in anthologies like The Tallgrass Prairie ReaderNatural Treasures of the Great Plains, and Prairie Gold, while his Pushcart Prize nominated poems have appeared in over sixty publications. He is the author of three poetry collections and two unpublished memoirs — the memoirs are based on family & gardening as well as homesteading the prairie environment in the 1800s.

His 5,000′ home garden in Nebraska on a 1/4 acre lot has been featured in Fine GardeningGarden DesignNebraska Life, the Omaha World Herald, the Lincoln Journal Star, and on KOLN (Lincoln’s CBS affiliate).  For five years (2012-2017) Benjamin wrote an award-winning garden column for Houzz (over 3 million reads with 200 articles) and has contributed to books such as Lawn Gone! and Pollinator Friendly Gardening. You’ll find his freelance photography and writing in several publications, including The Xerces Society’s Gardening for Butterflies (Timber Press), as well as Orion MagazineNorthern Gardener, APLD’s The Designer, Fix, and many others. He has been interviewed for dozens of podcasts, articles, and books while speaking nationally on environmental activism and sustainable urban design for wildlife.


The Symposium also features artist Philip Juras.   His paintings express his desire to both explore and understand the patterns of the natural world. His love for nature and art began during his childhood in Augusta, Georgia, eventually leading him to receive a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1990 and a Master of Landscape Architecture in 1997, both from the University of Georgia. His ongoing projects include Georgia’s barrier islands, fire adapted landscapes of the Southeast, and Midwestern tallgrass prairie.His MLA thesis examined pre-settlement grasslands that once flourished in the southeast, a subject that continues to inspire his artwork. Philip’s work explores the rich aesthetics of a wide range of ecologically intact natural environments.  His ongoing projects include Georgia’s barrier islands, fire adapted landscapes of the Southeast, and Midwestern tallgrass prairie. To depict these subjects Philip combines direct observation with study of the natural science and history of the place. The resulting images invite the viewer to step through the picture plane and experience the natural world beyond.  His artwork will be shown in two upcoming solo exhibitions. The Art of Conservation will be at the UGA CED Circle Gallery in Athens, Georgia from March 4 to April 30, 2020, and Picturing the Prairie, will be on exhibit at the Chicago Botanic Garden from May 9 to September 20, 2020.


The third Symposium speaker will be Bodie Pennisi, an Extension Horticulture Specialist in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia.  Currently, Dr. Pennisi is responsible for planning and coordinating a statewide Extension program to support the professional landscape industry, and conducting applied research with emphasis on sustainable outdoor and indoor landscapes including plant, water, nutrient, and soil interactions. She also assists county Extension agents with landscape trouble-shooting, landscape planning, and local programming when needed. Dr. Pennisi teaches Master Gardener training classes on landscape installation and maintenance, WaterSmart landscapes, interiorscapes, herbaceous and woody ornamental plant selection, plant propagation and plant physiology.

Dr. Pennisi received her Master of Science in 1996 and Doctoral degrees in 1999 from Environmental Horticulture Dept. of University of Florida in Gainesville. She joined the Horticulture Department at UGA in 2000.  

The free Native Plant Marketplace & Expo on Saturday, March 14, 2020 offers the opportunity to purchase native plants from different regional nurseries.  Other interesting vendors and related organizations will also be present at the Expo.

Sponsorship support for Plant Natives 2020! is being provided by: