Founded in 1983 by Dr. Steven Still, professor emeritus of horticulture at The Ohio State University, the Perennial Plant Association promotes perennial plants by providing education and connecting horticultural professionals. As summer approaches, the PPA is gearing up for the 35th annual Perennial Plant Symposium in Denver, Colorado, from July 23-28.

The PPA has three areas of focus — growing, retail and design — that are targeted for educational seminars and tours, says PPA president Jennifer Brennan. “For growers, the topics include plant production techniques, insect and disease control; for retail, the topics include display techniques, educational opportunities, best Point of Purchase systems and staff training benefits,” she says. “Speakers are from around the world. The broad perspective is so valuable.”

Anyone who grows, sells, designs with or teaches about perennial plants should consider becoming a member of the PPA, Brennan says. According to the PPA’s website, members are afforded perks such as networking opportunities with perennial professionals in the United States; discounted pricing to the Perennial Plant Symposium; access to the PPA membership directory, job boards and Idea series point-of-purchase perennial guide brochures; and the ability to participate in programs such as the Perennial Plant of the Year program and the Landscape Design Awards.

A visit to Gulley Greenhouse & Garden Center is included in the Fort Collins Tour held Mon., July 24, an add-on day of the 35th annual Perennial Plant Symposium.

However, the PPA offers valuable resources to both members and non-members, Brennan says. “The key resource is education from top individuals in the industry,” she says. “This is available to members and non-members at graduated fees. For members, there are the newsletters and the journal and members-only access to the plant files and photos online at the website: There are the national and regional symposia that both members and non-members are encouraged to attend. There are the contacts made with outgoing, sharing peers in the industry.”

In February, the PPA hosted its Central Region Symposium and Mid-Atlantic Regional Symposium, and it will host its Northeastern Regional Symposium in September.

PPA goes to Denver

Each summer, the PPA hosts its symposium in a different city in one of eight regions of North America, Brennan says. The three-day core part of the symposium includes two days of seminars and one day of tours. “The tours include private gardens, botanical gardens, arboreta, retail locations and wholesale or growing facilities,” she says. “There are extra seminars and workshops the day before the core series and tours after it that [have] extra fees, but [are] so worth every dollar. In the evenings there are social events and other entertainment.”

The agenda

Tues., July 25, Wed., July 26 and Thurs., July 27 are the core days of the Symposium, but attendees can add on the preceding Sunday and Monday and/or the following Friday for an extra fee, says Pat Hayward, consultant at Phytologic Horticultural Services and a member of the Symposium’s local site committee that organizes local tours and schedules local speakers.

Sunday: On Sunday, six perennial professionals, including Hayward and Brie Arthur, author of “The Foodscape Revolution,” will speak at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Hayward describes the Denver Botanic Gardens, which is also part of Tuesday’s evening schedule, as “world class.” “It blows my socks off, no matter what time I go — even in the dead of winter. It is a premier spot to see amazing plants displayed in amazing ways.” The Colorado Springs Tour also takes place Sunday, and includes stops such as Britton Nursery, Spencer’s Lawn and Garden, Phelan Gardens and Garden of the Gods.

Monday: The Fort Collins Tour is held Monday, and includes visits to Gulley Greenhouse & Garden Center, Gardens on Spring Creek, Laporte Avenue Nursery and other locations. It will also include a stop at the Colorado State University Trials, where researchers are conducting LED lighting research. (Editor’s note: To read about the LED Lighting Research Summit that took place at Colorado State University in January, visit

Tuesday: Tuesday’s itinerary includes the Perennial Plant Trade Show, presentations from Al Gerace of Welby Gardens, Panayoti Kelaidis of the Denver Botanic Gardens, Raymond Cloyd of Kansas State University, Shannon Currey of Hoffman Nursery and more.

An overarching theme of the Symposium will be a focus on low-water plants, Hayward says. Recently, drought conditions have affected California, the East Coast and the Midwest. “Our growers [in the Rocky Mountain West], are shipping to all those areas as that demand ebbs and flows,” she says. “They have learned how to grow those low-water plants in greenhouse conditions — we use different soils, mixes, for some of those kinds of plants. Of course, propagation techniques are a little different on those kind of plants — but this is the epicenter of growing cold-hardy, water-wise plants.”

On Wed., July 26, growers and retailers will visit the Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield Farms as part of breakout tours included in the 35th annual Perennial Plant Symposium.
Attendees of the 35th annual Perennial Plant Symposium who tack on additional days will have an opportunity to visit the Colorado State University Trials as part of the Fort Collins Tour on Mon., July 24.

The PPA is also encouraging growers visiting Denver to pay attention to the effect that cannabis, which is legal for recreational and medicinal use in Colorado, has on the industry, Brennan says. “The impact on the employment area is a topic all business people in the horticulture industry need to be aware of,” she says. On Tuesday, Kerrie Badertscher of Otoké Horticulture will give a presentation titled, “Can You Grow Cannabis Effectively?” and on Thursday, Duane Sinning of the Colorado Department of Agriculture will present “Industrial hemp: The Business & Legal Side of an Emerging Industry.”

Wednesday: On Wednesday, growers, retailers and designers will embark on three separate tours, Hayward says. The grower and retailer tours will both include Country Fair/Welby Gardens at Westwoods, Paulino Gardens and Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield Farms. Growers will also visit Little Valley Wholesale Nursery, Greenhouse Growing System (a hemp operation) and Center Greenhouse, while retailers will visit Echter’s Greenhouse and Garden Center, Nick’s Garden Center & Farm Market, Tagawa Nursery & Garden Center and Silver Sage Garden Center.

Thursday: Thursday will include a trade show, a new plant forum, a preview of the 2018 Perennial Plant Symposium, and in addition to Sinning’s talk, presentations from Joseph Tychonievich, Dave Leatherman, Stephanie Cohen and Tony Avent. Brent Heath from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs will introduce the Perennial Plant of the Year. The core three days of the Symposium will wrap up with a wine tasting and dinner at Balistreri Vineyard.

Friday: Attendees who plan to stay Friday will take the all-day Mountain Tour, which includes a visit to the Betty Ford Alpine Garden, an alpine walk and dinner.

Growers and retailers will visit Paulino Gardens in breakout tours held on Wed., July 26, as part of the 35th annual Perennial Plant Symposium.
Attendees of the 35th annual Perennial Plant Symposium who add on extra days will have an opportunity visit Laporte Avenue Nursery as part of the Fort Collins Tour on Mon., July 24.

To learn more about the PPA and the Perennial Plant Symposium, visit and

To read about Garden Center editor-in-chief Karen E. Varga’s trip to the 2016 Perennial Plant Symposium, visit

Patrick Williams is the associate editor of sister publication Greenhouse Management.