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DurangoScape 2024 to focus on native plants and their benefits to region

Annual conference to host area speakers on March 16
The Durango Botanic Gardens is hosting its 2024 annual DurangoScape conference at Durango Public Library on March 16. Ross Shrigley, executive director of Plant Select, and John Wickman, the former owner of Native Roots in Durango and Pine River Plants, are scheduled to be guest speakers at the event. (Durango Herald file)

With spring just over a month away, the Durango Botanical Gardens is encouraging residents to flex their green thumbs at its annual DurangoScape conference, which is all about native plants this year.

DurangoScape 2024 is scheduled for March 16 at the Durango Public Library, a news release from Durango Botanical Gardens says.

The conference will feature several local guest speakers, including Ross Shrigley, executive director of Plant Select, and John Wickman, the owner of Pine River Plants in Bayfield and former owner of Native Roots in Durango.

Shrigley will also highlight Plant Select varieties that will be introduced to the market this year, according to Durango Botanic Gardens.

“Every year, Plant Select introduces a new collection of beautiful, waterwise, and resilient plants to garden centers and wholesale suppliers,” the botanic gardens website says. “Plants are trialed and tested for 2-5 years at Denver Botanic Gardens, Colorado State University, and public and private gardens.”

Their presentations will explore what native plants are and how they can benefit the greater Durango and La Plata County areas, the release says.

Mike Smedley is also scheduled to present his “Plant This, Not That” plant selection guide, which the Durango Botanic Gardens describes as “perhaps the most popular presentation in our history.”

Smedley will discuss plants that are preferred over “more exotic, sometimes invasive, non-native plants,” the release says.

The Durango Botanic Gardens lists several examples of native plants on its website, including the Denver Gold Columbine, Desert Beardtongue and Mojave Sage.

Before the speakers begin around 1 p.m. on March 16, the Colorado Native Plant Society will hold a native seed giveaway at the library.

Durango Botanic Gardens president Bill LeMaire said the 2023 and 2024 conferences are both about adapting one’s “landscaping and gardening to changing climate conditions.”

Although DurangoScape 2023 had a focus on a macroview of Colorado’s changing climate over time, this year’s conference will look at individual gardening and landscaping practices regarding native plants, he said.

About 316 people attended the conference online or in-person last year, and the Durango Botanic Gardens heard a “tremendous amount of interest in native plants” from attendees, LeMaire said.

That’s where the theme for DurangoScape 2024 came from. LeMaire said a common thought about native plants is they may be better adapted to survive changing climate conditions because they’ve already been adapting to changing climates for thousands of years.

“In many cases, natives use less water and sometimes are less invasive. They may be a better pollinator source,” he said.

People also hold misconceptions about native plants and there is a lack of knowledge about how to care for them. LeMaire said the conference could be thought of as reintroducing Durangoans to native plants of Southwest Colorado.

“(Native plants are) harder to find in a lot of local nurseries and garden centers,” he said.

He said retail plant nurseries often focus on developing hybrid plants or cultivars in order to offer more market variety to customers. But native plants just haven’t had the same kind of marketing push over the last few decades.

“There's a revived interest in native plants, with wanting to try to help people sort out the thousands of myths and just sort out information about native plants,” he said.

The conference is a Durango Botanic Gardens member appreciation event. Members can get in for free, and there is an admission fee of $35 for non-members.

LeMaire said the Durango Botanic Gardens has had significant membership growth in the last several years, growing from around 80 members to over 400 members.


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