Submitted by gsparrow on
Panayoti Kelaidis

AS A WHOLE year of COVID-19 comes to a close, with several waves of this insidious disease cresting around the world, we gardeners are fortunate to have our flowery havens to nurture and support us. But the wonderful hubbub of monthly meetings has transmogrified into Zoom webinars where we catch glimpses of friends and neighbors in little boxes. A few chapters of NARGS have arranged for discrete garden tours with obligate masks and social distancing. The Rocky Mountain Chapter even staged a plant sale of sorts, where members pre-ordered on the web and picked their plants up at a lovely garden, where they could briefly exchange a few masked words with other members who came by at the same time. COVID-19 has reminded us that plant people mean as much to us as plants.

It is impossible, writing this in November of 2020, to say for certain that NARGS can truly go ahead and stage a national conference from June 17 to June 20 of 2021. So much will depend on things beyond our control. But if we could stage such a meeting anywhere, we believe Durango is the perfect place for such a conference; and the community of gardeners in the Four Corners and Colorado will be the perfect hosts to greet you.
Maybe I’m an incurable optimist, but I can’t believe a tiny microbe can continue to outwit our nation and the whole world indefinitely. I have no doubt that COVID will still be around next year, but I am also convinced that in that long expanse of time till then we will have evolved powerful means of coping with and outwitting that little bug. We will have the tools by June to stage a safe, exciting, and informative conference not just outside the confines of a Zoom box, but in the shifting cloud shadows of the wildest southern Rockies. It will require careful planning and concerted choreography to ensure everyone’s safety, and the chance to achieve and exceed the expectations everyone has for a truly glorious North American Annual General Meeting of NARGS.
In the best-case scenario, Fort Lewis College will provide us with a capacious residence hall that can accommodate any attendees who choose to stay there, with a plethora of nearby options for those who don’t. The rooms at the college are spacious and attractive and the projected costs are, quite frankly, ridiculously reasonable. Although Durango has a population of just under 20,000, it has nearly 3,000 motel and hotel rooms available, not to mention other alternatives. It is a major tourist hub for the Four Corners area, compact and convenient on the one hand, but geared for throngs of visitors. Peak tourist season isn’t till July and August. We will have far less competition in June. Best of all, there is a knowledgeable and enthusiastic local community of keen gardeners, many members of NARGS, and a surprisingly numerous botanical garden community, with many who are knowledgeable about native plants, rock gardens, and xeriscaping on hand to help host. This will be the seventh NARGS Annual General Meeting to take place in Colorado in the last 40 years. The Rocky Mountain Chapter is co-sponsoring this meeting, and a large cadre of seasoned hikers and rock gardeners in that group will have an active role, as well as the Four Corners’ hosts.
To make this conference work, we are exploring unconventional options. Rather than pay for giant (and expensive) buses as transportation for the conference, what if most attendees drive to Colorado, or fly to Denver or Durango and rent a car? There are at least a dozen passes between Denver and Durango that rise above tree line and mid-June is peak bloom for Eritrichium nanum, Claytonia megarhiza, Primula angustifolia, and a wealth of other endemic treasures. We imagine many will want to expand this conference into a family vacation and visit the numerous public rock gardens and vast wildflower options en route to Durango. We still envision some vans with socially distanced spacing for those who prefer not to rent a car.
There are many destinations in the La Plata mountains and other ranges and foothills of the San Juans near Durango, not to mention the rich cultural and botanical byways of Mesa Verde National Park and the steppe landscapes of the Canyons of the Ancients National Park nearby. We envision field trips in small groups in private cars, with a few vans where those who don’t want to drive can ride safely and socially distanced. With GPS, a map, and timing from Durango to your destination, you will meet up with a half dozen other participants and have a knowledgeable guide lead you on a hike. You’ll return to your room in time for a short rest, and then a bar in the open for some socialization (with caution and social distancing), and catered or barbecue dinners al fresco. Fort Lewis has large outdoor covered areas set up for classrooms designed for COVID teaching that can provide airy, ventilated spaces for presentations, meals, and plant sales. Durango has numerous gourmet catering companies that can provide fantastic fare for meals and daily picnics. Best of all, these strategies are likely to lead to some amazing savings in conference costs. By next June, we are confident that the rock gardeners of North America will be savvy enough and ready to undertake this opportunity. In fact, we think there is sufficient pent-up excitement that it is likely to sell out.
I doubt that many North Americans will be flying to Europe, Asia, or the Southern Hemisphere by next June, but I think lots of us are ready and anxious for a domestic escapade in Durango.
So do hang in there. As the winter progresses a fuller outline of the activities, destinations and expectations of a non-virtual conference will be published on the website and in a future issue of the Quarterly. Meanwhile, make sure you clear June 17-20 for Durango!
Until then, stay safe, sow lots of seed packets, and bone up on the rich flora of the Four Corners region!