‘Connecting in the Garden, Growing Together Again’ is theme of URI Master Gardener symposium, March 2

Featured speakers Charlie Nardozzi and Karen Bussolini to discuss ecological gardening in returning program, open to the public

KINGSTON, R.I. – Jan. 19, 2024 – A perennial Rhode Island gardening favorite is returning this spring, for the first time since 2020.

This year’s Rhode Island Garden Symposium, the first since the pandemic, will feature prolific garden writers and speakers Karen Bussolini and Charlie Nardozzi. Sponsored by the University of Rhode Island Master Gardener Program and designed for gardeners of all abilities, the symposium aims to inspire gardeners to take their gardens to the next level or start one for the first time. It runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 2, at the URI Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences, 120 Flagg Road, Kingston campus.

The theme for this year’s symposium is “Connecting in the Garden, Growing Together Again.”

“The R.I. Garden Symposium had become a tradition for the Rhode Island gardening community,” says Vanessa Venturini, program leader in URI Cooperative Extension. “We are excited to bring everyone back together for this in-person event packed with information about ecological gardening techniques. This event is designed for gardeners of all experience levels to enjoy.” The symposium will cover everything from soil to pest control to wildlife gardening.

This year’s program features two national presenters:

Charlie Nardozzi

Charlie Nardozzi

Nardozzi’s talk, “Ecological Gardening and Companion Gardening,” will focus on ways to build soil without harming soil creatures, featuring cover cropping and companion planting as ways to grow plants with less work. Nardozzi promises something for everyone from the beginning gardener to the more experienced. An Emmy award-winning garden writer, speaker, and media personality, he has worked for more than 30 years to bring expert gardening information to home gardeners. Nardozzi delights in making gardening information simple and accessible and is the author of seven gardening books and hosts three radio shows, when he’s not leading garden tours around the world.

Karen Bussolini

Karen Bussolini

Bussolini is a gardener, painter and photographer. Her presentation, “Ecological Thinking for Non-Scientists,” will discuss translating ecology into action. Bussolini feels that gardeners can have a positive effect on water quality, carbon sequestration, wildlife diversity and ecosystem health. A lifelong gardener, Bussolini trained as a painter and worked as an architectural photographer before specializing in garden photography and eco-friendly garden design. Her award-winning work has been published internationally and appeared in numerous magazines. Bussolini’s talk at URI will focus on ways to garden more sustainably, informed by ecological research.

Panel perspectives

ECOLOGY IN ACTION: URI alumna Cassidy Need ’20, now working in the green industry, will join a panel with URI faculty/staff. (URI Photo Nora Lewis)

In addition, Cassidy Need ’20 will join URI professors Rebecca Brown and John Taylor and Extension Agent David Weisberger for a panel discussion on “Perspectives on Environmentally Friendly Gardening.”  They will present research-based solutions to help gardeners steward their land. The panel members plan to cover hot topics in vegetable gardening, soil and mulch selection, climate-related issues, culturally appropriate crops, and more.

Need is owner, creator and designer of Rhode Island’s own Native Edible Designs. She has worked in the horticultural and agricultural fields for over a decade as a nursery manager, fine gardener, and farmworker. Need graduated from URI with a degree in plant sciences while working full time as a landscape technician on the campus grounds.

As URI’s Agriculture Extension Agent, Weisberger supports local farmers and commercial growers in production techniques. He has extensive farming experience in the U.S. and also Ecuador, with a research background in cover crops, weed management, crop rotation and more. 

Taylor is a descendant of five generations of Pennsylvania farmers. He started a market garden while in high school and practiced landscape architecture in Washington, D.C. before returning to higher education and has served on the URI faculty since 2016.

Brown is a faculty leader for the University’s production research and extension program and teaches courses in vegetable production at URI. She is also actively involved in fighting food insecurity at URI and in the surrounding community and is an active member of the American Society for Horticulture Science.

Connecting in the garden

Master Gardener Rosemary Smith says that with the Master Gardener Symposium on pause since COVID-19, organizers wanted to come together again over their favorite topic: gardening. 

“The symbol for this year’s event is a bridge as we leave behind the isolation of the pandemic to gather together for a topic we love,” she says. “There is something for everyone at this symposium.”

Organizers hope to attract gardeners of all levels from across southern New England.

“The symposium is for those who are interested in the science and art of gardening,” she says. “We all come from different places and different levels of experience. This kind of information helps us all become better stewards of the land.”

Registration for the symposium is $50; a limited number of need-based, partial scholarships are available for those interested in attending the symposium. Details about registration, scholarships and other event features are available here. Please register online by Feb. 23.

Questions? Contact URI Cooperative Extension at 401-874-2900 or coopext@uri.edu.