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Southern Appalachian Plant Society celebrates 25 years

Submitted by Joy Moore • Mar 16, 2020 at 7:30 PM

In January 1995, a group of enthusiastic gardeners from the first Master Gardener class in Northeast Tennessee met to form the Southern Appalachian Plant Society (SAPS) as a way to continue learning about plants and gardening through programs, projects and fellowship with other gardeners. With a goal of spreading science-based horticultural knowledge, the group chose to open membership to anyone interested in gardening and to offer monthly programs free to the public.

Since then, SAPS has continued that mission by hosting an impressive array of monthly program meetings on horticultural topics as diverse as members’ interests. Some past topics include native plants, vegetables, peonies, composting, berries, organic gardening, orchids, hydrangeas, ferns, pollinators, edible landscaping, and bulbs. In addition to numerous local plant experts, SAPS has brought in many guest speakers from the University of Tennessee as well as nationally known speakers such as Brent Heath, Felder Rushing, Mike McGrath, Doug Tallamy, Colston Burrell and Tony Avent.

Meeting sites alternate between Kingsport and Johnson City to accommodate members throughout the region. Not only are meetings a time for learning but also an opportunity to network and exchange gardening ideas.

In 2004, SAPS formed a focus group, Herb Saplings, which meets most months to study herbs. Membership in Herb Saplings is open to any SAPS member with no additional dues. SAPS is incorporated in the state of Tennessee as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization.

Over the years, SAPS has led projects to promote good gardening practices in our region and to introduce others to the joys of growing things. SAPS annually sponsors Homegrown Tomato Fest in downtown Kingsport. The event celebrating the luscious summer fruit offers tastings, cooking demonstrations, contests and all sorts of tomato information to encourage people to grow their own food. Among other past projects have been wildflower rescues, fruit tree pruning demonstrations, and Great Gardens, an educational program to encourage environmentally friendly gardening practices. The group also partners with Exchange Place to maintain some of the ornamental beds at the living history farm and to assist at festivals.

SAPS has hosted trips for gardening enthusiasts to spectacular gardens near and far, including UT Gardens, Cheekwood, Callaway Gardens, Longwood Gardens and Chanticleer, and international tours to the Chelsea Garden Show and English Gardens and to the Gardens of Tuscany. Still, local tours to visit members’ and friends’ gardens remain some of the favorites.

And SAPS is still growing. Membership now numbers nearly 300 avid gardeners residing in East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, and includes Tennessee and Virginia Master Gardeners, nursery professionals, veteran and novice gardeners. Membership is open to anyone with an interest in plants and gardening, whether a beginner or expert, and comes with many special benefits including members-only meetings and workshops, garden tours and plant giveaways. SAPS’ newsletter, “The Wheelbarrow,” is published 10 times a year and is a resource for news on upcoming meetings and trips, a calendar of area garden-related events, and articles on horticultural topics. The SAPS Discount Card offers 10% off when shopping at participating local nurseries. The annual Plant and Seed Swap embodies what makes SAPS such a vibrant group as members generously share their knowledge and experiences along with their plants. Annual dues are $20.

To learn more about SAPS, visit www.saps.us. Or email sapsinfo@embarqmail.com.

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