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Kelly D Norris    

Kelly Norris is a 20-something rising-star horticulturist and author, hailed in recent news as an "undownable plantsman," "a gardening evangelist," and "the unofficial Gen Y gardening spokesman."

Kelly D. Norris is a 20-something, award-winning author and plantsman from Iowa and the first horticulture manager at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, a newly revitalized 14-acre public garden in Des Moines, Iowa. He’s popularly known for his book A Guide to Bearded Irises: Cultivating the Rainbow for Beginners and Enthusiasts from Timber Press, which won the 2013 American Horticultural Society Book Award. His next book—Plants with Style—is due out in December 2015. As a speaker, he has garnered acclaim for his high-energy, zealous presentations on the national stage, leading many to call him one of the rising stars of American horticulture. Kelly’s career began at age 15 when he talked his parents into buying a nursery (Rainbow Iris Farm), and since then he’s become one of the few gurus on marketing horticulture to emerging demographics.

At the Botanical Garden, Kelly directs and manages a team of horticultural professionals in all aspects of design, curation, programming, and garden management, after serving as the principal horticulture consultant to the $18 million renovation project completed in 2014. He is also the editorial director for the organization’s award-winning member magazine Bloom and is the artistic director of the popular Spring Garden Festival, a four-day pop-up retail plant sale and garden show.

Kelly is the youngest person to receive the Iowa State Horticultural Society’s Presidential Citation, Award of Merit and Honor Award in the organization’s 150 year history, awards that exemplify service and contributions to horticulture in Iowa. In 2011, he was also honored by the Perennial Plant Association with the Young Professional Award, recognizing early contributions to the advancement of herbaceous perennials in American horticulture. In 2013, he won the Iowa Author Award for Special Interest Writing, the youngest Iowan to be recognized in the history of the awards program.

His love for exploration has taken him to the wilds of southern and central Texas, the Ozarks, the Black Hills, and all over the Midwest in search of new plants for gardens. Kelly holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in horticulture from Iowa State University.


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Speech Topics

Considering Kelly for your next engagement?

Kelly is a consummate and spirited lecturer. His entertaining delivery coupled with his acute knowledge of plants and their uses is popular with audiences around the country. Below is a list of presentations which Kelly has prepared based on his diverse areas of expertise. With 20 years of gardening experience, his experiences with plants are not only entertaining but insightful.

Dig This: Stylish Gardening for Savvy Gardeners Gardeners need chic, sustainable, thriving plants for modern lifestyles. Plants after all are the very essence of fashionable gardening. Gardeners need to know the basics of gardening as well as have the opportunity to craft landscapes in their own unique style with plants that flourish sustainably for more than just a few seasons. The horticulture industry needs to re-shift and re-tool its focus on the style conscience of the young and young-at-heart, including how to market plants to a new generation of gardeners. Gardeners new and old have always wanted to make gardens that look like them and that reflect a personal, artistic ownership of the space outside their home, large or small. 20-something plantsman Kelly Norris will take the audience on a journey through a world of hot, functional and head-turning plants and ideas that will inspire you to craft a stylish garden that’s uniquely yours.

Gardening with a Y With all the uproar, discussion and seeming turmoil around the issue of Generation X and Y gardeners, some might wonder what the future holds for horticulture. Confounding the issue is a general lack of demographic data and inaccurate perceptions of young or beginning gardeners. So why not talk with a Gen Y horticulturist? 20-something plantsman Kelly Norris, the new horticulture manager at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden will take the audience on a journey through a world of hot, functional and head-turning plants and ideas that will open a dialogue about the needs, wants and interests of new gardeners under 40.

The Modern Plant Explorer Ever wonder where plants in your garden come from, how they got there, and what else awaits an intrepid plant explorer in the wild beyond? Join 20-something plantsman and plant explorer Kelly Norris as he shares stories and photos of his travels and wanderings in wild lands across the United States, while also telling the stories of how some of the most popular garden species came into horticultural commerce. Building on the work of generations of plantsmen before him, Kelly will give credit to the people behind the plants we love and finish with a few new plants from some of his mentors that he thinks you ought to take a look at.

Life on the Edge: Tough Plants for Tough Places Across this vast continent, native vegetation grows and thrives in harsh, sometimes threatened, and highly variable environments. Gardeners know variable environments—the human-dominated landscape is perhaps one of the most trying places to grow plants, whether cultivated for beauty or sustenance. It’s time to embrace the 21st century garden as a place where plants thrive, not just simply survive. In this tale from the road, plantsman Kelly Norris wears two hats—that of a plant ecologist and a horticulturist—while sharing with the audience a palette of garden-worthy plants from harsh environments across the U.S. Learn about how plants respond to their environment and how you can translate that into success in your own garden, even if you have less-than-glamorous soil.

Cultivating the Rainbow Join author and iris expert Kelly Norris for a tour through the magical world of bearded irises. In his comprehensive and definitive A Guide to Bearded Irises (Timber Press 2012), Kelly provides an accessible yet authoritative overview of these deservedly popular plants. In this lecture, he’ll show you how to grow bearded irises successfully, how to use them in the garden, how to choose the best plants, and how to "create" new irises. His lecture, like his book, provides portraits of outstanding cultivars in each of the six recognized categories, including some rather unconventional but deserving varieties worth noting. You’ll be guaranteed to have an educated opinion about bearded irises when you’re finished.

Iridism: One Plantsman’s Lovesick Fascination with Little Irises and their Companions With gardens and landscapes becoming increasingly smaller, many gardeners simply can’t accommodate the tall-bearded irises they no doubt recall from their childhoods. Thankfully the diverse world of irises boasts a range of smaller bearded irises under two feet tall that are perfect for rock gardens, borders, paths, and even troughs. Join Kelly on this lively tour of the world of diminutive irises and the companions that complement them. If you aren’t jumping out of your seat with shear floral ecstasy, then maybe you should opt for something plastic.

Borderline Crazy—Sorting Out Intermediate and Border Bearded Irises (primarily geared towards iris enthusiasts)

What’s New in the World of Irises?: Feel overwhelmed by all of the irises on the market? Bearded, beardless, and so many of each to choose from, right? Kelly will distill the world of irises into an informative, pictured-packed hour of new varieties and how to use irises in the landscape. The possibilities are endless. He will also discuss some of the latest breeding work from around the world as well as cover the basics of iris cultivation. With a genus as large as Iris, there is certainly an iris for everyone!

The Makings of the Modern Iris: 150 years and nearly 50,000 cultivars later, the gardening world brims with a multitude of colorful irises in all shapes, sizes, and colors. In this picture-packed hour, Kelly will guide you through the developmental history of the iris, sharing insights and cultivars from yesteryear as he details how a handful of talented people transformed the iris into the queen of spring. The program concludes with a skip through the 20th century, showing the evolution of flower form and highlighting new color breaks, all while Kelly conveys his passion for irises, regardless of their vintage. Learn about old and new irises and the business and history of new plant development.

The Other Irids: The Overlooked but Garden-Worthy Iridaceae It’s easy to get caught up in all the glamour and glitz of irises. New colors and patterns are breaking out in both bearded and beardless all the time, but what about the other members of the Iris family? Like the genus Iris, the Iris family is huge and stuffed with all sorts of horticultural goodies and botanical curiosities. Join a bona fide iris nut as he seeks to broaden his and your horizons with a selection of overlooked but still quite garden-worthy “irids”.

Chic Plants for Modern Gardens: A Commentary on New Plants In this commentary-style lecture, plantsman Kelly Norris will share his views on the current state of ornamental horticulture, provide an overview of new varieties in some of the hottest perennial categories, while encouraging the audience’s feedback and sass—that’s right, some new plants just aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Join Kelly for a rousing discussion on what makes a great garden plant and why we all need to demand more from the people that make them.

Wandering the Wild Lands: Native Plants in the American Garden Kelly’s love for native plants is almost as primal as his urge to garden. Growing up across the road from a seasoned botanist, Kelly’s early botanical training took place on nightly summer walks for several years of his childhood. Those early influences have translated into a feverish obsession with plant exploration and collection and Kelly’s unwavering commitment to introduce and promote the native plants that our industry continues to look past. Take up the explorer’s hat and wander the wild lands with Kelly in this program infused with personal stories, lovely images of native landscapes, and a spirit calling you to think outside the box.

ZoneWorthy: Gardening in Zones 4 & 5 with Plants that Thrive As we learn more about the environmental connectedness of our world, it has become prudent for gardeners to consider sustainable landscape solutions. By choosing plants that don’t simply survive but thrive in the upper Midwest— those that can stand the heat and survive the winter and still look good — we in Zones 4 and 5 can cultivate gardens rich in ecological goodness. Kelly’s passion for uncanny plants coupled with his unabashed love for stylish gardens will surely turn up a plant or two you’ve not considered in your own garden. Kick out those underperformers and plant something that thrives!

Horticultural Theatre: Creating, Staging and Directing Plant-Driven Performances In the world of public horticulture, crafting beautiful exhibitions and award-winning gardens often involves a certain amount of theatre—staging and presenting plants for memorable and inspiring displays. From forcing to pinching to black cloths and welders, garden craftsmen around the world employ artistry and science in the pursuit of horticultural excellence. In this lecture, Kelly Norris takes you into the head houses, greenhouses and nurseries behind the scenes that just might inspire you to think about your own garden as staged production—whether scripted or improvisational.

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