Plants for a Better Planet

with Richard Hawke, Sue Milliken, Kelly Dodson, and Kelly D. Norris


Course is on-demand now.

Can plants really save the planet? The presenters of this three-part course think so.   


Earth-friendly gardening practices focus on minimizing the negative impact that gardening can have on the environment. This can include using sustainable gardening techniques such as composting, reducing or eliminating the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, and conserving water.


But it also means being incredibly selective about the plants you choose to use in your landscape. Planting native species, which are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions, is an important aspect of earth-friendly gardening. Using ornamental plants that are truly low-maintenance or provide valuable resources to wildlife is another option for gardening in a greener way. It’s also essential to the planet as a whole to protect rare and endangered species that are under threat in their native regions.

Can plants truly save the planet? The presenters of this three-part course think so, and they will share exactly why and how they think you can help make that happen.

The course includes over 3 hours of video lessons.  

Course Schedule

Class One

Newer Plants Showing Promise: Up-and-coming nativars and low-care ornamentals

New plants are what make every gardener’s heart skip a beat. But a lot of the time, a new plant requires a ridiculous amount of care and resources to look decent, if it doesn’t die within the first year. Richard Hawke of the Chicago Botanic Garden has spent much of his career trialing plants. Each year he puts new offerings into the test gardens at CBG and monitors their overall performance, determining which are worthy of your hard-earned dollar and which can be classified as unsustainable pitfall plants. Over the past few years Richard has developed a list of newer plants that have done well in the trials—plants that he feels confident enough to recommend to gardeners and even plant in his own landscape. In this lecture you’ll find out about scores of new nativars and ornamentals that require little input to perform brilliantly.

PRESENTER: Richard Hawke–Director of Ornamental Research, Chicago Botanic Garden

Class Two

Praise and Protection: Why You Should Care About Endangered Plants

Chances are you’re familiar with nursery owners Sue Milliken and Kelly Dodson and perhaps some of the plants they have introduced to the Pacific Northwest and gardeners across the country via their plant explorations abroad. But more recently, the couple has started a nonprofit organization, Far Reaches Botanical Conservancy, with goal of preserving botanically important rare and endangered plants. In this lecture you’ll learn why conservation efforts like these are important to the world of horticulture and the planet as a whole. Sue and Kelly will also share some success stories of plants that have been fostered at the conservancy and that you might be able to grow in your gardens to further the cause of preservation.

PRESENTERS: Sue Milliken and Kelly Dodson–Founders, Far Reaches Botanical Conservancy and Far Reaches Farm

Class Three

Everywhere Plants: Natives That Make Great Supporting Players

Ecological generalists—plants with broad tolerances to where they root—power the planet. Many of these species lurk in the shadows of traditional gardens or sulk in obscurity on the garden floor. But prevalence is their virtue; they have adapted to a wide range of growing conditions across a considerable geographic footprint. In this immersive class, renowned plantsman Kelly Norris will introduce you to a wide range of ecological generalists from North America and explain what makes them important to the ecology of the garden. You will learn about varied plant communities, the ecological properties that define them, and how to translate them into gardening practice.

PRESENTER: Kelly D. Norris–Award-winning plant expert, designer, and author


Meet Your Presenters

Richard Hawke

Richard Hawke’s nickname should be Mr. Plant. As the director of ornamental plant research for the Chicago Botanic Garden, he has trialed, monitored, and written about more plants than most. Since 1986 his area of focus at CBG has been ornamental plant evaluation, invasive-species testing of wild-collected and ornamental plants, and the evaluation of native and cultivated plants for green roofs. In his “spare” time Richard lectures around the country and organizes educational symposiums in his role as incoming president of the Perennial Plant Association. When he’s not doing all that, you’ll likely find him stuck in Chicago commuter traffic—or tending his own incredible garden.

Sue Milliken and Kelly Dodson

Sue Milliken and Kelly Dodson are likely best known as purveyors of some of the coolest plants on the planet through their nursery, Far Reaches Farm in Port Townsend, Washington. The pair met as members of a seed-collecting expedition to Yunnan in 1997, and since then they have participated in too many plant exploration adventures to count. After a lifetime spent growing their plant knowledge and a long history of cultivating and conserving rare plants, they founded the nonprofit Far Reaches Botanical Conservancy in 2018. The conservancy’s mission is to facilitate the acquisition and introduction of threatened and vulnerable plants to North America. These plants are maintained as a living reference collection for public educational and scientific purposes, with the goal of conservation through cultivation via distribution to botanic and public gardens, botanists and researchers, and professional and amateur gardeners and horticulturists.

Kelly D. Norris

Kelly D. Norris is a plant expert, designer, and author of multiple books. Considered one of the leading horticulturists of his generation, Kelly designs both private and public gardens with acute ecological awareness. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, and Fine Gardening, and in numerous television, radio, and digital media appearances. His most recent book is New Naturalism: Designing and Planting a Resilient, Ecologically Vibrant Home Garden (Cool Springs Press, 2021). Kelly is the former director of horticulture and education at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden in Iowa and has received multiple awards from institutions such as the Perennial Plant Association and the American Horticultural Society. He was given a fellowship from the Chanticleer Foundation in 2015 for his curatorial and plant exploration work.

Plants for a Better Planet


Frequently Asked Questions