Q&A with Kelly Norris, Author of ‘Plants With Style’

By Shelley Pierce | July 17, 2016
Image by The Timber Press
by Shelley Pierce
July 17, 2016

Kelly D. Norris is a 20-something, award-winning author and plantsman from Iowa and the first director of horticulture at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, a newly revitalized 14-acre public garden in Des Moines, Iowa.  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 the artistic director of the popular Spring Garden Festival, a four-day pop-up retail plant sale and garden show.  You can connect with Kelly on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn!

Kelly’s latest release is “Plants With Style“.  This book calls for a garden revolution: out with the boring plants and in with the newcomers that will make your jaw drop and your pulse quicken! Read on for more information about this book  and find out how to WIN ONE OF THREE COPIES from The Timber Press!

1. You feature a quote at the beginning of your book about homeowners battling nature instead of working with it.  How does the content of your book help homeowners with this battle?

My book doesn’t help people do battle at all–quite the opposite.  The Ken Druse quote draws a contrast between traditional forms of gardening that have for much of Western history wrought nature to human will instead of translating it and working with it.  The Environment chapter means to espouse the idea that gardening in harmony (not dissonance) with the environment is the way of the future.  To turn the question around, the book brings to the light the notion of starting with an environmentally resonant plant palette that allows gardeners to leverage their planting decisions for a more satisfying, less resource/labor intensive kind of gardening.

2. What are some of the great, but not so commonly thought of, plants that you bring to the attention of passionate gardeners in your book?  

Well the book is full of them and there’s a wide range of options for gardeners in a variety of zones.  Take Anisacanthus quadrifidus (Texas firecracker bush). It’s a spark plug perennial, lighting up the late season garden to the joy of migrating hummingbirds in zones 7-10.  Plus it’s native and water wise.  On the colder side of the continent, think of something more traditional like a catmint, but step away from ‘Walker’s Low’ (everyone plants that).  Try this lovely French cultivar of Siberian catmint called ‘Souvenir d’André Chaudron’.  It’s upright in habit and flowers throughout the summer if moisture is abundant.

3. Your book serves as a guide to a soul-satisfying garden.  What exactly makes a garden soul-satisfying and how does your book help readers make it so? 

A great garden starts with great plants.  These are the plants that matter, the plants that connect us to our environment and that ultimately cause us to have some emotional, romantic connection with the space we’ve planted.  When we make gardens that mean this much to be people, that excite them, that solve challenges in their landscapes and that delight them, we create a soulful connection to the land that isn’t just an amenity, but a necessity to our existence.

4. What is the best piece of advice you have to offer us when changing our garden from boring to brilliant?

Don’t be afraid to experiment and to collect. Gardens are expressions of their creators.  They don’t have to mean anything to anyone but you.  Find your way with the plants you love.  You also don’t have to overhaul the whole thing at once””start small, play with your ideas and expand on your successes.

5. What’s in your garden?  

Treasures, the kinds of plants I wish for gardeners to grow.  These are plants that bring me great joy either for what they are, where or who they came from. They are the plants that matter to me.  Many of the plants in the book are things I’ve grown and known.  That said, my garden has a wildness to it that’s a true expression of my spirit.  It’s eclectic and undownable.  From ever-expanding hoards of snowdrops in the backyard, to several forms of Clematis heracleifoliain late summer and my beloved Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Samindare’ and Aconitum columbianumin autumn, my current garden on the farm is an artful collection of plants that matter.  It’s undoubtedly a precursor to another garden in my life.  I’m always planting a garden in my head, waiting for the right moment to give it life in whatever form that might be.


To enter, simply leave a comment on this blog post by midnight on Thursday, July 21, 2016 (be sure to provide a valid e-mail address) in answer to the following question:

What plants do you consider to be stylish?

Be sure to include a valid e-mail address. The winner will be drawn at random from all qualified entrants, and notified via e-mail. (See Rules for more information.)

UPDATE 8/22/16: Congratulations to Anita Lee, Patricia Skinner & [TBD]!

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  • Tisa
    Comment added July 21, 2016Reply

    Braided Bamboos

  • Carrie
    Comment added July 18, 2016Reply

    I think the most stylish flowers are roses because of their long and romantic history. Though they can be trite (think sad roses in gas stations), they can also be unique show stoppers. They aren't always low maintenance, so when I see a garden with well tended roses, I respect the gardener all the more.

  • Ruth L
    Comment added July 18, 2016Reply

    My favorite plants to enhance style in a garden are ferns, they are such an elegant backdrop, that allow flowering plants to pop.

  • Travis Meeuwsen
    Comment added July 18, 2016Reply

    I would love to read this book...

  • Kristen
    Comment added July 18, 2016Reply

    bee balm is one of my favorite plants. it has interesting flowers that are quite stylish, it has a great aroma, and pollinators love it!

  • Joanna
    Comment added July 18, 2016Reply

    This book sounds very interesting. I would love a copy.

  • Anita Lee
    Comment added July 17, 2016Reply

    I think any plant that lends itself to the terrain and climate with minimal effort to make it grow is stylish, or maybe a better word is Native to the area.

  • Cindy Vincent
    Comment added July 17, 2016Reply

    I believe all plants are stylish. They are all unique in their own way, each having their own beauty that God created in them.

  • patricia skinner
    Comment added July 17, 2016Reply

    I think Daylilies are stylish. They are vibrant with color and stand out in a crowd of plants.

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