More than 50 speakers will present over 70 workshops during the 2016 Winter Gardening Fair. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

More than 50 speakers will present over 70 workshops during the 2016 Winter Gardening Fair. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

By Cindy Hadish/for City Revealed magazine

An idea that sprouted years ago has blossomed into one of the largest events of its kind.

The Winter Gardening Fair, presented by the Linn County Master Gardeners, showcases a day of horticulture with workshops, a keynote presentation and more.

“It’s an opportunity to have a little bit of spring in the winter,” said Jean Wilson, who is the chairwoman for this year’s event, scheduled for Saturday, March 5, 2016, at Coe College in Cedar Rapids.

Wilson noted that more than 50 speakers will present just over 70 workshops in four sessions throughout the day, including many master gardeners. Lunch at Coe’s cafeteria is included in the $59 registration fee.

The venue changed to Coe after many years at Kirkwood Community College to accommodate a large number of people for the single keynote session, Wilson said. “We had a great relationship with Kirkwood, but we wanted to try something different,” she said.

Related: Change in store for Winter Gardening Fair

Monarch butterfly expert and author, Susie Vanderlip, will present the keynote speech, “Blending Science, Art & Passion in the Garden,” at Coe’s Sinclair Auditorium. Vanderlip, who spent five years studying and photographing monarch caterpillars and butterflies, is a passionate gardener who has raised and written about monarchs in her garden in Orange, Calif. She will share tips on how to attract monarch butterflies and how to raise caterpillars into butterflies, as well as the “life secrets” of monarchs.

Vanderlip’s books include “The Story of Chester,” an award-winning multi-media e-book for children that is used in pre-kindergarten through second grade classrooms as curriculum for studying the monarch butterfly life cycle. She also is known for her work as a nature photographer.

The keynote presentation fits with the overall theme of this year’s Winter Gardening Fair of “the year of the pollinator,” Wilson said. Some of the workshops also will focus on pollinators, such as one session on creating a bee house for your garden, another on the butterflies of Iowa and sessions on which varieties of plants will attract pollinators to your garden.

The population of pollinators, particularly monarchs and bees, have been declining over the years due in part to loss of habitat. The insects, along with bats and other pollinators, are directly responsible for every third bite of food that we eat.

“We’re trying to help the local gardener understand how they can help the environment,” Wilson said, adding that workshops are geared toward amateur gardeners to experts and everywhere in-between.

Related: Photo gallery of 2015 Winter Gardening Fair

A sampling of other sessions includes growing grapes in Iowa and an overview of wine-making by Michael DeCapria; vegetable container gardening by Judy Stevens; seed-starting at home by Zora Ronan and a session on Feed Iowa First by founder Sonia Kendrick. Josh Spece of In The Country Garden & Gifts, as well as Karla McGrail and Louise Harn, will lead hands-on workshops.

McGrail, Harn, Stevens and Ronan are among the 130 or so master gardeners who are active in Linn County. Wilson said nearly all of the master gardeners are involved in the Winter Gardening Fair in planning the event, marketing, presenting a workshop or otherwise volunteering.

“This is the largest gardening event of its kind in Iowa and it’s all run by volunteers,” she said, adding that Iowa State University Extension and Outreach also offers support. “It does take an army to make this work.”

Parking is available in any of Coe College’s parking lots and signs will be posted directing visitors to those areas. Time will be available during the event to visit vendors and organizations that have booths at the Winter Gardening Fair.

The gardening fair began in 2005 and has grown over time, attracting gardeners from across the state and beyond.

Last year’s event drew more than 500 attendees. Some of the classes fill up, so people interested in attending are advised to register early, so they can make it into the sessions they want. With the large number of options, however, the biggest challenge might be narrowing down the choices to just four.

“These are topics that we thought would interest people,” Wilson said. “We try to have a wide range of topics to interest a wide variety of people.”

Read more about Corridor happenings in City Revealed magazine at:


Winter Gardening Fair 2016

Coe College, 1220 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids

Saturday, March 5, 2016

8:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Check-in begins at 7:15 a.m. at Sinclair Auditorium.

Admission: $59 (includes lunch)

Register in advance at:

Call (515) 294-6222 or 1-(800) 262-0015 for questions about registration.

For questions about the event, call (319) 377-9839 or email: