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Guest Speakers

Native Plant Conference 2023

Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens is pleased to welcome these experts to our Native Plant Conference. Join us to learn what benefits native plants provide in our gardens along with small group tours designed to increase awareness of Alabama’s native plant species. Professionals and hobbyists alike will learn about conservation and garden design.

Douglas Tallamy

Opening Keynote: Friday, March 10 at 9 a.m.

Doug Tallamy is the T. A. Baker Professor of Agriculture in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, where he has authored 111 research publications and has taught insect-related courses for 41 years. Chief among his research goals is to better understand the many ways insects interact with plants and how such interactions determine the diversity of animal communities. His books include Bringing Nature Home; The Living Landscape; New York Times bestseller Nature’s Best Hope;and The Nature of Oaks, winner of the American Horticultural Society’s 2022 book award.  In 2021 he co-founded Homegrown National Park with Michelle Alfandari, a grassroots initiative to encourage native plantings to increase biodiversity His awards include recognition from The Garden Writers Association, Audubon, The National Wildlife Federation, Allegheny College, Ecoforesters, The Garden Club of America, and The American Horticultural Association.

Wayne Barger

Plant Conservation in Alabama: Friday, March 10 at 10:15 a.m.

Wayne Barger is the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) State Botanist. Barger was born, raised, and educated in Alabama. After completing his Ph.D. at Auburn University in 2000, he spent time teaching, researching, and botanizing in Mississippi, Georgia, and Tennessee before returning to work in Alabama at the ADCNR in 2005. Currently, he travels the state conducting vascular plant inventories and developing management plans for state-owned properties. He founded the State Herbarium in 2010 and has fully accessioned/imaged over 8,000 of his collections. Initiated in 2014, Wayne worked to formalize a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and ADCNR to provide Section 6 funding for rare plant species in Alabama. These grants have provided over $500,000 in funding for research on Federally Endangered/Threatened/At-Risk plant species since 2018. Wayne has also served as Subject Editor for the journal Castanea for the last ten years and stays busy penning scientific publications, giving guest lectures, teaching short courses, and conservation work with the Alabama Plant Conservation Alliance.

Molly Hendry

Crafting a Wildflower Garden: Friday, March 10 at 11:15 a.m.

Molly toggles the worlds of design and plants as both a trained horticulturist and landscape architect. As the Associate Director of Gardens Support for the Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens she is actively involved in the horticultural and design development of the 26 unique gardens that make up BBG. She is also a key support player in the renewal of the Gardens’ master plan, in addition to managing ongoing garden projects. Before returning to Birmingham to take on this new role, she spent 10 months living in the UK, sinking her hands into the soil at some of the top gardens across the country as the Garden Club of America’s 2016-2017 Royal Horticultural Society’s Interchange Fellow.

Keith Turney

Kaul Wildflower Garden Tour: Friday, March 10 at 1:15 p.m.

Keith Turney serves as the Friends of BBG’s Horticulturist in charge of the Kaul Wildflower Garden. A graduate of Auburn University, Keith earned his Bachelor of Science in Natural Resources Management. Having long been obsessed with the wild places of our State, Keith is especially passionate about teaching and inspiring the next generation of nature-lovers. With his extensive knowledge of Southeastern native plants, studies in human-environment interactions, and fieldwork in both wetland and freshwater ecology, Keith performs a variety of tasks to ensure our Kaul Wildflower Garden continues to thrive.

June Mays

Designing with Native Plants: Friday, March 10 at 2:30 p.m.

June Mays enjoyed a 31 year career as a financial advisor in Birmingham with Merrill Lynch and UBS. After retirement, she reinvented herself,  enjoying a second career as a garden designer, writer, and lecturer. She spent a year studying garden design at the English Gardening School in London, where she earned diplomas in Garden Design and Plantsmanship.  She has since designed or consulted on over 100 gardens. Although now retired from garden design, she continues to speak and to write about gardens. She has spoken extensively throughout the Southeast at renown gardens and conferences, and at numerous garden clubs and Master Gardener groups throughout the country. She has written for Fine Gardening, Southern Accents, Flowers, Lowe’s Creative Ideas, Birmingham Home and Garden, The American Gardener, The Alabama Gardener and the DIY Network. She is a member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers and the Garden Writers Association.

Mike Berkley

Installing Native Landscapes: Saturday, March 11 at 9 a.m.

Mike Berkley describes himself as a plantsman and nurseryman who was into natives before natives were cool.  With more than 40 years in the industry, Mike has dedicated the last 28 years to his love for all things native.  He is co-owner of GroWild Inc, a native plant nursery & landscape design firm in Fairview, TN, that is recognized as one of the leading native plant nurseries in the eastern U.S., with nearly 1,000 species and cultivars of native perennials, wildflowers, trees, shrubs, vines, and grasses.  Mike has completed installations  in more than 35 state & national parks, countless residences, commercial developments, and even rooftops, including the Clinton Presidential Library.

Kyle Lybarger

Live Podcast with Molly Hendry and Keith Turney: Saturday, March 11 at 10 a.m.

Kyle Lybarger is founder of the Native Habitat Project, which aims to educate and support habitat restoration efforts across Alabama. Born and Raised in Morgan county, Kyle has been exploring the outdoors for as long as he can remember. His interest in wildlife led him to pursue a forestry degree from Alabama A&M. After college he gained an interest in the overlooked grasslands of North Alabama which pushed him to start educating through social media. He has since become something of a native plant social media sensation, on his TikTok account @nativeplanttok and on Instagram (@nativehabitatproject). He has specific interest in restoring Alabama’s prairies and is credited with finding purple milkweed in Alabama and documenting Durand Oak, a plant that typically thrives in prairie settings. He is now bringing his passion into the schools with a recent grant to turn a former prairie into an outdoor classroom in his hometown of Hartselle.

Richard Carroll

A Pollen’s Life: Saturday, March 11 at 11 a.m.

Richard Carroll began his career studying fossilized plants, which evolved to a second “career” with the living variety. Richard grew up in northern California spending a lot of time outside, but generally ignoring plants. However, many of his summer vacations were spent in eastern Utah discovering the wonders of rocks and dinosaurs. His childhood fascination led to  B.S. and M.S. degrees from Brigham Young University in geology, followed by a Ph.D. at Michigan State University in paleobotany and palynology. In 1991, he began a career with the Geological Survey of Alabama, studying and reporting on the coal resources of the state. This work led to extensive studies of the fossil plants that abound in the state – particularly the microflora of the rocks of the coastal plain. After 29 years at the survey he retired and began studying living plants, graduating with a certificate in native plant studies. He currently enjoys propagating native plants for his backyard prairie. He has a special affinity for ferns and is an active member of the Birmingham Fern Society And volunteers in the fern glade at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

Patrick Thompson

A Spotlight on Alabama Sandstone Oak: Saturday, March 11 at 3 p.m.

Patrick Thompson has spent more than 20 years in the service of Auburn University’s Donald E. Davis Arboretum. A native of the Birmingham area, . Patrick has curated the Arboretum’s native oak and deciduous azalea collections since 2008. Both collections are certified by the Association of the Public Gardens of America’s Plant Collection Network. Patrick has a passion for native plants and works to protect disappearing natives, with his master’s thesis focusing on native azalea propagation. Current work efforts include genetic conservation of recalcitrant trees, developing the Arboretum’s collections, breeding and selecting new deciduous azalea cultivars, and numerous rare plant species projects with the Alabama Plant Conservation Alliance. He is an honorary Lee County Master Gardener, Certified arborist, Type II wildland firefighter, and the Coordinator of Alabama Plant Conservation Alliance, which seeks to protect plants, plant habitats and plant communities in Alabama by facilitating specific project-based cooperative actions between agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), citizen groups, and private landowners.

Brian Keener

Growing the Alabama Flora through Exploration and Discovery, Saturday, March 11 at 3:45 p.m

Brian Keener is Professor of Biology at The University of West Alabama in Livingston and Assistant Dean of the School of Graduate Studies and Director of the UWA Cahaba Biodiversity Center.  He curates the UWA Herbarium, directs the Alabama Plant Atlas ( and teaches several botanical courses at UWA. His research interests include taxonomy and systematics of vascular plants and herbarium curation. He specifically studies the floristics and plant biodiversity of the southeastern U.S. with an emphasis in Alabama. He has described and named nine new species to science, six of which are endemic to Alabama.