Annual Meeting - Symposium FAQs



Do I need to register in advance? Yes.  Garden Writers are encouraged to register as early as possible to ensure that you are not disappointed if an event fills up.  Education sessions are open seating and do not require advanced registration, but every year a few events such as symposium tours, post symposium tours, the photographers early morning photo shoot and possibly a meal function reach capacity very quickly and some people are not able to participate.  In addition, there might be a small chance that other events, such as the private garden tours, can only accommodate a specific number of people because of narrow neighborhood roads or small garden sizes.  Your early registration can help maximize the number of people that can participate in this situation.  Also to help facilitate the overall planning for the symposium, the local arrangements committee and GWA meeting planner both need to know well in advance the number of participants expected at the symposium for meal planning, transportation, logistics, registration kit preparation, room setup and many more factors.  

Does the symposium ever sell out?  No, but some events or tours may fill to capacity and a waiting list may have to be put into place.  GWA tries very hard to accommodate everyone on the waiting list in the rare event that this happens. 

Planning Events to attend

When available, the Photographer’s early morning photo shoot is a great opportunity to photograph a garden setting during the magical first light of the day.  Be prepared to leave the hotel by bus before daybreak to get to the destination as the sun is rising.  This is a small group event and numbers are limited.  Breakfast and transportation will be provided.  At the conclusion of the early morning photo shoot, participants will rejoin the main program.  An extra registration fee is required for this event.

Most symposium programs include several opportunities for horticultural industry, public and private garden tours.  These “story” tours are designed to showcase a broad selection of local horticulture – both industry, public and private.  Often these tours will give garden writers a “behind the scenes” look that may not be possible otherwise. These educational and inspirational tours are excellent research or scouting opportunities for garden writers.  Many destinations will provide press kits, samples, handouts or tour guides to enhance the experience.

At the start of every symposium, there is time set aside to gather with the other garden writers in your region.  The Regional Meetings are designed so that garden writers can get to know others in their geographic area.  The business portion of the meeting is chaired by each  National Director (or one of the Regional Directors) and includes updates on GWA news, opportunity for input and discussion on garden writing issues and time to plan future regional events.

Every year at the symposium, first time attendees are recognized at the First Timer’s Reception and Mentor “Meet and Greet” event.  This reception is a special event just for first timers and is designed to make first timers feel welcomed.  First timers are encouraged to attend, be teamed up with a friendly veteran mentor and become more familiar with what to expect during the symposium.  All first timers and returning garden writer mentors are encouraged to register for this event. 

Meal Event Reservations. The Garden Writers Association is fortunate that many organizations and businesses have stepped forward to sponsor meals during the symposium.  This includes many breakfasts, lunches and dinners.  The more accurate the meal count, the closer that GWA can be in ordering meals.  No one wants to waste food or sponsors’ money.  Please only mark the meals that you plan on attending.  If early morning eating is not your style, please don’t check off the breakfasts on your registration.  Treat yourself to a wakeup coffee during the refreshment break instead.  

Hotel Reservations

Registering at the hotel. Reserve your room as soon as possible so that you can get a room in our reduced rate group block.  Participants are required to make their own hotel reservations.  The symposium hotel group rate usually extends 1-2 days in advance of the symposium start and 1-2 days after the close of the Awards Banquet for those arriving a few days early or staying for the post symposium tours.  Call GWA if there are any problems getting a room in our group block.  If it is still early, we may be able to extend our room block, find an alternative hotel, etc.

Why should I stay at the host hotel? To get the best rate for a large group of people, GWA must contract for as large a block of rooms as possible. If we don’t use all the rooms we commit, we must pay for the shortfall. Members reserving rooms outside the convention block could necessitate raising the meeting costs for everyone to offset losses on the room block. If we stay together, we can keep everyone’s costs lower.

Why do Expedia and Travelocity offer cheaper rooms? On-line travel services have extensive buying power at most hotels which gives lower rates on a very limited number of rooms. These rates are not available for convention groups because they extend to usually fewer than 10-15 rooms per night. However, if 15 members book through Expedia and 15 more with Travelocity for 5 nights, GWA loses 150 room nights in its meeting block which could potentially cost everyone thousands of dollars in higher registration costs.

What to Expect

Expect lots of activities from early morning to late evening, both indoors in the hotel or convention center and outdoors touring gardens and nurseries.  There will be lots of quick changes involving jackets, sweaters, hats and shoes.  The outdoor story tours often can include lots of walking (especially if you want to see it all) and some hotel complexes are large and involve plenty of walking, too.

Expect tough decisions on which educational sessions to attend.  Most sessions have two and often three running concurrently.  A few of the story tours may require choices to be made also. 

Expect a “large family reunion” of the best kind of feeling.  For many garden writers, the symposium is a time to see old friends, make new acquaintances and catch up with others in the industry.  Hugs and business card exchanges are commonplace.

The exhibit hall is open for several hours over two days at the beginning of the symposium to visit with suppliers and manufacturers of consumer lawn & garden products or services.  Usually it takes the better part of the exhibit opening hours to see it all and talk to exhibitors about their wares.  Often exhibitors will have samples that they are distributing and some may have door prize draws.  This is an excellent opportunity to see what’s new, network with new contacts and pick up some story ideas.   During the exhibition, refreshments and light finger foods are often served. 

Expect opportunities for samples and prizes. During the exhibit hall opening hours, the Garden Writers Association Foundation (GWAF) will showcase the items available to be won during their fundraising drawing.  Tickets for the ever popular Foundation drawing will be for sale during the exhibit hours and at the Awards Banquet.  At the close of the exhibition, many exhibitors will give away display items. You must be present to receive exhibitor merchandise. Foundation prize drawings are held at the Annual Banquet. You do not need to be present to win a Foundation prize.

The GWA Garden Media Silver Awards of Achievement will be on display for viewing either in the exhibit hall or just prior to the Annual Awards Banquet.  Don’t miss this opportunity to see the award winning submissions.  The Gold Awards of Achievement for each writing, photography, graphic design, on-air talent, trade and overall product category will be announced at the GWA Media Awards presentation at the Annual Awards Banquet.  

What to Bring

Bring a collapsible bag to use as a day bag for press kits, water, snacks, camera, hat, etc.  Often there will be an official symposium bag or knapsack given to registrants when they check-in at the symposium, but that varies year to year. 

Include a water bottle that can be refilled at the hotel for the story tours. 

Bring an extra carryon bag or obtain a cardboard box to ship bulkier or heavier items home.  This includes plants, press kits, books, samples, etc. 

Some symposium destinations require plants to be inspected before they are shipped home.  Arrangements will be made for a phytosanitary inspector to be present during the symposium.

Pack comfortable clothes for garden touring.  Layers are ideal and work well for outdoor temperature changes during the day and to fend off hotel air conditioning chills.  Casual and comfortable are the two words that best describe garden writer attire during story tours and the educational sessions.  Some people will pack one semi-dressy outfit for the Annual Awards Banquet at the end of the symposium (but this also depends on what events precede the banquet). 

Attire for the Annual Awards Banquet is often a bit dressier than daytime garden touring wear, but this depends on whether the banquet is in the hotel or offsite (garden, zoo, museum).  You may want to pack one outfit that isn’t khaki for this event.

Don’t forget your computer and mobile communications devices to stay in touch with your readers. Extra batteries and all device chargers are a must.  A multiple outlet device or power strip can be very useful.

Bring business cards. You will meet hundreds of interesting and helpful people. Give them your card and get their card to expand your professional network.

At the Symposium

What Do The Ribbons Mean? The ribbons signify several important categories of people at the symposium:

  • First Timer—this is their first symposium,
  • Mentor—a veteran symposium attendee who is mentoring first timers (and willing to help non-first timers, too),
  • Fellow—a GWA member who has been awarded a Fellow for exceptional skills,
  • Exhibitor—a representative of a company at the symposium trade show, Sponsor-a representative of a very generous company or organization that sponsored a meal, refreshments or item at the symposium,
  • Sponsor—a representative of a very generous company or organization that sponsored a meal, refreshments or item at the symposium,
  • Speaker—a generous person who is sharing their knowledge, ideas or skills,
  • Director—a regional or national representative of the 7 geographic regions that cover members’ home towns,
  • Program—members of the Educational Program Committee,
  • Local Arrangements or Volunteer—a group of dedicated people who organized the story tours and other local activities, are bus captains or guides,
  • President, Vice-President, Treasurer, and Secretary—the representatives of the Executive Committee.

Who Are The Yellow Shirt People?  These are local volunteers (GWA members, landscape architects, industry employees, master gardeners, etc.) who are symposium bus captains, garden guides or local arrangements committee members.  They have worked very hard to make sure your visit is enjoyable and that you see the maximum amount in the time available. The symposium wouldn’t be nearly as enticing or as successful without the hard work and local connections provided by the Local Arrangements Committee and Chairs.  This group of volunteers has worked for 1-2 years (and sometimes longer) to put together the story tour destinations, suggested locally prominent speakers, assembled the registration packets, often suggested venues for evening events, recruited bus captains and garden guides, and much more. 


What Does “Load & Go” Mean?  Most often during the symposium, the buses will be loaded in sequence and leave as soon as they are full.  This “load and go” system allows for faster loading.  In this case, it doesn’t matter which bus you board since they are all going to visit the same location(s).  Please take all your belongings with you when you leave the bus as you probably won’t get back on the same bus to return to the hotel.  Please be prompt and be in the departure area at the designated time (or before).

Washrooms!  Some story tour programs, such as the residential gardens, will not be able to provide washrooms on site, so one is available at the back of each bus.

Food and Events

Do I Need Tickets For Meals And Events?  No tickets are required for meals or events but registration is required and name badges must be worn to show that you are signed up for the event or meal.  The name badges have a row of color codes along the bottom to signify which events and meals the wearer is registered to attend.  The only time that tickets are used is if you are a guest and only attending one event such as the annual awards banquet.

One banquet ticket is included only in full symposium registrations. All other daily or partial registrations must purchase a banquet ticket, even if you are attending the conference on the day of the Annual Awards Banquet.

What If I Need An Alternative Meal?  Please indicate whether you are a vegetarian or if you have allergies when registering for the symposium.  A distinctive sticker will be placed on your nametag so that the serving staff can identify you and get you your pre-arranged meal.  Please don’t ask at the time of the meal service or box lunch distribution to have a special meal as these have all been allocated.  Also, once a prearranged alternative meal has been requested, please plan to enjoy only that meal.

Change of Plans?

What if I decide that I want to change the choices I made when I registered to attend a meal, story tour, workshop or post symposium tour?  Some changes can be accommodated but notification must be received well in advance.   If your plans do change— which happens sometimes—let GWA know as soon as possible.

Planning and Organization

Your Name Badgeholder!  Bring lots of business cards to exchange with new and old contacts.  These can be stashed in your name badgeholder for quick access.  The name badge is also handy for your room key, $$ for the Foundation drawing and your commemorative symposium lapel pin (some veterans have their name badge decorated with several years of pins). Often a mini-schedule is included in your registration packet that slips into your name badgeholder  for easy reference.

Sponsor Appreciation.  Generous sponsors have contributed funds to offset the costs of many meals, refreshment breaks, transportation, tour water, venue rentals, admission fees, name badgeholders, welcome cookies, Foundation drawing prizes, tote bags, keynote speakers, banquet wine, and more.  Without the generous contributions of our many sponsors, GWA would not be able to offer so many events, meals and amenities during the symposium at the existing registration fee.  Please take a moment during and after the symposium to recognize our sponsors and give them your thanks.

After the Symposium.  Relive the educational sessions (or catch the ones you missed) by purchasing audio recordings from GWA after you get home from the symposium.

Karaoke Finale. Launched at the Washington symposium (1992) and a tradition ever since, the symposium closes with a karaoke party after the Annual Awards Banquet.  Full of surprises, laughs and good times, the karaoke party is the time to kick off your shoes, park your inhibitions at the door and sing and dance into the night.   What happens at the symposium stays at the symposium – until it ends up on YouTube.

Where Have We Been?
GWA symposiums have been held in the following cities:

2012 Tucson, Az (6: West) 386 N/A
2011 Indianapolis, IN (3: Great Lakes) 439 N/A
2010 Dallas, TX (4: Southern) 473 10
2009 Raleigh, NC (4: Southern) 659 2
2008 Portland, OR (6: Western) 640 3
2007 Oklahoma City, OK (4: Southern) 489 8
2006 Philadelphia, PA (2: Eastern) 667 1
2005 Vancouver, BC (7: Can/Int’l) 517 5
2004 Long Island, NY (1: Northeastern) 495 7
2003 Chicago, IL (5: Mid-American) 457 12
2002 Seattle, WA (6: Western) 429 14
2001 Orlando, FL (4: Southern) 389 16
2000 Philadelphia, PA (2: Eastern) 633 4
1999 Toronto, ON (7: Can/Int’l) 508 6
1998 San Diego, CA (6: Western) 463 11
1997 Boston, MA (1: Northeastern) 487 9
1996 Minneapolis, MN (5: Mid-American) 435 13
1995 San Antonio, TX (4: Southern) 368 17
1994 Anchorage, AK (6: Western) 289 20
1993 San Francisco, CA (6: Western) 396 15
1992 Washington, DC (2: Eastern) 246 18
1991 St. Louis, MO (5: Mid-American) 321 19
1990 Mobile, AL (4: Southern) N/A N/A
1989 Milwaukee, WI (5: Mid-American) N/A N/A
1988 Portland, OR (6: Western) N/A N/A
1987 Akron, OH (3: Great Lakes) N/A N/A
1986 Orlando, FL (4: Southern) N/A N/A
1985 San Antonio, TX (4: Southern) N/A N/A
1984 Anaheim, CA (6: Western) N/A N/A

Symposium Sponsor


2016 Annual Convention & Expo

2015 Annual Symposium

Symposium Recordings

Regional Meetings

Workshops & Seminars

355 Lexington Ave, 15th Floor New York, NY 10017 Tel: 212.297.2198  Fax: 212.297.2149
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