Where will the conference be held?
Most conference activities, including education sessions, special events and the Expo will be held at the Navy Pier in Chicago, IL, unless otherwise noted on the schedule. The official conference hotel is the Hyatt Regency Chicago. All tours will depart from the Hyatt Regency Chicago.
Do I need to register in advance?
Yes. Attendees 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 conference tours, post conference tours, the 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 conference, the local arrangements committee and GWA meeting planner both need to know well in advance the number of participants expected at the conference for meal planning, transportation, logistics, registration kit preparation, room setup and many more factors.
Does Annual Conference & Expo 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 early morning photo shoot is a great opportunity to photograph a garden setting during the magical first light of the day.
Most conference 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 conference, 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 conference, first time attendees are recognized at the First Timer’s Meeting and Mentor “Meet and Greet” event. This meeting 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 conference. All first timers and returning garden writer mentors are encouraged to register for this event.
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 conference hotel group rate is extended 3 days pre- and post-conference based upon hotel availability. 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.
What to Expect
Expect lots of activities from early morning to late evening, both indoors in the hotel 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 three running concurrently and the roundtables features 10-15 session running at the same time, in the same room.
Expect a “large family reunion” of the best kind of feeling. For many garden writers, the conference 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 Expo is open for several hours over two days to visit with suppliers and manufacturers of consumer lawn & garden products or services. Often exhibitors will have samples that they are distributing. This is an excellent opportunity to see what’s new, network with new contacts and pick up some story ideas.
Expect opportunities for samples and prizes. Each year, the GWA Foundation holds a prize raffle to support scholarships and other activities through the year. For each $10 donated, each participate gets once chance to win raffle prizes. The more you contribution, the better your chances. The Foundation raffle prizes are are held at the Annual Awards & Honors Dinner. You do not need to be present to win a Foundation prize.
The GWA Media Awards Silver Medal of Achievement winners will be on display. Don’t miss this opportunity to see the award winning submissions. The Gold Awards of Achievement will be announced at the GWA Media Awards presentation at the Annual Awards & Honors Dinner. Learn more about GWA Media Awards here
What to Bring
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 conference destinations require plants to be inspected before they are shipped home. Arrangements will be made for a phytosanitary inspector to be present during the conference.
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 conference (but this also depends on what events precede the banquet).
Include a water bottle that can be refilled at the hotel for the story tours.
Attire for the Annual Awards & Honors Dinner 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 chargers and extra batteries for all your mobile devices.
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 Annual Conference & Expo
What Do The Ribbons Mean? The ribbons signify several important categories of people at the conference:
- First Timer: this is their first conference
- Mentor: a veteran conference 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. Learn more here
- Exhibitor: a representative of a company at the conference trade show. Learn more here
- Sponsor: a representative of a very generous company or organization that sponsored a meal, refreshments or item at the conference. Learn more here
- 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. Learn more here
- 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. Learn more here
What Does “Load & Go” Mean?
Most often during the conference, 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).
Some story tour programs, such as the residential gardens, will not be able to provide restrooms on site, so one is available at the back of each bus.
Food & Events
What If I Need An Alternative Meal?
Please indicate whether you are a vegetarian or if you have allergies when registering for the conference. Special meals will be set aside ONLY for those who indicate they need them. 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
Can I made changes to my registration?
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 & Organization
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, money for the Foundation drawing and your commemorative conference lapel pin (some veterans have their name badge decorated with several years of pins).
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 conference at the existing registration fee. Please take a moment during and after the conference to recognize our sponsors and give them your thanks.
Launched at the Washington, DC Conference (1992) and a tradition ever since, the conference closes with a karaoke party after the Annual Awards & Honors Dinner. 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 conference stays at the conference – until it ends up on YouTube.
Where Have We Been?
(& Where Are We Going?)
1984: Anaheim, CA
2005: Vancouver, BC