Marianne Willburn

» Container, Balcony, Rooftop (44)
» Garden Design (74)
» Ornamentals (53)
» Vegetables, Fruit, Herbs (59)


Lovettsville Virginia 20180

Marianne is an award-winning garden columnist, Master Gardener and the author of Big Dreams, Small Garden (2017). Speaking to gardeners at all levels on many topics, she delivers motivational and informative presentations that energize and educate.

w: http://smalltowngardener.com

e: view email marianne@smalltowngardener.com


Engaging your audience is the number one priority for a speaker, regardless of the topic. When it comes to gardening talks, there are often audience members present who are unsure of their skill level or are feeling discouraged by the realities of their particular landscape even when their skill level is high.  My job as a great garden speaker is not only to put them at their ease, but to provide an inspiring, educational talk that gives everyone in that room something to think about, implement or strive for – approaching difficult questions with humor, empathy and experience.


Big Dreams, Small Garden: A Guide to Creating Something Extraordinary in Your Ordinary Space

Tiny balcony, lack of privacy, HOA restrictions, tough neighborhood…if you’re struggling with a difficult outside space you are not alone.  Very few of us have ideal conditions outside, but by breaking down the process into manageable sections, shifting our perspective and cultivating a sense of contentment and peace in the process – we can create the garden that lives inside of us. Marianne will go over this process and share a few tips and real-life gardens from her new book Big Dreams, Small Garden to help you get excited about your outside space – no matter what it is.


Garden Maintenance for Real Life

Even though we know our gardens don’t have to be perfect, it’s hard not to feel like we’re constantly falling behind. How do we determine if we need to work smarter for better results, or if the garden is in need of some serious surgery? Marianne will ask – and answer – some tough questions to help us re-balance our lives with our outside spaces, giving maintenance tips and a bit of perspective to gardeners feeling overwhelmed.


Getting Excited about Shade

“Shade” is not easily boxed into neat categories of ‘full’ and ‘part’ – there are actually five different types of shade. Understanding them will allow you to plant based on what your plants need, rather than what you (and the nurseries) want them to need. There’s so much more to shade gardening than hosta and impatiens, and Marianne will guide you through some of the best plants out there. Soon you’ll be embracing your shady gardens for the lush, cooling spaces they can be. 


The Recycled Garden

Repurposed items can create whimsy in your garden, but they can also save money and make your garden unique.  It’s time to train your eye to see the ‘treasure’ in ‘trash’ – from cast off chairs to the remnants of a building project, and use those resources to help you create something fabulous in an increasingly cookie-cutter world.


Inspiring Containers

If you’re staring at that cluttered jumble of pots in the basement and wondering what you can do with them this year that won’t have you yawning before you even start, let Marianne help you create something that goes beyond the tired and traditional annual combos.  Utilize edibles and perennials, discover tropical treasures, consider adding the magical element of water, and learn what to look for when grouping plants for a successful container that thrives


Inspiring Containers for Shade

Container gardening is often geared toward sunny spots – but what if you’re trying to create and maintain containers in less than six hours of sun?  You need plants that not only thrive in the shade and work well together, but are suited to container life.  Marianne will discuss the basics of growing successful containers, share favorite plant choices, and teach you how to create excitement in the shadier corners of your garden, deck or patio.


A Taste of Foraging

Have you wanted to try the (not so) new trend of foraging but have no idea where to start and a lot of worries about the whole process? Garden writer and lifelong forager, Marianne Willburn, breaks the process down into memorable and manageable ‘food groups’ for the beginner.  She’ll discuss what to look for, what to avoid, who to read for more information, and how you can use foraged foods to create something new and exciting for the table.


Tropical Foliage Plants: The Answer to Hot, Humid Summer Gardens

 Forget about succulents. If you’re searching for plants that will add exciting accents to your hot, humid summer garden, last right up through the first hard freeze and make you look like a horticultural rock star, look no farther than tropicals.  Marianne will focus on some spectacular examples that are easy to grow, much easier than you think to overwinter, and are guaranteed to have your garden visitors pulling out their cameras before they’ve even left the car.



Spreading the Dirt: Mentoring Others in The Gardening Life
(A talk for garden educators)

 As the world becomes more urbanized and digitized it is increasingly crucial for those of us who garden, and garden obsessively, to reach out to others young and old, and introduce them to the incredible benefits of a gardening life.  But how can we compete with the no-sweat life of a virtual gardener? It’s time to simplify the process, truthfully manage expectations (including our own), and pair the age-old wisdom of one-on-one mentoring with digital tools that can enhance the experience for our audiences.



Mid-Atlantic USA

Photo Gallery


Audience Reviews

Star OnStar OnStar OnStar OnStar On

2019 WNC Gardening Symposium in Flat Rock, NC

Ruth Gonzalez from Weaverville, NC - 10/07/2019 19:16:51

IMarianne Willburns talk was inspirational with practical advice on how to achieve the look you want by honing in on the qualities of what you love about a certain look and then figuring out how to achieve that vibe while remaining within your budget or smaller space. We were able to chat with Marianne and she was an absolutely delightful plant-lover. Within seconds she was lusting over a cryptomeria, and commenting on the colors and textures of the plants we had on display for Reems Creek Nursery at the symposium. We both bought her book and separately dived right in that evening when we got home from the symposium. I thought she was a fantastic speaker and I loved her common sense approach to gardening. Just start!

Star OnStar OnStar OnStar OnStar On

2019 WNC Gardening Symposium in Flat Rock, North C

Susan Sanborn from North Carolina - 10/07/2019 16:44:30

Marianne was one of 5 speakers at our Symposium for Master Gardeners. Her talk was about “Big Dreams, Small Gardens” and given mid-afternoon during what I like to call “the sleepy hour”! Marianne had my attention from the get go! She was engaging and made sense to my sometimes overwhelmed gardening brain! Everything she talked about I could handle and she made it so easy. I walked away inspired and with visions of my garden I know I can achieve! Awesome speaker!

Star OnStar OnStar OnStar OnStar On

Excellent Presentation

Lucinda Noland from Frederick, Maryland - 06/23/2019 07:42:50

Marianne's presentation on the use of tropical plants in our gardens was delightful and informative! She offered our club so many presentation options so we look forward to having her back to speak again.

Complete the form below to contact this speaker.

Please enter the text you see in the image at the left into the textbox. This is required to prevent automated submission of contact requests.

*Verification Code image cannot be displayed