Save the date...

The next  Design With Nature Conference will be 

Saturday, February 18, 2017!

Anderson Student Center, University of St. Thomas, St.Paul Campus

Planting Matters

2017 Speakers:

Are Introduced Plants Bad?
DOUGLAS TALLAMY, our Keynote Speaker and professor at the University of Delaware, will present on his followup findings from Bringing Nature Home, making the case for native plants vs. nativars in natural landscapes.

FOREST ISABELL and PETER REICH, of Cedar Creek Ecosystem Reserve and the University of Minnesota, will be discussing how plant diversity is key to maintaining productive vegetation, from prairie patches to a forest stand.

NATHALIE SHANSTRUM will speak to the practicalities of selecting and planting native trees and shrubs.

Check back soon for more details!


Thank you to all attendees, exhibitors, sponsors, donors and volunteers for making the 2016 Design With Nature Conference a success!

In case you missed it, here's a summary of last year's presentations...

Native Bees, Their Roll as Pollinators of Native Plants and Cultivated Blueberries 
Heather Holm, Author and photographer.  

Heather Holm demonstrated (per the conference theme) that “Design Matters” by discussing an ongoing research project she is involved in. Through a 2015 Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education (SARE) grant she and fellow researchers are investigating native bee populations and their pollination of blueberry farms. The objective of the study is to develop a sustainable native pollinator design for this crop.  At three selected local blueberry farms they are doing field studies to:  

  • Find the best native bee candidates for blueberry pollination
  • Examine these bees’ nesting habitat/s
  • Determine how one can best provide these habitats
  • Develop a plant list which would make available forage for the bees outside of the flowering window of the crop of interest – blueberries

To date the three properties have been inspected and one round of bee counts has been taken. From this and other research it has been determined that mining bees and bumbles are the two species that contribute significantly to the pollination of the blueberry blooms. Given the fact that there has been a significant decline in bumbles in this country and that 50% of Minnesota native bee species have disappeared from their historic range in the last 100 years; studies such as this are critical in developing a good sustainable design to help ensure that native bees continue to survive.  For our part, as gardeners we can provide nesting habitat and can plant something throughout the entire growing season on which bees can forage.  

Gardening for Winter 
Benjamin Vogt, Landscape Designer and Author of Gardening for Winter.  

Although winter is quickly passing we were urged in this presentation to rethink our views on this season which is considered by many as being one which lacks color and beauty.  We were reminded that we need to consider that:

  • Brown is a color 
  • Seed heads can remain throughout much of the winter and provide interest
  • Grasses can also remain as masses and later be used as mulch 
  • Many native plants hold their leaves and fruit late into the fall and early winter
  • Trees and shrubs minus their leaves still can possess attractive ornamental bark and patterns with their bare branches
  • Plants in this state provide habitat for wildlife if allowed to remain.

Proof of this was demonstrated in the many slides he had taken in the winter of natives that had been allowed to express themselves on into the spring. We were urged to not just think of the blooms of summer when considering what to plant in our gardens. But to design with tiered areas in mind and take into account bark surfaces; shrub shape; berries and seed heads that are produced; and the general attraction of a variety of textures.

So instead of following the tradition of removing everything from the garden, cleaning up the mess, and essentially erasing the echo of the past; leave those plants in place.  By doing this our legacy would not just be how pretty our gardens looked, but what we have done for the birds, butterflies, and insects that are part of this landscape 

Biohavens – A Tale of Beauty and Biology 
Chris Behringer Principal of Behringer Designs and Arlys Freeman, President of Midwest Floating Islands.  

This duo presented the general overall view of Biohaven Floating Islands as well as the science behind them.  It is one of many design tools being used to improve water quality.  Essentially these man-made islands mimic masses of floating plants one sees in nature, such as floating peat bogs.

Many water bodies are impaired by fertilizers and other pollutants which cause excess weed growth. This subsequently leads to oxygen starvation, resulting in fertilizer by-products being released back into the water thus causing increased algae growth.  Just as with natural wetlands, the Biohavens take unwanted nutrients and pollutants such as total suspended solids, nitrogen and phosphorous from the water.

The islands are essentially made from polyethylene plastic in which holes have been drilled and plants have been added.  They are towed out into water bodies and anchored in place. The plants and organisms that reside within the structure remove substances through phytodegradation, phytoextraction, and phytostabilization.  In addition to improving water quality, islands can provide aesthetics and habitat for wildlife. For example predator-free islands have been constructed to help protect nesting loons.