at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul Campus

Neil Diboll

Prairie Nursery President and Consulting Ecologist

Genetic Diversity of Plant Breeding Stock and Preserving Its Integrity

The fields of agriculture, silviculture, and horticulture have historically focused on selecting “superior” plants to serve the needs of food production, lumber and fiber production, and the human fascination with bigger, longer-blooming, and more colorful ornamental plants.  Only recently has the discipline of ecology entered into mainstream gardening.  Ecological gardeners tend to be more concerned with creating low maintenance, sustainable, native gardens that provide not only enjoyment for the gardener, but also preserve native plant gene pools while creating habitat for birds, butterflies, pollinators, and other creatures.

Properly designed and installed, native plant landscapes require little if any watering, fertilizing, or pesticides.  With increasing concern over water usage in the landscape, excessive toxins and nutrients in the environment, and the decline of pollinators, diverse native plant gardens can serve as attractive alternatives to higher maintenance, more expensive traditional landscapes.

Neil will share his 40 years of experience in providing native plants and seeds to Midwestern gardeners and restorationists.  He will explain why preserving a broad gene pool for each plant species is good stewardship of the planet, and how it applies to gardening in a time of changing climates.  Neil will also show examples of how native prairie meadows have been successfully installed in the Upper Midwest in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4 and 5, similar to those in Wyoming, although with significantly higher annual rainfall.  Plants that are native to both the Midwestern prairies and the state of Wyoming will also be highlighted.


A pioneer in the native plant industry and recognized internationally as an expert in native plant community ecology, Neil Diboll has guided the growth of Prairie Nursery for 30 years. He has dedicated his life to the propagation of native plants and their promotion as uniquely beautiful, ecologically beneficial and sustainable solutions for landscapes and gardens. In 2013, Neil was the recipient of the Great American Gardeners Award from the American Horticultural Society. Neil's love of native plants and their habitat is contagious, especially if you've had the opportunity to witness one of his unique lectures or broadcasts. Check if he will be in your neck of the meadow anytime soon!

Neil Diboll received his degree from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay in 1978. He has since worked for the U.S. Park Service in Virginia, the U.S. Forest Service in Colorado, and the University of Wisconsin. In 1982, Neil began his involvement with Prairie Nursery, producing native plants and seeds and designing native landscapes. He has since devoted his efforts to championing the use of prairie plants, as well as native trees, shrubs and wetland plants, in contemporary American landscapes.

In addition to helping popularize the use of native plants long before they were “cool,“ Neil developed the first scientific methodology for designing prairie seed mixes. By calculating the relative numbers of seeds per square foot for each species in a seed mix, the resultant prairie plant community could be more accurately predicted. Neil also worked to set industry standards for seed purity and germination to assure customers receive quantifiable, viable seed. Neil’s work includes designs for residential, commercial, and public spaces throughout the Midwest and Northeast United States.



Since 1997, Urban Roots has provided paid internships to youth on the East Side of Saint Paul to develop leadership, entrepreneurial, and life skills through three programs:

Conservation Youth Interns support and improve green spaces around the East Side and participate in the restoration of local parks through the removal of invasive plant material, native seed collection and installation of native plants. Hands-on skills are taught through the installation and maintenance of rain and pollinator gardens in public and private spaces. Youth also engage in citizen science projects, such as insect surveys, water sampling, and forest inventories.

Market Garden Youth Interns plant, maintain, and harvest small-scale crop production within Urban Roots' urban gardens. Interns manage gardens and crops for distribution to community supported agriculture (CSA) shares, Farmers Markets, Roots for the Home Team, hunger relief efforts, youth families, restaurants and small-batch food preservation for seasonal sales.

Cook Fresh Youth Interns learn about the food we grow and how to prepare it fresh from the garden. Youth also create seed-to-table meals for chef-led lunches for summer programming, create healthy recipes for affordable meals, learn about scalable cooking, and help teach youth and family cooking classes


Minnesota Wildflowers is a web site was created by Katy Chayka, Minnesota Master Naturalist volunteer and native plant enthusiast, with collaboration by Peter M. Dziuk, noted imaginographer and long-time native plant advocate. The Minnesota Wildflowers Information nonprofit organization was established in 2011.

Katy Chayka is a self-proclaimed born-again nature lover who fell in love with wildflowers when a spot of color caught her eye as she walked a park near her home in New Brighton. Curiosity piqued as she started taking digital images of all the flowers in the park. She searched various sources to try and ID them. Disappointed with both the quality and quantity of information about MN plants, she set out to make a better resource for ordinary people like herself. MinnesotaWildflowers.info was thus born and launched in March, 2007. Wanting to know more about the world these plants live in, she enrolled in the MN Master Naturalist program and connected with other volunteers, as well as people in various environmental agencies and organizations. She is a self-taught botanist who learned a great deal about invasive species along the way and is on something of a mission to spread the word.

Peter Dziuk has been an avid gardener his entire life and has degrees in horticulture, biology and has secondary education certification. He worked for the MN Dept of Agriculture for more than 18 years as state program coordinator for gypsy moth, invasive species, shade tree program, Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey (CAPS) as well as a few years as a nursery inspector. Peter started taking digital images of plants as part of his invasive species outreach activities when digital cameras were coming into use and quickly started his own private collection of native plants and common weeds. Peter’s experiences in dealing with non-native pest problems helped shape his passionate advocacy for native species. (It is noted that the agency never had a comprehensive weed program, and still doesn't. It wasn't for lack of trying, though—it was mostly for lack of funding, and pressures from commercial interests to make money selling weeds. But that is another story...)

Katy and Peter met in 2009 while on a field trip with the Minnesota Native Plant Society. By the end of that year Peter had donated his collection of 50,000 plant images to the web site and the two have been working on the site together ever since. Their goal is to record all 2100+ plant species in the state and branch out to the rest of the Upper Midwest.

The site has gained popularity not just with ordinary people wanting to know what they find out in the wild, but also as a resource for agencies, institutions and organizations within Minnesota, nationally, and around the globe. We are honored so many people find the site useful, as that is what it was always meant to be. In 2011 Minnesota Wildflowers Information filed as a nonprofit corporation to provide security for this web site as a public resource in perpetuity. We intend to be the best plant resource on the web for many years to come.

Thelma Heidel-Baker

Entomologist, Environmental Educator, Organic Farmer

Diversifying Your Landscape: Creating a Place for Beneficial Insects

Insects are a vital component to the health of any plant community. Pollinators have recently – and rightly so – caught the attention of the public eye as we hear about pollinator declines and the necessity for pollinators in food production. Pollinators are essential, but beneficial insects extend far beyond only pollinators. Whether pollinator, predator, decomposer, or herbivore, every insect fills some special role. Here we will delve into the importance of several beneficial insect groups with Thelma as she brings her knowledge and expertise as an entomologist to the conversation. As a scientist she spent many years studying and observing beneficial insects in both natural and agricultural landscapes. She will also draw on her experience as a conservation-focused organic farmer and what it means to manage land and create places for many different types of organisms through plant diversity. We will consider the delicate balance that exists with beneficial insect communities and native plants as well as dig deep to explore healthy soils and the role of beneficial insects at ground level.


Thelma Heidel-Baker is an entomologist, beneficial insect conservation expert, environmental educator, and organic farmer. Thelma has over 15 years of extensive research experience in biological control and integrated pest management (IPM) for agricultural cropping systems and specializes in supporting beneficial insects within all types of agriculture. She most recently worked for The Xerces Society to promote beneficial insects and creation of habitat on farmland nationwide.

Thelma holds graduate degrees in entomology, specializing in biological control, from University of Wisconsin-Madison (BS), Purdue University (M.S.) and the University of Minnesota (Ph.D). She now works with several non-profits to support nature and diversity in the landscapes, including Riveredge Nature Center and GrassWorks, a nonprofit grazing advocacy organization. She brings her passion for land management, insects, and conservation together on her family’s grass-based, certified organic dairy farm in southeastern Wisconsin where she actively incorporates wildlife conservation of butterflies, bees, and birds into their farm management. She farms sustainably with her husband, Ricky, and their two young children on their diversified dairy farm, Bossie Cow Farm, near Random Lake, WI.

Alan Branhagen

MN Arboretum Director of Operations

Looking Forward to Livelier Landscapes

This program is a guide for those who wish a life enriching experience of a native plant-based landscape.  It’s for people who want to live in an aesthetic that captures their spirit of our place in the Upper Midwest and not the ubiquitous traditional landscape of anywhere U.S.A.  A guide to a place they can celebrate the wonder of the wild, where the local flora and fauna flourish -- filled with bird and insect songs, busy bees and other bugs.  It’s a program that stirs one’s imagination with the inherent beauty of plant forms, foliage and flowers that contribute a symphony to our senses through each season.

Naturalist and plantsman Alan Branhagen shall share his experiences from spending countless time gardening and in nature, along with envisioned designs from his landscape architect-based vocation. Attendees will see some untapped beauty and function of native plants that could enrich our landscapes even more. Learn to think of garden thugs, weeds, or lack of ornamental appeal as underutilized floral resources waiting to be tapped for their inherent potentials to create diverse, beautiful and healthy landscapes. Every plant has a place (even invasive exotics back in their homelands!). He will explore some intriguing potentials and challenge everyone to think outside the box regarding gardening and landscaping with native plants. He dares gardeners and landscapers to experiment, nothing ventured, nothing gained except for fully utilizing the right plants in the right place. Be inspired to harness our incredibly rich soils and temperate climate to the max for a sustainable and resilient landscape that brings joy to all today and into the future.


Alan Branhagen is Director of Operations at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and previously held the position of Director of Horticulture at Powell Gardens, Kansas City's botanical garden. He is the author of The Gardener's Butterfly Book and has written articles for publications including Fine Gardening, Missouri Gardener, Missouri Prairie Journal, Landscape Maintenance, and Restoration and Management Notes. Alan is a naturalist and plantsman specializing in botany, butterflies, and birds, utilizing his background in garden design and management. He is currently creating and restoring a three-acre prairie and woodland garden around his home.

Native Plants of the Midwest: A Comprehensive Guide to the Best 500 Species for the Garden, by regional plant expert Alan Branhagan, features the best native plants in the heartland and offers clear and concise guidance on how to use them in the garden. Plant profiles for more than 500 species of trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, ground covers, bulbs, and annuals contain the common and botanical names, growing information, tips on using the plant in a landscape, and advice on related plants. You’ll learn how to select the right plant and how to design with native plants. Helpful lists of plants for specific purposes are shared throughout. This comprehensive book is for native plant enthusiasts and home gardeners in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, northern Arkansas, and eastern Kansas.