bumble bee foraging on native monarda

“Native by Design: Gardening for a Sustainable Future” is held every September at the Arboretum. This Native Gardening Conference promotes sustainable gardening practices and use of native plants in home landscapes. Expert-led workshops inspire and inform gardeners, homeowners, and landowners to create and maintain native gardens or small-scale restorations on their own property. The program welcomes people with a range of interests and experience.

The all-day event features expert-led workshops, a keynote speaker, tours of the Wisconsin Native Plant Garden, an extensive resource packet, and ample time for Q&A. Presentations cover a wide range of topics: garden design, native trees and shrubs, citizen science in your garden, garden planting and maintenance, native plants for birds, native plant identification, hardscaping, and understanding garden ecology through art.

2020 Native Gardening Conference – Cancelled

After ruling out an in-person event due to coronavirus risks, the conference committee carefully considered alternative virtual formats and event schedules. In the end, we decided to cancel the event for 2020. While many speakers were willing to present remotely in interactive sessions, this format is not ideal for a day full of concurrent workshops. The personal interactions and the garden itself are important to the NGC experience and cannot be replicated virtually.

We hope to host the same outstanding session presenters, keynote, and topics at the conference next year on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. Below is the 2020 conference schedule as originally planned.

Native by Design: Gardening for a Sustainable Future

Sunday, September 13, 2020  |  8:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Using the Arboretum’s Wisconsin Native Plant Garden as an outdoor classroom, this conference offers workshops, take-home tips, and living examples to inspire you and help you become a successful native plant gardener.

Experts will lead you step-by-step through developing, maintaining, and improving your garden. Beginners through experienced gardeners are welcome. Come with questions, learn from fellow gardeners, and go home with native gardening resources. Lunch provided. Some workshops spend time outside, so please bring clothing for variable weather conditions and walking.

Keynote address, “Gardening with Native Plants of the Midwest,” by Alan Branhagen, director of operations at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

Registration may close before the deadline if capacity is reached. Refunds will be given minus a $10 administrative fee until registration closes. After registration closes, refunds will only be given, minus a $10 service fee, if someone from the waitlist can fill the space. No walk-in registrations.

Session Descriptions

Session I: 9–10:30 a.m.

How to Design a Native Garden – Evelyn Howell

Learn how to begin a native garden, including how to analyze your site, employ basic design principles of native gardening, and choose the right combination of plants. Howell is a professor of landscape architecture at UW–Madison. Her background is in plant community ecology.

Native Trees and Shrubs – David Stevens

Learn about incorporating native woody plants in your home landscape to attract and sustain birds and pollinators. Stevens is the curator of Longenecker Horticultural Gardens, the Arboretum’s woody ornamental plant collection.

Citizen Science in Your Garden – Jessica Ross

A native plant garden is home to birds, animals, pollinators, and other insects. Learn how citizen science practices and principles can help you observe and document garden life—for your own records or to contribute data to a project. We’ll discuss ways to monitor monarch butterflies, bumble bees, dragonflies, fungi, birds, and seasonal changes. Ross is the Arboretum’s former citizen science coordinator.

Session II: 10:45 a.m.– 12:15 p.m.

Plant and Manage Your Native Garden – Susan Carpenter

Explore native gardening in the home landscape from initial planting to long-term management. Learn how to maintain diversity, manage invasives, and enhance plantings as your garden develops. Carpenter is the Arboretum’s native plant gardener.

Pollinators in Your Garden – Taylor Tai and Skye Harnsberger

Learn about native bees and butterflies that you may see in your garden. We will discuss key ways to support native insect fauna, show you how to identify some of the species you might see, and share insights on current pollinator research from the UW–Madison. Tai and Harnsberger are UW–Madison graduate students. Tai studies bumble bee ecology and conservation focusing on the impacts of prescribed fire and urbanization on bee communities. Harnsberger’s research investigates native butterfly communities and their responses to landscape heterogeneity.

Multifunctional Rain Gardens – Gail Epping Overholt

Rain gardens help communities deal with stormwater, yet they are truly multi-functional gardens. Adding one to your yard will not only help absorb stormwater and recharge ground water, it can also improve pollinator and bird habitat and provide year-round interest. This presentation will highlight the basics of rain garden design and appropriate plants to consider for your garden. Epping Overholt is the Arboretum’s outreach and education program coordinator.

Lunch: 12:15–1:15 p.m.

Session III: 1:15–2:45 p.m.

Native Plant Identification – Kevin Doyle

This talk will focus on how to identify native plants, especially those used in native landscaping, including wildflowers, grasses, sedges, and ferns. We will review terms commonly used in field guides, look at photos of key traits, and head into the field for real life examples. Kevin is a botanist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation. His focus is on native—specifically, rare—plants, and he conducts fieldwork statewide.

Food for Pollinators, and for People: Native Plants in the Garden and Kitchen – Elena Terry

Native plants have been a staple for the Hočąk people for generations. Terry will discuss native plants suitable for different habitats and how to harvest and prepare them for your favorite people. As you consider how to integrate them into your own native gardens, Elena will share samples to tempt your taste buds and your garden plans. Terry is the founder and executive chef of Wild Bearies, and the food and culinary program coordinator for the Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance. She is a member of the Hočąk (Ho-Chunk) Nation.

Native Plant Garden Tour

Explore and discover our diverse gardens. Experts will point out highlights for native plant gardeners and answer your questions.

Keynote: 3–4:15 p.m.

Gardening with Native Plants of the Midwest – Alan Branhagen

The Midwest offers a rich and unique flora that has incredible value to gardeners and landscapers. The movement to cultivate America’s native flora had its roots in the Midwest and the popularity of gardening with native plants is tied to being green, buying local, and living sustainably. There still remain widespread misunderstandings about what native plants are and why they are so valuable to a healthy environment. This program is an inspiring overview and help homeowners, gardeners, and landscapers succeed in selecting, growing, and maintaining Midwestern native plants.

Branhagan is the director of operations at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, where he supervises capital improvements, horticulture and natural resources, plant curation, facilities, and information technology. He received a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from Iowa State University and a master’s degree in landscape architecture from Louisiana State University. He is the author of The Gardener’s Butterfly Book, Native Plants of the Midwest, and the forthcoming The Midwest Native Plant Primer: 225 Plants for an Earth-friendly Garden. Branhagen is an all-around plantsman and naturalist (specializing in botany, birds and, butterflies).