Past Conversations

Why and How to Garden With Native Plants

Do you have questions about gardening with native plants? That’s good to hear – because we have answers. Please join us as Dr. Ana Hidalgo and Dr. Oscar Zapata of the University of Saskatchewan enumerate the many advantages of gardening with native plants. Then stay put as prairie-restoration expert Michael Skinner of Skinner Native Seeds answers your practical questions about how to turn your yard or balcony into a pollinator paradise.

Ana and Oscar have this to say about their research into pollinator gardens and ecosystem services in the Prairies:

Cities are rapidly facing the challenges of climate change and the preservation of residents’ quality of life and well-being. Solutions based on nature and urban ecosystem services can help cities face these challenges. Specifically, city environmental amenities, such as public and private spaces with more vegetation, the presence of tree canopy, and native and non-native gardens, contribute to cleaning the air and reducing the heat island effect. Although the difference in the production of ecosystem services and their benefits between areas with and without vegetation is remarkable, the type of plant species used to green city spaces is also fundamental. Compared to non-native, native species bring additional benefits that include reduction in water use, pesticides and fertilizers, biodiversity conservation, the creation of pollinator corridors, urban beautification, cultural preservation and physical and mental health. Our interdisciplinary work 1) determines the benefits of green areas and native gardens in prairie cities by comparing pollution levels and heat island effects between green and non-green areas, 2) defines the benefits of native gardens, 3) identifies the challenges for homeowners to adopt native gardening practices, and 4) determines the attributes of native gardens that people find most attractive. The findings can inform the design of policies to increase green spaces in Prairie cities and promote a change in gardening practices in favour of native species.

Dr. Ana Karinna Hidalgo is an urban planner and designer passionate about the built environment, health and equity. She is a Lecturer and Professional Associate in the Department of Geography and Planning at the University of Saskatchewan; her interdisciplinary research focuses on how natural landscapes and native vegetation in urban areas can improve people’s well-being. She has presented her research and teaching outcomes at local, national and international conferences. Designer and planner by training, Ana Karinna holds a doctoral degree in Environmental Design and a Master of Planning from the University of Calgary. She also has a master of Higher Education and Educational Research, a specialization in Urban Environmental Management, and a bachelor’s in Design.

Dr. Oscar Zapata holds the Centennial Chair in Community Energy Development and is an Assistant Professor in the School of Environment and Sustainability (SENS) at the University of Saskatchewan. His work focuses on understanding the broad socio-economic elements of sustainability, including the understanding of human behaviour and the decision-making process in climate change scenarios. He studies the role of factors that consciously (i.e., prices or endowments) or unconsciously (i.e., identity, beliefs, scarcity, adversity or climate conditions) explain people’s behaviour, thereby determining economic and social outcomes. Oscar holds a Ph.D. and master’s degree in Economics (University of Calgary) and a master’s in Sustainable International Development (Brandeis University).

Michael Skinner grew up on a native grass seed farm in Western Manitoba where his dad, John, started growing big bluestem in 1999. Michael left home to pursue a career in conservation biology through the University of Saskatchewan and landed in Grasslands National Park where, with the help of an incredible team of biologist colleagues, he refined his interest in the prairie, native plants and all aspects of native prairie restoration from collecting seed to designing a seed mix in a very ecologically sensitive context. Michael returned home to try his hand at farming with his Dad in 2022 and to help manage a 350 acre restoration project in coordination with the Nature Conservancy Canada on their Fort Ellice property. With the support of a PCESC grant in 2023, he developed an introductory course on prairie restoration with the aim to help landowners successfully restore prairie habitat on their own land.   

Get the Buzz on Wild Bees

Saskatchewan contains ca 300 bee species, just under 1/3 recorded for all of Canada (i.e., 1003 species). Most of the diversity of the province’s bees occurs in the Prairies Ecozone, shared with Alberta and Manitoba. This ecozone is one of the bee diversity hotspots for Canada due to its unique floral communities, habitats, and proximity to the United States. The grasslands of Saskatchewan, historically at least, provided ample food plants to its bees, many of which are considered endemic to this ecozone in Canada, and that show strong preferences for its flowers. As grasslands are among the most highly modified landscapes globally, the impacts to bees will be discussed in relation to habitat loss. Conservation assessment of Saskatchewan’s bees will also be discussed.

Cory Sheffield grew up in the farming landscape of Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley. He obtained his undergraduate degree and later his MSc in biology at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, the latter on agricultural pests and fruit production. Cory then completed his PhD at the University of Guelph in Ontario while studying bee diversity and their contributions to apple pollination in Nova Scotia. After graduating in 2006, Cory began as a Post-Doctoral Fellow, then a Research Associate at York University in the lab of Dr. Laurence Packer. In 2012, Cory became the Curator of Invertebrate Zoology at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Regina, where he continues to study bee taxonomy, diversity, pollination, in addition to curating the province’s invertebrate collection.

We All Drink From the Same River

The South Saskatchewan River flows from sources in the mountains across the drylands of two prairie provinces, bringing life-giving water to everyone and everything. This shining connection provides drinking water to 2.2 million people, including all of us in and around Saskatoon. We can literally feel the river pulsing through our veins. If the river is in trouble, then so are we.

Please join us as Water Walker Marjorie Beaucage and river specialist Dr. Tim Jardine provide an update on the health of the South Saskatchewan River in a time of intensifying and competing demands. What do we need to do to ensure that the waters of life are protected?

Marjorie Beaucage  is a Two-Spirit Métis Auntie, filmmaker, art-ivist and educator, a land protector and a Water Walker. Born in Vassar, Manitoba, to a large Métis family, Marjorie’s life’s work has been about creating social change, working to give people the tools for creating possibilities and right relations. She has been a Grandmother for Walking With Our Sisters; the Elder for OUT Saskatoon; and the Elder-In-Residence for the University of Saskatchewan Student Union.

Tim Jardine is an Associate Professor in the Toxicology Centre and the School of Environment and Sustainability at the University of Saskatchewan, and a Fellow of the Canadian Rivers Institute.  He studies the ecology of rivers in northern Australia and western Brazil, and leads large collaborative projects in Western Canada’s inland river deltas.

our river. kisîpînaw. noo rivyer

The Lake Diefenbaker Irrigation Expansion Project is a $4-billion scheme to divert massive amounts of water from the South Saskatchewan River. This proposal is (or should be) a concern for the people of Saskatoon because the river doesn’t just flow through our city: it literally flows through our veins. Please join hydrologist Dr. Bob Halliday, water walker Marjorie Beaucage and Treaty Commissioner Mary Culbertson as they discuss the health of our river, the downsides of the Lake Diefenbaker proposal and the Duty to Consult as it applies to this project.

Marjorie Beaucage  is a Two-Spirit Métis Auntie, filmmaker, art-ivist and educator, a land protector and a water walker. Born in Vassar, Manitoba, to a large Métis family, Marjorie’s life’s work has been about creating social change, working to give people the tools for creating possibilities and right relations. She has been a Grandmother for Walking With Our Sisters; the Elder for OUT Saskatoon; and the Elder-In-Residence for the University of Saskatchewan Student Union. More:
Mary Culbertson, Saskatchewan’s first woman Treaty Commissioner,  is Nahkawe and Irish/Scottish English descent. A member of the Keeseekoose First Nation, she was the first member to earn a Juris Doctor from U of S Law and practice law in Saskatchewan. In January 2018, Mary Culbertson became the Treaty Commissioner for Saskatchewan. More: 
Robert A. (Bob) Halliday is a Canadian by choice, but it was his parents’ choice. Bob left Belize for Vancouver as a child and received most of his formal education there. He has practised as a consulting engineer in Saskatoon for more than 20 years. He previously worked for Environment Canada and is a former director of Canada’s National Hydrology Research Centre. He currently serves as vice-president of the Saskatchewan Environmental Society. More:

Prairie-Inspired Garden Design with Benjamin Vogt

View video on Getting Started with a Lawn to Meadow Conversion

Ready for a deep dive into natural garden design? Join renowned garden designer Benjamin Vogt as he shares his experience and expertise, making big ideas approachable and actionable. Discover how to read natural plant communities and what lessons to bring home, how to use layers of succession (seasonal and year by year) to increase ecosystem function and decrease management, including weed control, and explore some of the plant options to fill niches in each layer for maximum aesthetic appeal and climate resilience.

Benjamin Vogt is the owner of Monarch Gardens LLC, a prairie-inspired design firm based in Lincoln, Nebraska, that creates natural landscapes for homeowners, businesses and schools. He is the author of A New Garden Ethic: Cultivating Defiant Compassion for an Uncertain Future and Prairie Up: An Introduction to Natural Garden Design. More info at 

YXE Wildlife: Biodiversity Monitoring in Saskatoon

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Katie Harris and Dr. Ryan Brook of the University of Saskatchewan will provide an overview of Saskatoon’s very first long-term, large-scale urban wildlife monitoring study. This will include a discussion on the issue of urbanization, its impacts on wildlife biodiversity, and some of the ways that wildlife are adapting to our ever-urbanizing world.

Katie Harris comes from her hometown of The Pas, Manitoba, although she has been living in Saskatoon since 2017. Academically, she holds a duel Environmental Science Diploma and a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture Degree and is presently working on her PhD at the University of Saskatchewan. She specializes in urban wildlife ecology and her research focus is on the impact of urban growth on wild mammals. Katie has always felt very passionate about environmental issues, and her goal is to promote biodiversity conservation within urban landscapes.


Indigenous Persistence on the Prairie: Rematriation and Reparations

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Two leading Indigenous organizers discuss grassroots justice activism, land rematriation, and the necessity of reparations.

As Indigenous organizers on the frontlines of major events on the prairies, in Canada, and internationally, Michelle Brass and Erica Violet Lee have years of experience taking on colonialism and racism in the environmental movement and beyond. The two will discuss their grassroots work for justice for Indigenous peoples and kin beyond Canadian courtrooms and prisons, the pursuit of reclamation (or “rematriation”) of lands, and the necessity of reparations.

Erica Violet Lee is a nehiyaw writer and community organizer from inner-city Saskatoon. Her debut book of poetry will be published in March 2023 with McClelland and Stewart.

Michelle Brass is a writer, speaker, entrepreneur, and coach deeply committed to the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples and communities. She serves on the Steering Committee for Indigenous Climate Action, a national organization that inspires action for climate justice by supporting Indigenous communities to develop Indigenous-led solutions to climate change. She is a a proud member of the Yellow Quill First Nation (Saulteaux/Anishnaabe) and resides on Peepeekisis First Nation in Treaty Four Territory in Saskatchewan, Canada.

Nature is Medicine: Launching PaRx in Saskatchewan

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Join guests Brooklyn Rawlyk and Sehjal Bhargava to learn more about the connection between physical health, mental health, and nature. 

Join U of S medical students Brooklyn Rawlyk and Sehjal Bhargava to learn more about the intimate connection between our physical and mental health and the health of our environment. Through their involvement in the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, these inspiring young medical professionals have brought the Park Prescription program to Saskatchewan, permitting physicians to prescribe a dose of nature to their patients.

“Research shows that spending time in nature reduces pain, stress and anxiety, improves overall cardiovascular health, energy levels and creativity, among other benefits. Research has even shown that children who spend more time in nature are more likely to grow up into environmentalists adults who are more connected to nature are more likely to work to protect it.”
—Sehjal Bhargava and Brooklyn Rawlyk

Brooklyn Rawlyk is a third-year medical student at the University of Saskatchewan with a passion for fitness, planetary health, time spent outdoors, and learning new skills. She is currently interested in the field of ophthalmology and in ways to mitigate the carbon footprint of surgical care. She is a graduate of Dalhousie University where she was a cross country and track & field varsity athlete. She is always looking for new connections and ways to engage with her local community.

Sehjal Bhargava is in her final year of medical studies at the University of Saskatchewan, with interests in public health, primary care, climate change, and health equity. She obtained an undergraduate degree in Kinesiology from the University of Saskatchewan and competed in varsity track and field and cross country prior to attending medical school. In her second year of medical school, Sehjal co-founded the Planetary Healthy Student Group within the College of Medicine, and most recently helped launch and currently co-chairs the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment Saskatchewan Regional Chapter (CAPE SK). She is excited to integrate prescribing nature, and climate advocacy into her future career as a physician.

Bringing Beauty Home:
Starting native plants from seeds

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Baby, it’s cold outside, and that makes this the perfect moment to think about SPRING. In fact, now is not just the time to think about next year’s garden but actually to plant some of those tricky-to-germinate prairie wildflowers. Join our experts to learn where to purchase seeds (or collect and store your own), how to test seeds for viability, choosing the best growing medium, finding the right temperature and lighting conditions, and special techniques to wake seeds from dormancy. Did you know that some wildflower seeds have to be “stratified” or even “scarified” before they will sprout? (And, no, you can’t just say “boo!”) Bring your curiosity and your questions, and learn how to bring the beauty of native plants back to their home territory.


With special guests Renny Grilz of Blazing Star Wildflower Seed Company, Sandra Walker, ethnobotanist and author of The Path to Wild Food, and Chet Neufeld of The Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan.

Your complete local guide to Gardening with Native Plants

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A quiet revolution is going on in gardens all across Saskatoon. A renewal. A return to appreciating the beauty and diversity of the plants that have been blooming here for hundreds and thousands of years.

Many of the plants that we find in the garden centers were gathered from the four corners of Earth through centuries of European colonial adventures. Peonies from China and the Mediterranean. Lilacs from eastern Europe. Petunias and marigolds from Central and South America. As lovely and familiar as these plants are, they are misfits here, badly attuned to the needs of our native pollinators and other creatures. Too often, their flowers are mere pompoms, with little to offer but a show of colour. No nectar, no pollen, no food for insects or birds.

Native plants, by contrast, evolved as part of this ecosystem, in concert and collaboration with dozens of different kinds of wild bees and other organisms. As a result, these plants have what it takes to keep the world buzzing. Happily, adding native plants to your flowerbeds or planters is surprisingly easy and a lot of fun.

Featuring three local experts:  Renny Grilz of Blazing Star Wildflower Seed Company, Chet Neufeld of the Native Plant Society of Saskatchewan, and Sandra Walker, ethnobotanist and author of The Path to Wild Food

A City in Harmony with Nature? An update on Saskatoon’s Green Strategy

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The City of Saskatoon has long declared its ambition to grow in harmony with nature.” With this goal in mind, council approved a Green Infrastructure Strategy in the spring of 2020, pledging to connect, protect and restore our urban green spaces as sustainable habitats for people and other living things.

This is exciting and forward-looking work and, because we truly are wild about Saskatoon, we have been wondering how things are moving ahead. What has happened in the year since the Strategy was approved? What steps are being taken to move the plan off the page and into the living landscape of this special place that we call home? How can conserving natural assets help us face the challenges of social dislocation, biodiversity loss and climate change?

This NatureCity conversation featured Jessie Best, Environmental Project Manager, and Katie Burns, Manager of Community Leadership and Program Development, City of Saskatoon, and Andrea Lafond, CEO of the Meewasin Valley Authority. Special guest: spoken-word artist Janelle “ecoaborijanelle” Pewapsconias.

Saskatoon’s Green Infrastructure Strategy: Towards an Interconnected Green Network – View more info here

Janelle “ecoaborijanelle” Pewapsconias (she/her) is a nehiyaw spoken word artist, mother, and social innovator based in Little Pine First Nation. As an artist she practices, organizes and continues on the cultural tradition of oral and spoken word storytelling about Indigenous survivance and connection to land.

More information: Instagram @_ecoarborijanelle

The Land Feeds Us: Indigenous Food Sovereignty and Prairie Cities

How can our urban spaces be planned and planted to support biodiversity and improve access to traditional foods? Join us as we explore issues around Indigenous Food Sovereignty in prairie cities, with featured guests Tabitha Robin and Kevin Wesaquate. 

View Kevin Wesaquate video here | Read Tabitha Robin transcript here

Tabitha Robin is a mixed ancestry Swampy Cree researcher, educator, and writer. She is a PhD Candidate at the University of Manitoba, studying Indigenous Food Sovereignty in the Faculty of Social Work and the Department of Native Studies. She spends much of her time on the land, working with her people, and learning traditional Cree food practices. She has worked on research projects with the National Indigenous Diabetes Association, Four Arrows Regional Health Authority, the Indian and Metis Friendship Centre in Winnipeg and Neechi Commons.

Kevin Wesaquate is a spoken word poet and visual artist is currently employed as a Multi-Disciplinary Indigenous Arts Leader at SCYAP. Kevin is the founder of Indigenous Poetry Society with hopes of building a larger community of spoken wordartist. Kevin represented Saskatoon at the Canadian Individual Slam in Vancouver in April 2018 and once again in 2020. As well as representing Tonight It’s Poetry for the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word in 2017 and 2018. He recently finished the Indigenous Fine Arts Residency in Banff Centre for the Arts, called ‘Ghost Days, Making Art for Spirit. 2019’. His work has led to community initiatives like planting misaskwatomina (Saskatoon berry) shrubs by the river near downtown Saskatoon with a group known as Locals Only. With many public speaking engagements his aim is to always inspire the next upcoming artists, like the 1st Indigenous Poets Society Team who have competed at CFSW 2019. A collection of paintings that where created by Kevin Wesaquate still hang at the Saskatchewan Polytechnique Adult 10 & 12 building. Becoming community leader in Saskatoon he is from Piapot First Nation where he learned the value of a community. Sahkihitok (love one another)

Kevin ‘POETIK’

Thing I love about the Prairies… ‘ I love the warmth of sunsets giving you that warm embrace goodnight before the multitudes of stars fill clear skies. ‘