DWN 2020 Speakers

Alan Branhagen

MN Arboretum Director of Operations

Looking Forward to a Livelier Landscape

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 GardeningMissouri GardenerMissouri Prairie JournalLandscape 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.

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.

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.