Designing with nature, braiding science with beauty

I was asked, “So, why do you want to study botany?” And I answered, “Because goldenrod and asters are so beautiful together, and I want to know why. I want to know why these stand together. Why do they grow together and look so beautiful when they could grow apart?”

“That’s not science,” he said. “You should go to art school if you want to study beauty.”

Robin Kimmerer is a professor of environmental and forest biology, but she is also a poet, a mother, and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Kimmerer believes that plants and animals are our oldest teachers, though we have lost the ability to hear them. Her work as a professor at State University of New York (SUNY) College of Environmental Science and Forestry and Director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment at SUNY Syracuse places her at the intersection between analytical science and a world view that is deeper, richer, and perhaps better attuned to the rhythms of nature and our human place in this world. “To cultivate a deeper relationship with Nature,” she says “we must once again become fluent in the language of plants and animals, indeed of all living beings.”

Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass, will speak at the Feb. 16, 2019 Wild Ones Design with Nature Conference in St. Paul. (Photo by Dale Kakkak)

In her book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, Kimmerer uses sweetgrass as a metaphor for the different ways that we might imagine our relationship with plants. During a podcast interview with Margaret Roach, Kimmerer says, “One of those strands is Indigenous knowledge and traditional environmental thinking about plants from the Native perspective. Another is scientific knowledge about plants, and the third strand is the knowledge that the plants themselves hold.” These three different perspectives can be woven together, much like braided sweetgrass, to create something that is both beautiful and strong.

On Saturday, Feb. 16, Robin Kimmerer will be a keynote speaker at the annual Wild Ones DESIGN WITH NATURE Conference. The theme for this year’s conference is Healing and Restoring our Relationship with Nature. Other speakers will include Michael Lynch, a local botanist, restoration ecologist and founder of the popular Facebook group Botanical Wanderings, and Larry Weaner, a landscape architect from Philadelphia whose design and restoration work spans more than ten states and has been profiled in national publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Landscape Architecture Magazine, Garden Design, American Gardener, Wildflower Magazine, and ASLA’s “The Dirt” blog.

olson prairie workshop 2012
Wild One promotes environmentally sound landscaping practices to preserve biodiversity through the preservation, restoration and establishment of native plant communities. Members include professional botanists, as well as people who just love nature.

Wild Ones is a national non-profit organization that promotes environmentally sound landscaping practices to preserve biodiversity through the preservation, restoration and establishment of native plant communities. Members of the organization include professionally trained botanists and landscape professionals, as well as native plant lovers from a variety of backgrounds. There are local chapters based in Stillwater (St. Croix Oak Savanna), St. Paul (Big River, the Big Woods), and Richfield (Twin Cities). Other organizations sponsoring the Design with Nature conference include Freshwater Society, Pollinator Friendly Alliance, Audubon Minnesota, Great River Greening, and Blue Thumb – Planting for Clean Water.

To learn more about and register for the Wild Ones 2019 DESIGN WITH NATURE Conference, go to: The conference will be held on Saturday, February 16, 9am-4pm at the University of St. Thomas. Registration is open through February 2.