Thursday 24 September 2020

Nature Regina: Watch Them Grow, Part One

You can grow more than just plants in a garden. Just take a look at Nature Regina where volunteering for the organization’s Native Plant Garden has led to new members, new activities, and a whole lot of enthusiasm. 

Elaine Ehman is the current president of Nature Regina, but she got her start pulling weeds in the garden. “I can’t identify plants, but I wanted to help,” Elaine says. "I hung around people who knew what they were doing and learned from them. I’m surprised at the number of plants I can now identify.” She’s begun using native plants in her own garden and encourages other people to volunteer. “You’re welcome. There’s a space for everyone in the garden.” Elaine then took one of the bird identification classes offered by the Saskatchewan Breeding Bird Atlas project. “I’m really a novice birder, but in Nature Regina I’m surrounded by people who know them,” she says. 

Nature Regina first started holding meetings in 1933 as the Regina Natural History Society with their first public meeting in March of that year and their first nature hikes in May. Many things have changed over the years, but Nature Regina has never stopped fostering a greater appreciation for nature through field trips, education programs, and environmental advocacy. 

Nature Regina maintains the Native Plant Garden located at the southeast entrance of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum. What is in flower changes from week to week, but it is always busy with butterflies, bees, and insects. Volunteers provided the original seeds and cuttings, and the plants spent their first winter in Wascana Centre’s greenhouse before being planted out in the spring. It takes a lot of work to maintain a garden, and it had stagnated for a few years until Gail Fennell moved to Regina from Edmonton and began organizing volunteer activities in the garden. “She’s a changemaker,” Shannon Chernick says. “She has a five-year vision for the garden, and she keeps everybody informed by sending out a weekly email with photographs to let us know what’s flowering and what insects have been spotted. There’s a real sense of community.” 

Nature Regina produced a calendar with members’ photos to celebrate the garden’s 25th anniversary last year, and it proved so popular that they are producing another calendar this year with photos of outdoor favorites. 

Nature Regina owns a half section of land near Lumsden in the Qu’Appelle Valley. The Hidden Valley property was obtained for $1 from the CPR in 1945. It’s retained as a wildlife sanctuary and members maintain the trails and try to keep invasive species out. They also gather seeds here for the native plant garden. It’s open to the public and they encourage people to use it. 

As president, Elaine hoped that Nature Regina could expand its membership. “I joined when I retired, and I noticed that there were a lot of other older members,” Elaine said. A talk at one of Nature Saskatchewan’s annual meetings led Elaine to investigate the possibility of a grant from Nature Canada designed to create public engagement. It’s a small grant of $8,000, but Nature Regina has put it to good use. Nature Canada conducted an audit of Nature Regina’s activities and organized webinars to guide association members through the engagement process. Of the 8 recommendations, 2 stood out. The association needed to create core teams for main functions and it needed to define its constituency. 

Daralyn Sheffield, Ingrid Alesich, and Jim Elliott were responsible for the website, newsletter, and Facebook, but they were working independently. Their goal was to increase their impact by working together as a team. They started using Mail Chimp for the newsletter and redesigned the website. “It was incredible,” Elaine says. “Way above what I expected. The biggest excitement was the look of it, but we could also do so much more. We could track activity, know who would be coming to an event, and obtain email contacts.” The communications team’s efforts were really put to the test when Nature Regina started posting weekly family activities. They came through with flying colours. 

Fine-tuning how the association functioned led Nature Regina to add more online features. Donations are now accepted on Canada Helps and you can sign up for the weekly newsletter or become a member directly from their website

With a strong team structure in place, it was time for Nature Regina to consider its constituency. They’d been attending volunteer fairs to interest university students, but it wasn’t producing the desired results. “We got speakers for our meetings, but we didn’t get the engagement we were looking for,” Elaine says. They decided to try a new approach and hired Shannon Chernick, a Native Plant Garden volunteer who just happened to have a degree in education and work experience as a youth engagement coordinator. Success? Oh, yes! Stay tuned for Part Two of our article about Nature Regina.