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New Soil, New Climate, New Plants
How a professional gardener started again from scratch and learned from her failures.

Donna Balzer

Experienced horticulturist and sought-after speaker, Donna is widely known for her talent to make complex ideas relevant and simple, to engage others in gardening, or to improve their existing skills. Donna’s passion for and extensive work in horticulture embodies the theme of this workshop — Gardening with Purpose: Beauty, Bounty, and Benefit. Grounded in many years of gardening experience and her degree in Horticulture from the University of Alberta, Ms. Balzer is a garden consultant, author, speaker and journalist in print, radio and television.

Donna believes that growing vegetables is a lifestyle choice. However, growing soil, healthy plants and edible food­—from saffron to lemons or super-fragrant raspberries, takes time, patience and plenty of experimentation. After University, Donna worked as a horticulturist and gardened for thirty years on the Canadian prairies. As she approached retirement, she felt confident she knew most of what she would ever need to know about gardening and growing plants. She then moved to the Pacific Northwest and her education began anew. 


While the weather is much milder in the PNW than on the prairies, our undeveloped soils and shortage of summer rains are a huge challenge for gardeners. Thus one gardener's last chapter became an educational and learning experience worth sharing.

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Combining flowers and vegetables became essential for successful gardening, not just a pretty diversion. Learning to add nutrients to the soil or to leaves directly, supports healthier plants through torrential winter rains. And extending the growing season well past the typical summer period—growing plants indoors as well as outdoors, offered the best reward ever—continuous food and flavor all year-round.


The biggest takeaway? Gardening is so much more than pounds of harvest. It’s about connections — people, plants, pollinators, fungi, and soil. Donna has learned why snakes and wasps are essential to success, why a single leaf unlocks flavor in simple dinners, and why flowers are not just a pretty face in your garden.


The “old" Donna was a professional and all-knowing garden consultant. The “new" Donna is a more modest version of her younger self. But she is proof that even old dogs can learn new tricks. Donna will share how learning in a changing and challenging environment expands and grows a gardener’s skillset and satisfaction.

Honors and Horticultural Experience

Donna has received several awards throughout her media and horticulture career, including the 2012 Mayor’s Urban Design Award for her horticultural work on the historical garden at Central Memorial Park in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and the 2002 Golden Globe Silver award for her on-air hosting role with the Bugs & Blooms television show. She is a distinguished member of the Speakers Bureau of Canada as well as a published author. Her book, The Prairie Rock Garden, was honored with the North American Rock Garden Society’s 2001 Carlton R. Worth Award.

Written with co-author Steven Biggs, No Guff [No Nonsense] Vegetable Gardening (2011) reveals “how fun the science of gardening can be with a food-themed look at soil….”  Donna's newest book, Three Year Gardener’s Gratitude Journal: Part Diary, Part Personal Growing Guide (2018) was co-authored by Chelsie Anderson.

Previously the Horticulturist at the Calgary Zoo Botanical Garden and Instructor of Horticulture at Olds College, Donna now advises on cultural landscapes, historic gardens, and edible landscapes. She currently lives on Vancouver Island where she has built a really big greenhouse for testing and experimenting new sustainable gardening concepts in food production.

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