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Sara Williams
Saskatchewan Perennial Society

When the Department of Horticulture of the University of Saskatchewan was created in 1921, one of its major responsibilities, along with teaching and research, was “Extension”: extending the knowledge base of the Department to Saskatchewan gardeners. In that era, extension consisted of writing newspaper articles, distributing pamphlets, hosting tours of the research facilities and test plots and holding workshops in communities throughout the province.

Dr. Cecil Patterson, the first head of the Department, mostly used the then provincial bus service to travel the province to give lectures. In the 1980s and 1990s, as the Horticulture Specialist with the Extension Division, I put on many miles driving to communities all over Saskatchewan, giving talks and workshops on various gardening topics. Always warmly received “as the lady from the University”, it was an experience I continue to treasure.

Decades later, the methodology has changed considerably as has the name. What was then Extension, is now called “Outreach”. And, intensified by the COVID pandemic, this free public service has more recently been carried out almost entirely online at

As COVID eliminated in-person classes and workshops, alternative methods of Outreach became necessary. Vanessa Young, the program coordinator since 2008, has become an innovator par excellence. Her strong background in horticulture and education (PAg, BSc, BEd), coupled with a great deal of practical experience in hort therapy, community education, and graphic design work, has enabled her to develop a number of useful resources for Prairie gardeners. Among these: expanding the website while making it easier to access and navigate; a user-friendly technology for presenting on-line classes via Zoom; and enabling the Gardenline information service to be more widely accessible.

The website features hundreds of articles specific to gardening on the prairies and in the far north. Many of these focus on growing food, flowers, trees and native plants, as well as techniques to reduce water use, increase biodiversity, extend the season and preserve harvests. Pesticide-free strategies to tackle plant disorders, diseases and pests are emphasized.

It’s easy. But you’ll need a computer or cell phone. How does it work? Begin by typing in: Once on the site, there are a number of choices. If you’re solely after information and you’re using a phone to access the site, there will be a green Menu button at the top right corner of your screen. Push that button and select Gardening Advice. From there, you have a wide array of gardening topics to choose from. If using a computer, you can find the Gardening Advice section easily along the top menu bar.

The website also includes information on how to access Gardenline; free and low-cost on-line live classes on a wide range of topics; on-demand workshops you can take at your own convenience; and both the Saskatchewan and Manitoba Master Gardener Programs.

The number of viewers of the website during 2020 and 2021 was an astounding 428,868 people! Although the majority were from Canada (62%), viewers resided in almost every country of the world.

Around 3,500 people have registered for the free and low-cost live classes since they were launched at the start of COVID (March 2020). This year, Gardening at Usask is offering almost fifty, two-hour, on-line webinars from January through June. They range from “Vegetable Gardening” to “The Colour Purple”. A number of these classes are free. Among the freebees are: “No till vegetable gardening”, “Low water, low maintenance gardening: principles, plants and practices”, “Mulch”, “Compost 101: scraps to soil”, “Lot drainage: managing water on your property”, “Pesticide free gardening” and “Waste-free living”.

Gardening at Usask also has a FaceBook page: About 5 “posts” are created every week. A post is a concise, informational/educational writeup about a discrete gardening topic which always includes a photo. The posts are timely and correspond to what gardeners need to know that week – for example, a post about when to start tomato seedlings would appear in mid-April, while one dealing with harvesting potatoes would pop up in late August. The post dealing with the 2021 drought captured almost 80,000

Sara Williams is the author and coauthor of many books including Creating the Prairie Xeriscape, Gardening Naturally with Hugh Skinner and, with Bob Bors, the recently published Growing Fruit in Northern Gardens. She continues to give workshops on a wide range of gardening topics throughout the prairies.

This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; ). Check our website ( or Facebook page ( for a list of upcoming gardening events.