LIVING OFF THE LAND – Planting Potential: Saanich Native Plants

by Jo Barnes | photos by Amanda Cribdon Photography –

A seed. Whether it’s the start of a plant or the start of an idea, it has the potential to grow into something larger that can have an important impact on its environment.

Kristen and James Miskelly, owners of Saanich Native Plants off Haliburton Road, grow plants and produce seeds native to our local habitats and educate others on restoration and conservation.

“Native plants have an inherent value. They are a critical part of conserving and enhancing biodiversity,” shares Kristen.

For both Kristen and James, natural habitat and ecology are foundational to their education and life approach. They both hold Bachelor and Masters’ degrees in Biology from UVic, Kristen specializing in Paleoecology and James with a focus on butterfly conservation. A philosophy of valuing nature informs their work and brought them together.

“We have a love of plants, especially those associated with Garry oak ecosystems. We got involved in the Haliburton Biodiversity Project in which we help coordinate restoration within farmlands. This is how we met,” says Kristen.

Involving a diverse network of dedicated volunteers, the Haliburton Biodiversity focuses on the restoration of wetland, meadow and forest habitat. Kristen and James began volunteering at Haliburton in 2009 and subsequently leased land and started their nursery. Over time, Saanich Native Plants has grown significantly.

“We had no staff in the beginning, but now it has grown to a staff of six to nine members, some full-time, some part-time and some seasonal as well,” comments Kristen.

This is a unique nursery. Plants grown here are exclusively native, meaning those that are indigenous to South Vancouver Island. Each is grown from seed or from cuttings taken from stock grown in the field here. Cultivation is done without herbicides, chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Monkey flower to maple to many native bunchgrasses; the menu is mesmerizing! Whether it is a potted plant or package of seeds, each represents patience, planting ability and persistence.

“The seed is critical; it’s genetically local. We need large areas to be planted. In 2018 we leased another area up island in Cobble Hill,” says Kristen. “The work involves long hours and days, and a site steward there helps us manage the field.”

The effort, however, springs out of a love of nature and a desire to protect and conserve ecosystems. As well as providing seeds and plants, the team at Saanich Native Plants offers education and expertise. They work not only with private landowners, but also larger organizations in the community, government and First Nations communities.

“We do consulting in restoration,” shares Kristen. “We work from smaller private properties to government agencies. No matter whether you have a small rock garden or you own a big parcel of land, we can help you with a restoration plan.”

Like many operations, Saanich Native Plants has had to make changes in business approaches in response to the pandemic.

“In March we shifted out of retail to delivery temporarily,” says Kristen. “Consulting was done in person; now it is digital consulting. Customers send descriptions and photos of their property, and we provide a detailed plan and approach.”

They extended their community reach during the summer by producing educational webinars. In collaboration with Parks Canada, Pollinator Partnership Canada, and Habitat Acquisition Trust, Saanich Native Plants produced the ten part “Pollinator Steward Webinar Series” which showcases pollinators and their critical role in conservation and ecology.

Says Kristen: “The recordings are now there that we didn’t have before. They can be used many times over to reach people.”

Reaching out and educating the community is a daily objective at Saanich Native Plants.

“We encourage people to grow more ecologically friendly plants, thereby reducing their water consumption,” shares Kristen, “We hope to inspire them about being appreciative of where they live and the unique plants here.”

Got a question about site preparation or soil types? Are you keen to plant a butterfly garden? The team at Saanich Native Plants is ready to help! Visit for more information.

Restoring plant diversity, enhancing habitat, attracting pollinators and supporting wildlife; the benefits of planting native species are numerous. It starts with one person but collectively can prompt widespread change.

“If you appreciate and conserve what is native to your place, you are contributing to global conservation,” comments Kristen, “It’s about working together towards these goals.”

Saanich Native Plants is not only sowing seeds; it’s securing the future of our farmlands, habitats and ecosystem.

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