More than 40 years ago, one of the first nurseries to grow and sell native plants sprang to life on the rural fringes of Westfield, Wisconsin. Founded in 1972 by J. Robert Smith, a retired DNR employee, Prairie Nursery began as a garden on a half-acre plot. Inspired by the wildflowers and grasses growing around his farm, Robert Smith began experimenting with Lupine and Butterflyweed, teaching himself how to germinate, grow and transplant prairie plants. Meanwhile, at the height of the environmental movement in America, Neil Diboll was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (dubbed “Eco-U” because of its environmental focus), where be began studying prairie ecology. After graduating from UWGB Neil worked summers for the U.S. Park Service in Virginia, and later the U.S. Forest Service in Colorado, before returning to Green Bay to continue his own prairie research.
During this time while working at the University's Arboretum, Neil set out to plant as many areas as possible to prairie flowers and grasses. As it turned out, the majority of the seed he purchased came from a fellow named Bob Smith, in Westfield. In 1982 Neil called Bob and asked him if he would want to sell some of his stock plants so that Neil could establish a prairie nursery in his own backyard. Bob said he might consider that, but suggested instead that Neil move to Westfield and take over the operation of Prairie Nursery.
Proponents of the early prairie movement, Robert Smith and Neil Diboll were both ecologists, as well. Their goal was more than simply to grow rare or unusual plants, but to preserve a diverse gene pool and the genetic integrity reflected in the variability and adaptability of Nature itself. Their knowledge, commitment and enthusiasm for native plants are at the root of Prairie Nursery's mission and have sustained the Nursery through the decades.
The original backyard prairie garden, Prairie Nursery has grown to become a national retailer of native plants and seeds. Today we continue to feel encouraged by the increased interest in native plants and their benefits, as we strive to offer the highest quality and variety of North American native plants to our customers.
Delivering quality plant material and expert information – to gardeners, landowners, landscape designers and project managers – is our way of creating success for our customers, and success for a product that we feel passionately about. Whether gardening in a small space or restoring habitat, native plants are an empowering choice that supports life and wildlife communities, and the practice of soil and water conservation. Prairie Nursery is proud to be part of that choice.