Northern Michigan Attractions: Traverse City's New Botanic Garden

Northern Michigan Attractions: With daffodils blooming and trillium-carpeted forests just a spring shower and warm afternoon away, we check in with Karen Matte Schmidt, chairwoman of the Botanical Garden Society of Northwest Michigan, to see how things are sprouting at their new home in Traverse City's Grand Traverse Commons.

Let’s start with the obvious question. When will we see flowers at the Botanic Garden?

During 2012 we will be working on the granary to remodel it into a visitors center, and by next year we will be putting in the first gardens. So by the end of 2013 there will be gardens in place and the visitors center will be up and running.

Can you give us a flyover of the scope of the garden—how big, what will we see?

We have 25 acres, and we told our designer, Warren Byrd, that we wanted a variety of ecosystems. So he designed the garden like a ribbon through the length of the park. There will be wetlands, overlooks, open prairie. As we develop the park we will have a wide variety of plant life.

We have so much marvelous naturally occurring nature here, do people wonder why we need a botanical garden anyway?

Gardening is the No. 1 recreational activity in the world. And people are very interested in gardening here—Michigan State University Extension Service did a survey of 1,700 households back in 1999 and 95 percent of respondents were positive about a botanic garden. There’s so much that gardens can offer people. One of our main interests is ecological sustainability. We want our gardening practices to be sustainable and we’ll be teaching organic gardening concepts—we want this to be an outdoor school. We’ll also be focusing on native plants.

Aren’t botanical gardens usually more about exotic plants?

We will be teaching how to design beautiful gardens at home using native plants because native plants support native insects, which support native birds. There are 114 species of birds that have been identified at the commons. I love that fact. We really want to make sure we are building habitat for our birds.

The commons has such a rich heritage, any intent to reflect that in the design?

Yes, well, we looked at the history of the site. It was a state hospital and at present it is the largest medical center in Northern Michigan, it has the Hospice House and Copper Ridge. This place has revolved around healing, and in addition to sustainability, healing will be the other focus of the Botanic Garden.

How does a garden revolve around healing?

It will feature plants that have been used in the past for healing, like foxglove, and it will have a Native American medicine wheel garden. But also there is research showing that just being in a garden can heal. If you can see a tree out a hospital window you get out of the hospital a day earlier on average. But we’ll also have things like ramps that can be used in physical therapy and a labyrinth to encourage walking.

Will there be a giant glassed in conservatory?

We would like to have a conservatory, but it is expensive and will come later.

You’ve been putting word out about your capital campaign. When is the launch?

Right, we are kicking off the public phase of the capital campaign on June 22 with a benefit concert and dance with the band Steppin’ In It. They are great, and it will be a wonderful evening.

For this article, and to find out more about what's happening in Northern Michigan this spring, get the April 2012 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine.

Article Comments