Traverse City News and Events

Anonymous Donation Sets Stage For Botanic Garden Expansion

By Craig Manning | April 22, 2019

Thanks to a big contribution from an anonymous donor, The Botanic Gardens at Historic Barns Park is getting its next major expansion this year.

According to Karen Schmidt, who serves as board chairman for the Botanical Gardens Society, the nonprofit organization recently received $450,000 to put toward a new garden project. The money will be spent across three years and three phases at the Botanic Gardens property, located at the Grand Traverse Commons.

The new garden is the latest step in realizing a master plan that has been on the table since 2009. The Botanical Gardens Society itself dates back to 2000, when several community members got together with the goal of establishing a year-round botanical garden in the region. In 2004, when local voters passed a millage to purchase three parklands – including 56 acres at Historic Barns Park – the Botanical Gardens Society had found its home. By 2009, the society had 25 acres to turn into The Botanic Gardens. The nonprofit has been working ever since to raise funds and complete an ambitious plan of building restorations and unique garden spaces.

Schmidt says the Botanical Gardens Society is now working on the property’s ninth garden. That project, a Pollinator Garden, will feature 600 different plants that attract local pollinators, including hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and other types of insects and birds. Schmidt says the new garden will be installed in May.

The $450,000 donation, meanwhile, is earmarked for a part of the master plan that includes a stone labyrinth and a Healing Garden.

“We’ve had a master site plan since we first started here, and part of that was a large Healing Garden in the north,” Schmidt says. “One of our themes is healing, because this space used to be the hospital farm. We wanted to have a whole large garden dedicated to healing and health. We temporarily put in a grass labyrinth in that spot, that people can just walk, but the goal was to have it be a stone labyrinth that you could do in a wheelchair.”

Phase one of the project is the construction of the new stone labyrinth, which will begin this month. Hallmark Construction will excavate a 60-foot circle at the site of the labyrinth and install a concrete retaining wall. In June, a company called Labyrinths in Stone will hand-lay 13,000 individual pieces of colored stone to build the labyrinth.

Phase two of the Healing Garden project is planned for 2020, with an Entry Garden that will incorporate a Native American medicine wheel. Schmidt says the Botanical Gardens Society is working closely with the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians to make sure the garden is an honest and respectful encapsulation of their history.

“With the Botanic Garden, we’ve really tried to focus on the history of this region as part of the garden’s theme,” Schmidt says. “A lot of that is the history of this property as the hospital farm. But the history before that was the Native Americans, so we wanted to do something to highlight and teach our visitors about our Native American communities who were here then and are still here now.”

Phase three, on the docket for 2021, will play directly into the association that the Historic Barns Park property has with the old State Hospital. Schmidt describes this part of the project as “a whole series of medicinal gardens,” featuring plants that have been used in the past – or are still used today – for healing and medicine.

Even after these projects, Schmidt says there will still be money left to raise and work to be done. The Botanical Gardens Society has a new road design that will soon replace the unpaved roads that lead from the hospital up to Historic Barns Park. There are plans to restore the old Wagon House on the property as a new education center, complete with roof-mounted solar panels. A new patio and public gathering spot is also in the plans. And in the long run, the goal is to make the Botanic Gardens year-round by building a heated conservatory – a piece Schmidt predicts will be “probably the most expensive investment in the garden.”

Ultimately, though, Schmidt notes that one of the great things about the Botanic Garden is how those investments in the property end up being investments in the local economy.

“We’ve already put $2.5 million into the garden in the last six years, and almost all of that went right back into the community,” she says. “We’ve hired local architects and local contractors. Local electricians did the lighting for our buildings. All the appliances we use were purchased locally. So, the project is really supportive of the community economically, just like the community supports us.”

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