Michigan State University gardens

We have a special attachment to Michigan State University Horticulture Gardens. We studied campus plants as students of Landscape Technology on field trips with one of MSU's finest grads, Marshall Baeckeroot. Later when the acres you see here were first developed as gardens we were allowed to work there to illustrate articles, teach classes, even bring our own students there for Garden By Janet and Steven sessions. Currently, one of our former students is horticulturist in charge of the perennial gardens.

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The gardens are spacious but jam packed with hundreds of perennial species. You can walk for hours. Bring paper and pencil or a camera to record plant names because you'll want to reproduce what you see.


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There are also many places to sit and admire the color and the motion. Being on a busy campus it's also a good place for people watching.

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This end of the perennial area, closest to the ever-hoppin' childrens' garden, tends to be the most productive of small children - college student interactions, which we find most interesting.


Yet all of this is managed by one person, often working alone. That's the case in many big gardens so be sure to say "thanks" if you see someone working there, as it may not be 'just some gardener.' In fact, in talking to the gardeners and managers of big gardens like this over the years we've heaved many a sigh of relief that it isn't just us, that even the best gardens' staff tears their hair over -- you name it. For instance, critters: we've learned battle strategies for marauding voles in one garden, commiserated with peers in another garden plagued with deer that crawl under fences, laughed and learned in a third how muskrats that chew through pond liners can divert water in an invisible underground stream to nearby bed.

Above, right: Talk to the gardener(s) working in this small section of bed and learn things like 1) the pearly everlasting (Anaphalis triplinervis, foreground) is important not only for late summer bloom but as a host plant to the American Painted Lady butterfly caterpillar; 2) that maintaining the cut edge on the bed requires two rounds of cutting and thorough weeding each year; 3) that rabbit hutch wire cages placed very early in the year may be the only remedy for rabbit damage.



No matter what time of year, these gardens are beautiful. The grasses shine into December, aided by berries on background shrubs such as winterberry (Ilex verticillata) and trees (crabapples, hawthorns). The evergreens and stalks of intentionally placed perennials carry the show even in March. We've told many a design class to begin their designs with an area's late winter aspect because if you like it in March, it's a keeper.

This whole garden's a keeper.

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Of all the areas in this big botanical garden --  Arboretum, Childrens' Garden, annual trial area, rose garden, ornamental grass demonstration area, conifers, etc. -- we go back furthest and closest to the Judith DeLapa Perennial Display Garden. What fun it is to know a garden since it was a blank slate, to see it planted, mature, and evolve as its trees grow...!

Thanks in part to gardens manager Renata Reibitz' Sponsorship, we've begun to convert photos of the gardens in their first years to digital and will soon update this page to take you along that fun and educational before-after path.

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Renata Reibitz

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