Michigan Garden Tour 2023

31 gardeners convened in Grand Rapids Michigan

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on Monday, June 12 to embark on a 5-day horticulture adventure.  We were lucky with our air travel this trip and we made it coming and going with only a short delay in time.  A few of our gardeners drove and met up with us at the hotel. We stayed at the lovely Amway Hotel in downtown Grand Rapids.  

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After settling in, we departed for a fantastic meal at Leo’s Seafood where we all got to meet each other.  Joining us as our tour guide, was my friend and retired Michigan extension horticulturist Mary Wilson.

This was our most horticulture-centric tour of the year.  We learned so many new plants and got to see how they introduce and propagate plants on a large scale.

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 Michigan is a leading state in horticulture.  Their climate, soils and a centralized location to markets make Michigan a national leader in producing greenhouse-grown plant material, landscape nursery stock and Christmas trees, as well as many fruits and vegetables. Michigan is the third largest floriculture crop producer and the largest young plant producer in the United States. In 2014, the total value of all floriculture crops in Michigan was over $409 million.  We got to see first-hand how some of it is accomplished.

Our first garden stop was the Kent County extension office in Grand Rapids.  

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Their agent, Rebecca Finnernan

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and Master Gardener volunteers have created the Grand Ideas Garden, a multi-acre garden that they designed and built, raising funds and getting donations to build it all.  The garden is open 24/7 and was built to educate the public about plants that do well in their area.

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 Gardeners can visit at any time and get inspired about what plants or designs could work in their own yard.  They trial new varieties, have native plant and pollinator gardens and a lovely water feature.  It is unlike any county extension grounds we have ever seen.  

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It was inspiring!

As if we weren’t already making lists of what plants we needed for our own gardens, our next stop was Walters Gardens in Zeeland, Michigan.

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 This third generation, family-owned wholesale perennial nursery is North America’s leading wholesale grower of perennials.  They have 1500 acres and 500,000 square feet of greenhouses.  Their demonstration gardens blew us away.

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 Their technical customer care representative Barb met us and gave us the grand tour.

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 They have more than 80 different genera of plants that they are working with,

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trialing new varieties each year.  I have never seen so many varieties of hosta,

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and the quality of all the plants we saw was amazing.  Something new they are working on is a cross between agave and Manfreda – mangaves.

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 While they only sell wholesale, we did get a catalog so we can ask our local retailers to try to get some of these plants in. 

After our day of plants, we had the late afternoon and early evening to explore a quaint town called Saugatuck.  This was our only spot of rain on the trip, and it was not heavy, but did put a damper on shopping.

The next day we spent at Michigan State University in Lansing. Our first stop was the MSU horticulture gardens.  The flagship of this garden is the children’s garden

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which opened in 1993 and was the first children’s garden in the country, designed by Jane Taylor.  It became the model for many others to follow.  Today the gardens have expanded to 14 acres with trial gardens,

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native plant gardens, roses,

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clematis,

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and much more.  The gardens are a common wedding venue.  In addition to this designated garden, the entire campus has been landscaped with a variety of plants.  They have a community garden for students to use, they have pollinator gardens around campus and several rain gardens.  After lunch in the student cafeteria (an interesting experience with summer campers) we went on to their botanical garden, Beal Gardens.

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 While not a display garden, this teaching garden is 150 years old this year, and houses unique collections of plants divided by family and type.  The director of this garden, Carolyn Miller

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not only catalogs every plant in this garden, but is charged with recording every plant on campus!

Moving away from perennials, our next day featured woody plants.  Our first stop was Spring Meadow Nursery in Grand Haven, Michigan,

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the source of nursery liners for Proven Winners Color Choice shrubs.  This family-owned business was started in 1981, and today is one of the largest providers of proprietary plant materials in the country, with over 400 varieties in production.

We started out in the meeting room

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with an overview of the process, complete with videos.  Natalie Carmolli, Public Relations Specialist was our host for the day

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and she gave us an amazing tour.  

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Spring Meadow uses state-of-the-art technology to produce quality plant materials.

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 With 50+ acres of greenhouses, they utilize heated floors to encourage rapid rooting.  To keep foliage dry, instead of overhead watering, they designed the floors so they can flood the floors to water plants from the bottom up, recycling the water once it has been used.  We got to see machines that could grade the cuttings, pick the cuttings up and place them in pots, and machines that could trim rooted plants to encourage branching.  Everything was immensely clean.  We were all duly impressed.

We were fortunate to then tour the owners private garden nearby,

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where we were joined by Tim Wood, Product Development and Head of Marketing.

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 Not only were these gardens beautiful and extensive, but they also serve as a testing site for the plant material.

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 Many of the plants we saw were still unnamed and not yet in the market. 

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The final garden tour before heading to the airport was the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park

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in Grand Rapids.  158 acres of gardens and over 200 works of sculpture

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are scattered around the gardens.  We got a behind the scenes tour

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and then had time to explore on our own.  

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The gardens were beautiful and many took a tram ride

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to try and see as much of the gardens in the time allotted. It was a great way to end an amazing trip. 

Not only did we see so many new plants and beautiful gardens, but we had fantastic weather, with cool temperatures and low humidity.  A nice change from home.  We also got to know each other better and met some fantastic horticulturists.  While we always have repeat travelers, each trip we get a few new ones as well. It is nice getting to know each other better as traveling buddies.

Our next trip will be to Vancouver and Victoria in August. 



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