Last Friday I spent the day in East Lansing at Michigan State University's annual "Garden Day Conference" -- sponsored by the MSU Horticulture Gardens.
Like all conferences, some years are better than others. . . fortunately, this was one of the Good Years. The weather was perfect, the speakers were great, I signed up for interesting sessions, AND . . . the boxed lunches were catered by the Grand Traverse Pie Company! (Trust me, it doesn't get much better than that!)
The keynote speaker at the conference was David Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home. His message is poignant -- and inspiring. He explained, in clear language. . . with humor and wonderful photography. . . the importance of biodiversity, and how we -- as gardeners and "land owners" -- can make a difference in halting habitat destruction. "Nature" doesn't happen. . . somewhere else. It happens in our own backyards . . . and we really can do things to create a haven for wildlife in our own gardens. My biggest personal take-away from Tallamy's presentation: less lawn! (Get that shovel ready, Tom!)
I went to a break-out session on building your own rain barrel. Now, I'm already convinced I WANT a rain barrel (or two). Rain barrels can help save water (statistics show that most homeowners can save 1,300 gallons of water by using a rain barrel during the peak summer months) -- protecting the environment. Not only do rain barrels save money and energy, but they divert water from storm drains and decrease the impact of runoff to streams. I attended this session to see if I could put together a rain barrel of my own. And, you know, I could. But I'd have to invest in several tools I don't already own. Plus, it seems that finding food-grade, 55-gallon barrels presents a bit of a challenge! And. . . the barrel they used to demonstrate during my session had been obtained from a pickle factory. The smell. . . of pickles. . . was overpowering. . . once they drilled into the barrel. My biggest personal take-away: buy a ready-made rain barrel!
I also went to a break-out session on attracting native bees to your garden. This subject is fascinating to me -- and I'm all set to do what I can to make it easy for native bees to nest in my landscape. Honeybees get all the press. . . but they don't do all the work! Native bees to do a fabulous job at pollinating the plants in our gardens. Native plants. . . attract native bees, so I'm going to pay close attention to my plant-choices as I expand my gardens (see above. . . less lawn). I'm also going to provide places for native bees to nest. Some bees (mason bees) like to nest in small holes and tubes. The wall in the photo above is just being installed in the MSU vegetable demonstration garden. The tubes and spaces between the logs provide nesting sites for mason bees (they will be adding to the wall through the season; they'll also be drilling small 5-inch long holes in the logs for additional nesting sites). I'm going to purchase some inexpensive bee houses to place in my yard. I'm also going to provide bare spots in my gardens (instead of covering all areas with mulch) because other native bees like to nest in the ground. My biggest personal take-away: native bees don't sting very often. . . because they're too busy collecting pollen for their offspring; they're the "single mothers" of the bee world.
I also got a chance to check out the wonderful gardens on campus. It's always fun to check out what's new -- because the MSU Horticulture Gardens do a lot of testing of new plant introductions and new gardening techniques. I saw that they're testing huge batches of sun-loving impatiens, for example. . .
They also have a wonderful demonstration vegetable garden. I've never seen okra growing before, but now I think I might have to plant some. . . just for this blossom!
MSU has a charming children's garden, too, filled with kid-friendly plants like this one (straight out of Dr. Seuss, don't you think?). . .
(That's Elephant Head Amaranth.) Or these really long -- and very cool -- red noodle beans!
There are cute little stepping stones throughout the children's garden. . .
and little touches of whimsy everywhere you look!
I had a great day in the gardens!