The Arboretum features winding pathways surround by native plantings, taking visitors along the sculpture tour to the Hummingbird-Butterfly Garden, a popular outdoor space for weddings and special events. Head over to Nature’s Playground, a natural playscape with water features for kids of all ages, and the NEW Birds of Prey enclosures! Bring a picnic lunch and sit on the lawn to enjoy monthly, seasonal music programs in the Amphitheater.
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A Place to Gather, A Place to Bee
The Hummingbird-Butterfly Garden is nestled in the middle of the Monica A. Evans Arboretum at the Kalamazoo Nature Center. Inscribed memorial bricks cover the pathways. Birds flutter in the surrounding ring of shrubs and butterflies, and bees hover over new native plants.
This English-styled botanical garden was first installed in 1979 as part of a worker-training program; it was rededicated with an emphasis on attracting wildlife in 1985. Over the years, this space increasingly has been used to attract pollinators, showcase the beauty of native plants, and provide a relaxing and enjoyable experience for KNC’s visitors to connect with nature. This space also serves as an event rental location for KNC, popular for weddings and outdoor gatherings. Learn more about event rentals at KNC here >
Anne Anderson, Events Manager, describes the space as a “peaceful hidden garden” where “we have hosted a wide range of events including a huge variety of wedding ceremonies, memorials, gatherings for community groups, and concerts as well as tours of the Arboretum sculptures.”
In recent years, a dedicated group of long-term community volunteers provided most of the ongoing maintenance for the garden space. However, this group retired from service during the COVID-19 pandemic, just as COVID-related budget shortages caused critical staffing reductions in KNC’s facilities and conservation teams. “The garden was in need of some love when the crew started working in there last year. In short, turf grass and other aggressive species were crowding out desirable species that once dominated the beds,” explains Alyssa Lundberg, Ecological Services Manager.
Through generous donor support from Kalie and Daniel Vogt, Kalamazoo Nature Center staff had the opportunity to complete a Phase 1 “reset” of the Arboretum’s butterfly-hummingbird garden in 2022, resulting in improved visitor experiences and many other positive outcomes:
- Conservation teams held eight workdays (totaling 275 hours of action) and recruited 10 volunteers to help support staff garden work across 4 workdays.
- Six private events were held in the garden in 2022, welcoming 585 people for important family gatherings and celebrations.
- Migratory Music, a small concert from the Connecting Chords Music Festival, was held at the garden’s entrance in September.
- Community Programs and Summer Camps used the space for youth activities and exploration.
Previous Research Director, Holly Hooper, and Alyssa Lundberg worked together to compile a list of native species to plant in the garden. Alyssa lists the aims of the native planting enhancement:
- Match plants to current site conditions,
- Increase floral diversity,
- Have at least three species in bloom at any given time during the growing season,
- Draw the eye across the landscape with contrasting bloom colors, and
- Provide resources for pollinators, such as foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) which supports various species of bumble bees.
Alyssa describes the efforts to enhance the space, “We brought our Ecological Services crew into the garden to remove invasive species, apply mulch, drill holes, place plugs, and water the plants in.” The KNC Ecological Services crew planted over 1,300 plugs last June. Most of these plugs came from local native suppliers: Wildtype Native Plant Nursery and Hidden Savanna Nursery. A handful of plugs successfully propagated by students at Heronwood Field Station were also incorporated in the planting. In addition to live plugs, a custom native seed mix from Native Connections was spread out over 500+ square feet throughout the garden.
Next steps for the garden include maintaining native plantings and visual aesthetic and improving accessibility, safety, and climate-resilience while maintaining this space’s legacy and memorial dedications.
Staff are excited about OCBA producing a master plan for improvements to this space. Sandy Bliesener, President of OCBA Landscape Architects, had this to say about the project: “We are so pleased to be working with the Kalamazoo Nature Center to create a master plan to update the formal garden and arboretum. Our goal is to more clearly express these spaces as part of a resilient community where all people have strong interconnections with the natural world.”
Alyssa is “most excited for the infrastructure to be reimagined. I love that the garden is located so close to the parking lots and visitor center, and I think reworking the garden layout and path materials will help improve accessibility to the space and make it easier for more people to enjoy.”
“Guests are thrilled with the beautiful new arbor, and recent revamp of the existing garden beds have breathed new life into the space. The space lends itself to both contemplation and celebration – and it’s exciting to see plans taking shape to improve accessibility, add more versatility for events of all sizes, and showcase native plants in landscape design,” Anne says.
Alyssa describes the continued efforts for this space: “Since the planting, I’ve been coordinating workdays and meeting with our inter-departmental garden committee to brainstorm long-term plans.” The hardest part of maintaining this space is weeding and watering. Alyssa describes the garden’s current needs, “Most plants within the beds are only in their second growing season and are still establishing their space in the garden. Keeping them well-watered and free of competition these first few years is critical. Volunteers can help by giving the beds a much-needed drink in between rain events and by helping us pluck out weeds on recurring volunteer days.”
Next time you are in the arboretum, stop in to see the new enhancements to the garden. If you are interested volunteering your time towards maintaining and improving this space please visit https://naturecenter.org/volunteer/. Or, to provide a financial gift, please visit https://naturecenter.org/support/.
Please note: The Kalamazoo Nature Center is a private nature preserve.
Dogs, camping, drones, and firearms are not permitted. Bicycles and motorized vehicles are not permitted on the trails.