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Heritage Garden project gets facelift, new certification
Native landscapes are a growing trend across the country

by Susan Bromley

July 17, 2013

Ortonville- Heritage Garden renovations are nearing completion.

The native landscape project, which includes the garden next to the Old Town Hall as well as a buffer by Kearsley Creek at the Old Mill, has been getting a makeover since last fall when volunteers began the arduous task of pulling up quack grass that had flourished unchecked, wreaking havoc."We had a really bad infestation of (quack) grass that got away from us," said Lois Robbins, coordinator of the native landscape team. "The only thing to do about that is dig it up and start over and that is what we've been doing, row by row by row.

The village council voted last August to keep the garden's current configuration and provide mulch to garden volunteers as needed for one year. The state of the garden will be reevaluated this August.

The native plant landscape, located next to the Old Town Hall at the corner of Mill and Church streets on village property, was planted in the spring of 2007. The garden was established with a five-year grant from the Farm Bureau that stipulated plants native to the area must be used. The garden contains several varieties of black-eyed Susans, sedge (a low, grass-like evergreen plant), native columbine, switchgrass, blue stem and potentilla.

Native landscapes are a growing trend across the country. The Heritage Garden requires no watering, fertilizer or pesticides and is beneficial to wildlife including birds, butterflies and insects. The garden was designed in keeping with the type of garden that would have been planted in the 1800s, giving it historical and environmental significance, but it has also drawn complaints locally due to its unconventional, non-manicured look.

The Heritage Garden was recently certified by the Monarch Watch as a Monarch Butterfly Waystation. To become certified, a landscape must have plants that monarchs rely on for their lifestyle. Robbins said the butterfly's critical plant is milkweed, which has disappeared in many places because of chemical spray use and development of property.

Heritage Garden has milkweed, as well as nectar-bearing plants and water (provided by a fountain) which is also required for certification. Being certified is important, said Robbins.

"It's a demonstration about what people can do on their own property to preserve the heritage that we have of natural plants that are disappearing because of development," she said. "Wildlife depends on those native plants because they evolved along with them. Songbirds are disappearing and (native plants) attract beneficial insects, have deep roots so they are drought resistant and in the case of the creekside garden, are advantageous for storm water management."

The buffer of vegetation filters out fertilizers and chemicals that get washed off lawns and would otherwise pollute Kearsley Creek.

Robbins is seeking volunteers for the Heritage Garden, to dig up quack or crab grass, shovel mulch, or clean the fountain. The next volunteer work day is Wednesday, July 24. Just show up to lend a hand, or for more information, call Robbins at 248-969-2518.