Harris Nature Center hosts “Gardening with Native Plants” event

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Katie Montroy

For the past eight years, “Gardening with Native Plants” has been held in this building, Harris Nature Center.

Springtime is here, and Meridian residents are ready to break out their gardening skills. Instead of turning to the nurseries and exotic flower shops, however, they turn to natural, native plants.

On March 26 at 7 p.m., residents of Meridian Township flocked to the “Gardening with Native Plants” event hosted by Harris Nature Center, 3998 Van Atta Rd. The event’s purpose is to gain interest and spread knowledge about the importance of gardening with native plants, said Harris Nature Center Coordinator Kit Rich.

Originally taking place at the Harris Nature Center, it was moved to Nancy Moore Park, 1960 Gaylord C Smith Ct., due to the high number of people who registered.  

“We can take 25 to 30 people in a group, but we had 57 people tonight,” said Rich. “We changed locations, and everybody seems to be getting something out of it, so that’s great.”

Katie Montroy

For the past eight years, “Gardening with Native Plants” has been held in this building, Harris Nature Center.


Katie Montroy

The parking lot of Nancy Moore Park was lined with cars as eager people were ready to get some tips on gardening from the experts.

Vern Stephens, former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot of 21 years, and senior wildlife assistant with the Michigan DNR Wildlife Division, specialized in grasslands and invasive species management. He now runs Designs By Nature LLC with his wife, Susan.

Stephens, the featured speaker, said concentrating on plants native to Michigan is important to the welfare of our environment, and there are ways to know what is native and what is not.

“We know, pre-settlement, that it was here beforehand, and we have records to show what was here and what wasn’t,” Stephens said.

At first glance, tearing up their lawns to make way for new, native plants doesn’t seem that appealing to residents. However, many were willing to take the plunge.

Dylan and Mallory Voris of Okemos attended the event to get some tips about re-planting their flower beds in front of their house.

“I think learning how to test the soil is really interesting,” said Mallory Voris. “I would’ve never thought to pick up the soil and touch it. I would have just planted stuff.”

Dylan said he was inspired to do the research about the garden around his house.

“The whole process of cultivating the area and not just . . . planting, I think would be helpful,” said Dylan Voris.

Katie Montroy

Mallory Voris writes down all the tips she needs to build her flower beds.


Rich said the Harris Nature Center and Stephens started this event eight years ago, and each year it gains more attention.

“You can see from tonight the interest is really booming, we’re very excited about that,” Rich said.  

Katie Montroy

People are starting to fill the seats as the start time moves closer.


Rich said the event also supports Harris Nature Center by tying in with the center’s native plants sale, and Stephens provides all the plants that are sold from his garden at Designs by Nature LLC.

“This is just a way to help people become educated about the plants, and then hopefully they’ll want to buy a few,” Rich said.

Stephens said not everything residents plant have to be native, but they should be a priority.

“You can see that the interest is here,” said Stephens. “People are concerned, and they want to know.”

Jack Snyder

These colorful, Michigan native plants shown are liatris, black eyed susans, orange and common milkweed, coraopolis and coneflowers.

Rich said she hopes the interest for native species keeps increasing because they are great for pollinators, like bees and bird species.

“If you love those hostas, or like I love daffodils, you know, you can keep those,” said Rich. “But you can also add these pollinators as well.”

After eight years, Rich said others are starting to take interest in the importance of native plants.

“We just constantly see … we’re not the only one’s doing this,” said Rich. “Farmer’s markets are doing this, and so native plants are becoming more and more available to people, which is really great.”

Katie Montroy

During a short break in the lecture, residents are comparing and looking over the notes they took from Stephens’ lecture.


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