Monday, August 06, 2012

Hortacultural History in the MSU Backyard

Raised garden bed with seedlings behind our home in Haslett, MI
As newbie gardeners, my husband and I seek role-models wherever we can. Living in Michigan, where the growing season is short, it's extra-important to learn how plants grown close to home. Luckily, MSU provides a wonderful public resource in the form of the W. J. Beal Botanical Garden located adjacent to the main library building on campus.

According to the garden's website (informative, but not intuitively designed), the garden has been in existence since 1873, less than 20 years after the university's founding. It was a labor of love for the botany professor for whom it was named and has earned the distinction of being the oldest continually operated botanical garden of its kind in the U.S. Inspired by Charles Darwin's writings (and a personal letter from the internationally renowned scientist), Beal successfully hybridized corn in 1877, increasing yields by "53%." In that way, Beal arguably changed the international agricultural landscape forever.

Superlatives aside, the garden is comprehensive in its sampling of local and internationally significant plants and is lovingly tended by staff and volunteers. It serves as an example of "scientific public history," creating a landscape that links the past and future of the university. And it's a great place to spend a summer morning.