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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Dirty Hands - DIY Hand-Shaped Cement Pots

I made cement hands this week using the directions from this blog:  They turned out well.  I really appreciate that this blogger shared her process with everyone! :)  I am re-sharing her information here, but with some additional pointers that I discovered through trial and error. Hopefully, they will make this project easier for the next person who tries it.


 1.  Put on protective gear: It is best to wear gloves while doing this, cement can really dry out your hands and irritate your skin. You may want a face mask as well if you kick up a lot of dry cement dust. 

2.  Mix casting cement according to the directions on the package. Stir the water and cement together in a bucket with a disposable item such as a paint mixing stick.

2.  Fill disposable latex gloves with the cement.  If you have an allergy to latex, use disposable vinyl gloves. The larger sized gloves work best because they can hold more soil later.

3.  You can place the gloves and the fingers in varying positions according to what you want the pot
to look like.  It may be easiest to drape the filled gloves over a plastic bowl, plastic pot or something in order to give them a curved shape. If you use a bowl or pot to do this, make sure it is one that you don't mind throwing away later.  Cement is messy and may coat whatever tools you are using.

4. Allow the cement-filled gloves to dry over night.

5. The next day, peel the gloves off of the cement hands and dispose of the latex or vinyl scraps.

6. Pack the palms of the hands with dirt and plant seed, succulents, grass, moss or whatever you like in them.

Some pointers: 

1. Use casting cement only. You can find it at any hardware. Usually, it is labeled "rapid set" and states "for use in casting" on the label.  It is NOT the same as plain quickrete or regular cement. Read the label carefully!

2. Latex gloves work better than plastic or vinyl.

3. Use something that can be torn away to separate the fingers - like paper towel rolled up. Do not use rocks, they will get stuck between the fingers.

 4. Wash off any cement that gets on the outside of the gloves, or else it will be difficult to peel off the glove.

5. When rinsing materials, remember not to wash the cement down your sink!  You could badly damage your pipes.  Rinse your hands and tools off in a bucket and then dump the liquid outside somewhere.

6. Remember to water your plants frequently. These bowls are shallow, so the dirt dries out more quickly than with other pots. I recommend spraying them with a squirt bottle of water 1-2x daily. 

I planted the gloves with succulents and moss that I found in my yard.  Once the plants are established, I will fill in some of the areas of bare dirt with decorative stones.  I will add pictures of that to this post at a later time... and/or I will do an update post.

I hope to sell  these to earn money for the Brighton Garden Club during their fundraiser at the Brighton Farmer's market on Saturday April 16.  If you are in the Brighton, Michigan area, please come visit the booth!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Critter of the Month: Eisenia fetida (Redworms) & DIY Vermicomposting

Several of the 300 "Hermans" - My pet redworms (E. fetida).
 This "Critter of the Month" post is dedicated to my gardener friends on Twitter, who recently inspired me to start my own vermicomposting (indoor worm composting) system.  Thanks to those "tweeters", I have  adopted 300 red-and-slimy new pets.  I have named them "Herman #1-300." (If you choose a worm at random from the bin, he shall be referred to as "Herman X." If you pick up 2, the second one would be called "Herman X+1" and so on...)

What are Redworms/ Red Wrigglers/E. fetida? 

Upon researching vermicomposting, I discovered that the worm most suitable to this task is Eisenia fetida, also known as the redworm or red wrigglers. So, I purchased the redworm "Hermans #1-300" from a company online, and set about making a home for them.

Redworms are a type of earthworm adapted to living in, and consuming decaying organic matter within the top 10 inches of the soil. They are nocturnal (active at night). This type of worm is native to Europe, but have been introduced  to every other continent in the world except for Antarctica.  In order to live, the worms require a temperature  minimum of 38 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) and a maximum of 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) .  They also require a moist medium to crawl through and good air circulation so that they can breathe. The worms' tolerance for heat depends on the level of soil moisture.  (More moisture allows for greater heat tolerance.)
Anatomy of a redworm. From
Redworms are (unsurprisingly) red in color.  They are basically a long digestive tube covered in soft muscular segments that allow for movement.  They are coated in mucous for both protection and to ease their movement through the earth.  They have groups of bristles called setae on each segment of their body that move in and out to assist the worm with movement and help to grip the surfaces that they crawl across. According to Wikipedia, "When roughly handled, an E. fetida exudes a pungent liquid, thus the specific name foetida meaning "foul-smelling."  This is presumably an antipredator adaptation."

Redworms are hermaphroditic (male and female at the same time).  They mate when two worms join clitella (reproductive organs) and exchange sperm.  Both worms then secrete yellowish cocoons that each contain eggs.  As the eggs mature, the cocoons turn brown, and eventually baby worms hatch from the eggs.  Red worm adults lay around 4 cocoons per week.  Each cocoon contains about 4 baby worms.   These eggs have an 83% hatching rate, so every worm produces about 11 young per week.  It can take roughly 35 days for the eggs to hatch, around 60 days for the worms to reach sexual maturity, and 120 days for each worm to reach full maturity. This is an extremely rapid reproduction rate! Soon I will have to change the "Hermans 1-300's" names to "Hermans X--> ∞"!

Each of these worms is voraciously hungry.  Redworms can consume up to half of their body weight in organic material each day.  This allows them to help to quickly break down waste matter in the environment. In addition, the worms castings (poop) are several times higher in nitrogen, phosphorus, potasium and magnesium (plant fertilizer/food) than normal soil.  On top of that, redworms leave tunnels in the soil as they search for food.  This causes the soil to drain better, reduces erosion, reduces the amount of water needed in the environment, prevents soil compaction, and allows organic materials to be better incorporated into the soil.  This makes them excellent natural rototillers and perfect for composting! According to, Worm compost is so excellent for plants that it can increase production by up to 40% and can improve nutrients in grain by 35%.  

How To Build A Worm Bin:
There are many worm bins available for sale, and many plans available for building your own available on the internet.  I built mine from a simple plan that I found on the Mother Earth News website.

Worm bin building supplies.

  • 2 opaque rubber bins size about 1 foot (0.3 meters) by 1 foot (0.3 meters) by 2 foot (0.6 meters).
  • 1 opaque bin lid
  • 1 clear plastic bin that is a bit longer and wider than the opaque bins
  • 4 PVC cylinders 
  • An old water bottle
  • A drill or other tool for punching holes
  • Shredded newspaper and/or dry leaves
  • 6-8 cups soil, dirt, or compost "grit"
  • Water (do NOT use water from a water softening system - the salt may kill the worms!)
  • Redworms (200-500 worms are ideal) 

Assembled & stacked bins.
Steps to Build:

1. Use the drill to punch around 30-40 holes in the bottom of each bin as well as the lid.

2. Use the drill to punch around 12 holes on each side of the bin.  Place the holes near the top of the bin, just below where the lid snaps down, and then around the center of the side of the bin below where the manufacturer left a ridge in the bin.

3.  Moisten the shredded newspaper and/or dry leaves.  This material should be damp like a wrung-out rag, not soaking.  When you squeeze it, only a few drops of water should fall from it, NOT streams of water.

4. Add the newspaper/leaf bedding to one bin along with the soil/dirt/compost grit.   This will become your first worm bin.
Worm bedding, plastic bottle air pipe and worms.

5. Add the worms to the bin.  You can order worms online at various sources (locate by doing a search for " buy redworms" on Google.) You can also collect them from your yard.  Be sure to choose the smaller, red-colored worms.  Do not pick the large brown colored ones.  The larger ones will not survive a worm bin as well as the red ones.

6. Cut the top and bottom out of the water bottle. Punch holes in the side.  Place this in the center of the worm bin. Leave the center of this tube empty.  This will allow for better air flow through the center of the bin. (You can also do this with paper towel tubes, but you will need to replace them periodically.)

7. Set the worm-filled bin on top of the 4 PVC cylinders within the clear plastic container and cover it with the lid.  The cylinders keep the holes in the bottom of the opaque bin from being blocked by the plastic from the clear bin.  The clear bin will catch any water that happens to leak from the opaque bin.

8. Reserve your 2nd opaque bin for when the worms reproduce enough to overtake the first bin.  Once the first bin is full, you can fill the 2nd bin with moistened newspaper bedding and add some worms from the first bin to the second bin. Then, you simply stack the 2nd bin on top of the first.  Now you have a worm tower!

Care And Placement of The Worm Bin: 
 The worm bin should be kept indoors where the temperature is worm friendly: between 50 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit (10-24 degrees Celsius) and where there is good air circulation.  A basement, insulated/heated garage, wide dark cabinet, or dark closet are perfect. Avoid leaving them outside where extremely hot or cold temperatures can kill the worms.  Remember, the worms in the bin cannot dig down into the earth to regulate their temperature like worms can in nature!

Try to secure the bin in an area out of reach of pets and small children to avoid spilling the bin and causing a mess.  Securing the lid with a bungee cord may also be advisable.

Try to keep the contents of the bin about as moist as wrung-out rag.  At first, you may have to add moisture with spritz or two of water.  As the worms begin to feed, the moisture from the food may accumulate in the bin.  That is why it is important to allow the bin to drain and to place it in an area with good air-flow.  If the worms appear to be trying to escape the bin, it may be because it is too wet.  If this happens, add some dry bedding.  If that is not enough to keep the bin at the right moisture level, consider cutting a large square through the lid of the bin and then duct-taping some screen material to the hole to allow for better air flow.   Keep the depth of the contents between 6-8 inches.  This will help to maintain the moisture level while providing the worms enough medium to crawl through.  If this doesn't seem like enough room, start a second bin, add the worms to your garden, add them to your outdoor compost pile, feed them to your chickens or go fishing with them!

Sometimes, when the bin matures, it attracts other insects.  These include mites, pot worms and black beetles.  These are harmless to the worms and will aid in the decomposition process. So, don't worry if you see them!

Feeding The Very-Hungry Worms: 

 When you first add worms to your bin, they may take a few days to "relax."  Remember, they have been shipped through the mail: the equivalent of an several-day earthquake for the worms! Some may even try to escape the bin at first.  To prevent this, leave the light on in the room where you have placed the bin.  The worms will try to avoid the light, and stay inside the bin to hide. Also, do not feed them for their first day. If they become hungry, they will eat the bedding.  It is more likely that they will not eat at all, because they need a chance to get over the nausea and trauma of being tossed about by the postal system.

In theory, worms can eat about half of their weight each day.  In reality, this varies quite a bit.  Worms like some food more than others so may devour one thing that you add quickly, and ignore another thing for days.  Another thing that affects their appetite is a new bin.  A new bin generally contains fewer worms, so they don't eat as much as a mature bin that is teaming with worms.  A new bin also contains fresh bedding which the worms may choose to munch on instead of the table scraps.  As the bedding breaks down, they will eat more and more of the table scraps that you provide.

Try to avoid over-feeding the worms. If too many food scraps accumulate in the bin, the bin may begin to stink.  It may also attract unwanted pests such as flies. Start by feeding the worms about a cup of scraps.  Leave these for the worms on top of the bedding so that you can monitor what the worms are eating easily.  It is best to chop the scraps up in order to assist the worms in grabbing them.  Once the scraps from the first feeding have vanished, add more.  Over time, you will notice that the scraps get eaten more and more quickly. When this happens try adding a bit more at a time.

Worms work together with bacteria and fungi to help decompose food.  They prefer rotten food to fresh, so it may take a couple of days before they consume the food that you add to the bin.  This is normal.  Worms will eat any kind of biodegradable material except for those containing and excess of oil, salt, or chemicals.  They prefer mushy food (e.g. oatmeal) to hard food (e.g.) parsnips.  They also cannot digest seeds.  So, please remember to remove any seeds from your table scraps before adding them to the bin. In addition, you should not add meat, dairy or bones to the worm bin. This will only begin to stink and will attract maggots. Finally, do not add acidic foods such as citrus or vinegar to the bin. This throws off the pH of the bin and the chemical lemonine found in citrus can harm the worms. Please think of your worms as toothless vegetarians and feed them accordingly.
Worms love to eat:
  • Coffee grounds 
  • Tea leaves
  • Crushed eggshells
  • Fruit of all sorts, except citrus
  • Lettuce
  • Oatmeal and other cooked grains
  • Squash
  • Corn Cobs
  • Melon rinds
  • Plain popcorn (no salt, no oil or butter)
  • Wet bread, pasta or other grain products
Worms will eat:
  • Chopped vegetable matter, fresh or cooked
  • Newspaper and uncoated cardboard
  • Most chopped garden scraps
  • Dry leaves
  • Coffee filters
Do NOT feed worms:
  • Inorganic material: plastic, rubber, metal, glass, or chemicals.
  • Citrus of any sort
  • Dairy (Traces are OK.)
  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Bones
  • Seeds
  • Oil
  • Pet feces (this can cause human disease when the compost is used in the garden, and it stinks)
  • Processed food (potato chips, candy, Twinkies etc.)
  • Sugar (Traces are OK.)
  • Salt or salty foods (Traces are OK)
  • Vinegar
  • Garlic, onion or hot pepper trimmings
  • Trimmings from cabbage-family crops 
How to Use the Worm Compost:

Around 2 months after you start the bin, the contents should start to turn black.  When this happens, it is time to harvest the castings!  To do this: stop adding food for a few days and allow the worms to finish eating any remaining scraps. When you no longer see any scraps, put a big piece of your worms' favorite food on the far end of the bin to lure them in that direction.  The next day, scoop out
the compost at the end of the bin opposite where you put the treat.  Allow this mixture to dry in a bucket somewhere.  When it is dry, sift it for later use in your gardening endeavors.

You can use the compost for the following:
  • Add it to your potting soil
  • Top dress your potted plants
  • Top dress your garden bes
  • Prepare planting holes
  • Rejuvenate plant containers
  • Make compost tea as a liquid fertilizer
To make compost tea:  Place 1 pint of worm compost in a bucket. Add 1 gallon of warm water and a spoonful of molasses. Stir frequently over the next 48 hours. Dilute the resulting liquid at the ratio of 1 part tea to 4 parts water. Use it to water your potted plants, garden, or fruit trees.

 I hope that this article is helpful to those of you who are interested in starting a vermicompost bin, and that you found this creepy-crawly- critter-of-the-month to be as interesting as I did!

The 300 Hermans appreciate your interest!


Pleasant, Barbara et. al. The Complete Compost Gardening Guide. Storey Publishing. 2008. Pgs. 206-217.

Monday, March 23, 2015

MI Garden History: Meijer Gardens - Grand Rapids, Michigan (Part 3 of 3 - Outdoor Gardens)

PART 3: Frederik Meijer Gardens - Grand Rapids, MI - The History the Outdoor Gardens

This is a continuation of the history of Frederik Meijer Gardens.
 Part 1 included an overview of  the garden facilities as well as the history of Frederik Meijer and his family.  You can read part 1 here: PART 1
Part 2 was about the history of the indoor gardens.  You can read part 2 here: PART 2

Frederik Meijer Gardens Address & Contact Information:

1000 East Beltline Ave NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49525
(888) 957-1580
(616) 957-1580

There are 7 main outdoor gardens at Meijer Gardens.  These include: 
1.  The Gwen Frostic Woodland Shade Garden,  
2.  The Leslie E. Tassell English and Perennial Bulb Garden
3. The Jennifer C. Groot American Garden
4. The Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese Garden,  
5. The Lena Meijer Children's Garden,
6. The Michigan's Farm Garden, and
7. The Amphitheater Garden

A print from
The Gwen Frostic Woodland Shade Garden includes many native, woodland, and shade plants.   The garden was designed and planted by various holticulture staff at Meijer Gardens in honor of Gwen Frostic. 

Gwen Frostic was born on April 26, 1906 in Sandusky, Michigan.  In the 1920's Gwen went to Eastern Michigan University where she obtained a teacher's certification.  In 1926 she attended West Michigan University, but left in 1927 without completing her degree.

After that, she began her work in art. She was primarily interested in the mediums of metal, plastic and linoleum block carving.  Her carving led to the creation of artistic prints.  Most of her art was inspired by nature and Michigan wildlife.  In the 1950's she opened a shop in
Gwen Frostic. From
Frankfort, Michigan to sell her prints.  By 1960 she was doing well enough that she was able to buy 40 acres in Benzonia, Michigan where she opened another print shop.  She produced art and worked in the shop until her death on April 25, 2001. The shop is still open and is located at 5140 River Road Benzonia, Michigan.

After her death, Western Michigan University named a school of art after her. Meijer gardens also created the Woodland Shade Garden in her memory in June, 1998.

The Leslie E. Tassell English Perennial and Bulb Garden includes a winding walk with views of perennials, bulbs and sculptures.  It was named for Leslie E. Tassell, the founder of Leslie Metal Arts Co., also known as Lescoa. 

Tassell was born in Europe on Feb 2, 1908.  He moved with his family to Canada when he was a child.  He later moved to the U.S.   By the time he was 15, he was working in the tool-and-die trade as an errand
Leslie E. Tassell English Perrennial and Bulb Garden
boy.  While doing this, he learned to work with metal.  During the 1930's he found work in Pontiac, Michigan, despite the onset of the Great Depression.  He worked there through the 1940's until World War II came to an end.

After World War II there was an economic boom in the U.S.  Tassell took this opportunity to invest with a partner in a machine and tool company.   The business was profitable, so he was later able to open the Leslie Metal Arts Co. (also known as Lescoa) on 150 acres of land.  This company specialized in tool-and-dye, staffed 2,000 people and was worth $220 million.  The company was finally sold in 1999 when Leslie retired.  When he sold the company, Leslie gave bonuses to all of the employees because he valued their years of work.

After retirement, Tassell spent most of his time either at home in Cascade Township, Michigan or a marina in the Florida Keys. Tassell also participated in big game hunting, going on 12 African Safaris. During his retirement, he did some philanthropic work.  He donated to Grand Rapids Community College as well as to Meijer Gardens and other organizations. He passed away on March 19, 2004.

Several gardeners worked to create the Leslie E. Tassell English Perennial and Bulb Garden.

Penelope Hobhouse. From
The primary designer for the English Perennial and Bulb Garden was Penelope Hobhouse. Penelope was born on November 20, 1929 in Moyola Park, Castledawson, Ireland.  She attended college at North Foreland Lodge and Cambridge, where she graduated with a BA in economics in 1951.

In 1952, Penelope married Paul Hobhouse.  With him, she had one daughter and two sons before the marriage was dissolved in 1982.  Later that year, she met her second husband, Prof. John Malins at a Garden History Society meeting. They married in 1983.  Sadly, John died in 1992.

Penelope was in charge of the gardens of Tintinhull House in Somerset, England until 1993.  A few years later she became the host of a television series on gardening called "The Art and Practice of Gardening." She went on to design several gardens in England, Scotland, France, Italy, Spain, Germany and the U.S.  This included a garden at Walmer Castle in Kent, England, "The Country Garden" for the Royal Horticulture Society at Wisley, an English cottage garden for Steve Jobs' Woodside home, and, of course,  the aforementioned garden at Meijer Gardens.

Penelope is also an associate editor for Gardens Illustrated magazine and has written several books including Plants in Garden History, The Story of Gardening, and Gardening Style . If you are interested in her books, you can view them here: Penelope Hobhouse's Books.

James Van Sweden, the landscape architect, also worked on the Perennial and Bulb Garden.  James was born and raised in Grand Rapids Michigan.  In 1960 he attended the University of Michigan and obtained a bachelor degree in architecture.  Later, he attended the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands where he got his degree in landscape architecture.

After completing his degree, James partnered with Wolfgang Oehme to create the architect firm of Oehme Vansweden based in Washington D.C.  James Van Sweden became known for the New American Garden Style which involves a naturalistic planting style that weaves a tapestry of plants together with built elements to create a beautiful landscape or garden.

James was involved in the selection and placement of trees in the Leslie E. Tassel English Perennial and Bulb Garden and designed the Jennifer C. Groot American Garden.  (The Jennifer C. Groot Garden was funded by an anonymous donor who requested that the garden be named for Jennifer.)

James Van Sweden has also worked on several other famous gardens including the Federal reserve Gardens, New American Friendship Gardens at the U.S. National Arboretum, the garden for the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C, the Great Basin Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden, The U.S. Embassy garden in Afghanistan, and the Native Plant garden at the New York Botanical Garden.

James Van Sweden has also authored several books including Bold Romantic Gardens, Gardening With Water, Gardening with Nature, and Architecture in the Garden. You can view his books here: James Van Sweden's Books.

Another person who worked on the Perenial and Bulb Garden was David Nederveld.  David is a landscape architect based in the Grand Rapids area.  He was the original landscape architect when the project to build the Meijer botanic garden first started.  He designed the serpentine hedge in the Perennial and Bulb Garden.

Part of the Japanese Garden
The Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese Garden is another amazing garden at Meijer Gardens.  This 8 acre garden was built in 2012 in the style of a traditional Japanese garden.

The garden is named for Richard and Helen DeVos. 

 Richard DeVos was born on March 4, 1926.  He is a graduate of Calvin College and served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II.  He married Helen and together they raised 3 sons and a daughter.

Richard DeVos is known for being the co-founder of Amway (along with Jay VanAndel) and as owner of the Orlando Magic NBA team.  DeVos is author to the books Believe, Compassionate Capitalism, and Hope From My Heart: Ten Lessons For Life and several others. You can view a list of his books here: Richard DeVos' Books.  He was the 60th wealthiest man in the U.S. as of 2012 and the 205th wealthiest man in the world according to Forbes Magazine. 

Richard and Helen have used their wealth to help Meijer Gardens build the Japanese Garden. In addition, they donate to the Republican Political Party.  DeVos serves on several boards including: Trustees for Northwood University, Council For National Policy, the National Constitution Center and the Christian Leaders Institute.

The Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese garden was designed by Hoichi Kurisu.  Hoichi founded Kurisu International Inc. in 1972 and was the landscape director for the Garden Society of Japan from 1968-1972. He supervised the construction of the Portland Japanese Garden, Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital Garden in Oregon, the Anderson Japanese Gardens in Illinois, the Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Iowa, the Rojien Japanese Gardens in Florida, and several others. A full list of the gardens that Hoichi Kurisu has designed can be viewed here:  Kurisu's Gardens.

Entering the Lena Meijer Children's Garden through the "mouse hole."

 The Lena Meijer Children's Garden was named for Lena Meijer. For more information about Lena, please see Part 1 of this series of blog posts on Meijer Gardens.

Mowgli and Baloo near the Children's Garden.
The children's garden was designed by Herb Schaal. He was the head of a team from the former EDAW Inc., a company specializing in landscape architecture, urban design and public space planning.  As of December 5, 2005, EDAW was acquired by AECOM Technology Coporation. Herb worked with the Meijer Gardens staff to build a delightful garden where children enter through a "mouse hole" and continue to play in a display of the Great Lakes, and can run through an elevated tree-house-like play area. It is truly magical, and is my favorite garden at Meijer Gardens.

Milk Cow Sculpture from Michigan's Farm Garden.

Michigan's Farm Garden
was also funded by the Meijers. The 1880's farmhouse in the garden is a 3/4 size scale model of Lena (Rader) Meijer's childhood home. The landscape is meant to represent a typical Michigan farm from the 1930's.  There are statues of several animals throughout the landscape of the farm, several real barnyard animals, a barn, and a windmill.   The area is planted with flowers, heirloom vegetables and other plants typical to a farm setting. Frederik Meijer's burial plot is also located in this garden.

The Amphitheater Garden was also primarily funded by the Meijers. It includes a large stage, more sculpture, and terraced grass seating. This area is where the Fifth Third Bank Summer Concerts take place.  Several great artists have performed at the Amphitheater including Bela Fleck, Garrison Keillor, The Doobie Brothers, Keb' Mo' and many others.  This year (2015), The Beach Boys, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, and Diana Krall are scheduled to perform there. If you are interested, you can get tickets here: Star Tickets.

 Every garden at Meijer Gardens is cared for by both staff and volunteers.  As mentioned in the previous post, "200 full and part-time staff, more than 800 volunteers... gifts from more than 23,000 member households and many donors" help to support Meijer Gardens.  There are also 13 horticulturists working in the various gardens. These people should certainly be commended for their hard work in building and maintaining such a beautiful public garden.

Meijer Gardens is clearly an outstanding example of collaborative effort, artistic talent, horticultural skill and love for the community.  So many people worked together to make this garden a wonderful place to visit -- and succeeded!

So what are you waiting for?  Go visit Meijer Gardens!! (By the way... I hear the butterflies are blooming there NOW!)


Special thanks to Shelly Kilroy, the Librarian/Archivist for Meijer Gardens, for providing information about many of the donors and gardeners.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

MI Garden History: Meijer Gardens - Grand Rapids, Michigan (Part 2 of 3 - Indoor Gardens)

PART 2: Frederik Meijer Gardens - Grand Rapids, MI - The History the Indoor Gardens

This is a continuation of the history of Frederik Meijer Gardens. Part 1 included an overview of  the garden facilities as well as the history of Frederik Meijer and his family.  You can read part one here:

Frederik Meijer Gardens Address & Contact Information:

1000 East Beltline Ave NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49525
(888) 957-1580
(616) 957-1580

According to the Frederik Meijer Garden's website, "Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park opened in April 1995 after 13 years of planning and fundraising by the West Michigan Horticultural Society...It is a non-profit organization, privately funded by grants, foundations and individual and corporate gifts. The organization is operated by almost 200 full and part-time staff, more than 800 volunteers and supported by gifts from more than 23,000 member households and many donors."   There are also currently 13 horticulturists working in the various gardens.  The following is a history of some of the major donors, gardeners and garden designers. A list of donors to the garden can be found at

 History of the Indoor Gardens:
There are 5 indoor gardens at Meijer Gardens.  These include: 
1.  The Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory,
2.  The Kenneth E. Nelson Carnivorous Plant House,
3.  The Earl & Donna Lee Holton Arid Garden,
4. The Earl & Donna Lee Holton Victorian Garden, and
5. The Grace Jarechi Seasonal Display Greenhouse

The Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory is a 15,000 square foot glass house that contains over 500 species of plants from 5 continents. It is also home to the largest butterfly exhibition in the nation. 

The conservatory was named for Lena Meijer. Lena Meijer was born Lena Rader, the daughter of German Lutheran immigrants.  She worked as a cashier in Lakeview, Michigan before she met and married Frederik Meijer. After their marriage, she helped to raise Frederik's sons and helped out with the store.  She is a major contributor to Meijer gardens, even today.

Philip diGiacomo and his firm, diGiacomo Inc., created the rockwork that is in the Lena Meijer Conservatory.  The plants for the conservatory were selected by Stephen Rosselet.  Stephen is a garden designer based in Grand rapids. 

Stephen Rosselet also worked to design the gardens for the  Earl & Donna Lee Holton Arid Garden, and the Earl & Donna Lee Holton Victorian Garden. The Arid Garden features cacti, agaves and succulents while the Victorian Garden features other warm weather and delicate plants.  These gardens were named for Earl and
Roof of the glasshouse in the background.
Donna Lee Holton who donated funds to help build these areas in the garden.

Earl Holton was born in Manton, Michigan on January 23, 1934.  He was a minister's son who moved from town to town often with his family as a child.  In 1948 he moved to Greenville, Michigan.  In 1952 he married Donna Lee.  Earl worked as one of the clerks at the Greenville Meijer store starting in 1952.  He worked loyally for Meijer for a long time and eventually became the President of Meijer Inc. from 1980-1985.   

Donna Lee Holton (born Donna Lee Engle) grew up in Cedar Springs, Michigan. In 1969 she volunteered at Butterworth Hospital where she raised funds to support the hospital.  By 1992 she became president of the auxiliary guild at Butterworth Hospital.  By 2000 she was serving as the chair of the DeVos Children's Hospital Board of Trustees.  The ninth-floor playroom at DeVos Children's hospital is named the "Donna Lee Holton Playroom" in honor of her service to the hospital. In addition, she was the president of the Kent Intermediate School District board and served on the public education fund board and the Michigan Educational Trust board.

A pitcher plant in the Kenneth E. Nelson Carnivorous Plant House.
Earl & Donna Lee Holton also did quite a bit of philanthropic work for other organizations including: the Cook Institute for Research and Education, Renucci Hospitality House, The Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center, United Way, Ferguson Hospital, Grand Valley State University, The Right Place, and the Grand Rapids Symphony.  They were a very busy and generous couple!

The Kenneth E. Nelson Carnivorous Plant House was named for a father and husband of a Grand Rapids family who loved Meijer gardens.  He donated funds in order to have a permanent display in his name at the gardens. This plant house is now home to many meat-eating plants from around the globe including venous fly traps and pitcher plants.

 The Grace Jarechi Seasonal Display Greenhouse was named for Grace Jarecki, the past president of the Kent Garden Club which was started in 1913. She is wife to Clarence Jarecki, the former owner of Jarecki Machine and Tool Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Seasonal Display Greenhouse changes displays throughout the year.  In early spring, the "Butterflies are Blooming" display is set up here.  The "Railway Garden" is also set up during the holiday season.  Both of these displays are favorites with the guests who visit Meijer Gardens.

These indoor gardens are wonderful because they allow people to visit the gardens year round and so that they can view plants that could never survive outdoors in Michigan weather. They bring a little of the tropics home to our state. 


Special thanks to Shelly Kilroy, the Librarian/Archivist for Meijer Gardens, for providing information about many of the donors and gardeners.

Meijer, Hendrik G. The Life of Hendrik Meijer: Thrifty Years. Wm. B. Eardmans Publishing Co. 1984

Frederik Meijer Gardens:

Info on Earl & Donna Lee Holton: 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

MI Garden History: Meijer Gardens - Grand Rapids, Michigan (Part 1 of 3: Fred & Lena Meijer)

Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese Garden at Meijer Gardens.
Last summer, my husband and I took a weekend trip to Meijer Gardens.  We had a wonderful time wandering through the garden, the hot house, and viewing the sculptures. The landscape and art were simply stunning.  It is no wonder that Meijer Gardens is one of the most visited public gardens in Michigan (with over 600,000 visitors a year!).  I would like to share a bit about this garden and its history with you.

This blog post will be in 3 parts. The first part is a general overview of the garden facilities, history of Frederik Meijer and his family.  The second part will be about some of the other donors who supported the indoor gardens as well as the hard-working people who helped to design and build the gardens.  The third part will be about those individuals who helped to establish and create the outdoor gardens.

PART 1: Frederik Meijer Gardens - Grand Rapids, MI - Garden Overview, The History of Fred Meijer, His Family & His Company

A sculpture at Meijer Gardens
Garden Overview:

Address & Contact Information:
1000 East Beltline Ave NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49525
(888) 957-1580
(616) 957-1580

Established: 1995. Owned & operated by the West MI Horticultural Society (A non-profit organization)

Grounds: 125 acres including gardens, facilities and nature trails.

Sculpture park:  More than 100 sculptures by: Butterfield, Calder, Fredericks, Lieberman and others.

Azaleas in front of the glasshouse at Meijer Gardens.
5 Indoor Gardens: Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory, Kenneth E. Nelson Carnivorous Plant House, Earl & Donna Lee Holton Arid Garden, Earl & Donna Lee Holton Victorian Garden, and the Grace Jarechi Seasonal Display Greenhouse.

8 Outdoor Gardens: Wedge Nature Trail, Frey Boardwalk - wetlands, Gwen Frostic Woodland Shade Garden, Leslie E. Tassell English and Perennial Bulb Garden, Amphitheater Garden, Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese Garden, Lena Meijer Children's Garden, and Michigan's Farm Garden

Other Facilities: Peter M. Wedge Library, Cafe, Gift Shops, and Tram

Entrance to the Lena Meijer Children's Garden

The History of Frederik Meijer & Meijer Gardens (part1):

According to the Frederik Meijer Garden's website,

"Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park opened in April 1995 after 13 years of planning and fundraising by the West Michigan Horticultural Society. In 1990, Fred and Lena Meijer were asked for their support, and they embraced the concept of a major cultural attraction centering around horticulture and sculpture. The original vision has turned into a top cultural destination in the Midwest region, known internationally for the quality of the art and gardens.

Meijer Gardens' dream and commitment is to create a legacy of lifelong learning, enjoyment and a rich cultural experience for generations to come. It is a non-profit organization, privately funded by grants, foundations and individual and corporate gifts. The organization is operated by almost 200 full and part-time staff, more than 800 volunteers and supported by gifts from more than 23,000 member households and many donors."
Sculptures at Meijer Gardens

But who was Frederick Meijer? Why did he donate to the Gardens?  Frederick Meijer's story begins a bit before he was born, with the story of his parents:  Hendrik and Gezina Meijer.

Photo from: Meijer, Hendrik G. The Life of Hendrik Meijer: Thrifty Years. 1984

Hendrick (1883-1964) and Gezina (1886-1978) Meijer were immigrants to the Michigan from the Netherlands.  Like so many immigrants, they came to the United States in search of the "American Dream."  They sought to make a living here and to raise their children comfortably.

When Hendrik first arrived in Michigan, he attempted several jobs.  He worked as a factory worker,
Photo from: Meijer, Hendrik G. The Life of Hendrik Meijer: Thrifty Years. 1984
in a pickling plant, worked on furniture, as a barber and as a dairy farmer. Finally in the 1930's he became a grocer.

In 1934, Hendrik opened the first Meijer grocery in Greenville, Michigan.  Hendrik's goal was to sell quality groceries at a reasonable price to the average American.  In the 1930's this meant that the groceries had to be inexpensive due to the Great Depression.  Hendrik's store accepted state welfare from people who wanted to purchase groceries there.  He established a store policy that prevented his employees from singling these customers out or forcing them in to a special line within the store.  He wanted to avoid causing embarrassment to any of his customers no matter how much or how little money they had.  Hendrik was, in many ways, a champion of the working man.

Hendrik worked with his entire family to keep the grocery store running.  This included his wife Gezina, son Frederik and daughter Johanna.  Hendrik's son, Frederik Meijer, was born on December 7, 1919 in his parents' farmhouse in Greenville, Michigan. From an early age he helped his father work.  One of his first jobs was to deliver milk by wagon to customers from his father's dairy.  Later, he began to help at the Meijer grocery.  He soon became his father's "right hand man" and was treated as a partner in the store from the time he was a teenager.  At the store, Frederik would work to paint signs, serve free coffee to customers, clean, stock, fix things and send checks to suppliers.  He worked throughout the mid-1930's even as he attended highschool.  Once in a while, his father and he would take a break to attend the movies together.
Photo from: Meijer, Hendrik G. The Life of Hendrik Meijer: Thrifty Years. 1984
By 1937, the Meijers expanded their store in order to compete with the A&P chain of grocery stores that were also popular in the area. By 1940, Fred Meijer decided to stay with the store and help to expand it.  He was then made legal partner in the business.  Once he became partner, Fred's duties expanded to include assembling ads for the local paper, creating store layouts, and assisting his father in purchasing real estate for future stores.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  This brought the United States in to World War II.  Although Frederik did volunteer to fight in the war, he was exempted because he had a hernia.  Instead, he continued running, and helping to expand the Meijer grocery store.  In 1942, the Meijers opened a new store in Cedar Springs, Michigan which was in direct competition with a Kroger there.  As the war continued, the family worked to keep the stores open despite the strict rationing and food shortages caused by the war.

By 1945, World War II had come to an end.  This meant an end to food rationing and an opportunity for the Meijer family to open another store.  By 1946, the Meijers were set to open another store in Ionia, Michigan.  Unfortunately, at the same time, the store in Greenville, Michigan caught fire! This was a setback for the franchise.
Photo from:The Life of Hendrik Meijer: Thrifty Years.

Also in 1946,  Fred married Lena (Rader) Meijer.  Lena had been a cashier from a store in Lakeview, Michigan. Fred's sister, Johanna also married Don Magoon.

By 1948,  Hendrick was age 65 and ready to allow Don and Fred to run the Meijer's stores.  Although Hendrik was no longer acting as the primary manager, he did assist in the store until his death from a heart attack in his sleep on May 31, 1964 at age 81.   Fred and Don went on to open several more stores throughout the 1950's. By 1954 there were more than 10 Meijer stores throughout Michigan.  By 1955 the store had its first television commercial aired during the children's television program, "Romper Room."

Fred & Hendrik Meijer. Photo from:  The Life of Hendrik Meijer: Thrifty Years.
Unfortunately, in 1960, Dona and Fred had a disagreement over a merger proposition from another grocery store chain.  Don wanted to merge.  Fred did not.  This resulted in Johanna and Don leaving the company.

This setback did not stop Fred from continuing to expand the chain and to open the first Meijer department store in 1962.  This store was meant to compete with K-mart and would provide not only groceries, but clothing and home goods.  In later years Walmart would copy the basic Meijer layout for their store and would even try to purchase them in the 1970's (a proposition that Fred tactfully declined.)    During this same year, 2 more Meijer stores caught fire and burned down. Yet another challenge for Fred to contend with.
Photo from: The Life of Hendrik Meijer: Thrifty Years.
 Through the 1970's the Meijer store chain continued to grow and to be run by a committee of managers.   In 1975, Fred was elected the chairman of Meijer. He continued to help the chain to grow.  By 1987, the 47th Meijer store had opened. The chain included stores all across Michigan and into Ohio. More departments were added as well including photo processing, bulk food, the deli counter, the seafood counter, cafes, video rental and others.

While he was growing the Meijer empire, Fred and Lena also raised 3 sons by the names of Hank, Doug, and Mark. He raised his sons through the 1950's at his home in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  In 1990, Fred handed Meijer over to his sons Doug and Hank to run, although he remained chairman for the rest of his life.  Fred also created a trust and asked his sons never to sell the store to another company.  Fred wanted to ensure that the Meijer stores would be run well in Michigan, and wanted to retain jobs for people in the area.

A sculpture at Meijer Gardens
In their later years, Fred and Lena traveled and participated in philanthropic efforts.

In 1991 they made a large financial donation of 70.7 acres of land, all of their sculpture collection and around $80 million to help establish Meijer Gardens.  The gardens opened in 1995 and were named for their primary benefactor: Frederik Meijer.

 The Meijers also donated a piece of the Berlin wall to the Ford Museum in Grand Rapids.  They continued to assist the community by donating millions of dollars to the Spectrum Health system and other local hospitals, millions of dollars to Grand Valley State University, donating money towards the opening of various nature trails including the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail, and funded the Picheral Lake Fred Meijer Nature Preserve at Kent county Park in Canton Township, Michigan.  In addition they also participated in the Urban League which advocates for civil rights and affirmative action.  During the Vietnam era they were vocal opponents to the war.

Fred and Lena were kind, highly social and down-to-earth people.  One story illustrating Fred's personable character took place during a trip that the couple took to Italy in 1999.  While the couple was in Milan, Fred stopped to buy a gelato from a local salesman.  Fred began chatting with the vendor and informed him that he "also sells ice cream."  The salesman then politely wished Fred luck with his "little ice cream store."  Fred smiled, thanked him and offered no correction to the man.

Bronze Horse patterned after the design by Leonardo DaVinci, at Meijer Gardens
During the same trip to Italy, the Meijers also became interested in Italian art and sculpture.  They learned of a bronze horse designed by Leonardo daVinci. They fell in love with the design.  Later, they commissioned a re-creation of this design for Meijer Gardens - only much, much larger.  (See photograph above.)

Fred and Lena believed that art and nature were a good way to bring people together and to make people happy.  They wanted to make sure that the gardens were accessible to everyone, and insisted that Meijer Gardens should be handicap accessible even before there were laws enforcing handicap accessibility.  In 2008 there was a Degas exhibit at Meijer gardens which Fred and Lena attended.  It was said that Fred spent more time talking to people than looking at the art.  He always enjoyed socializing with people.  He was later described by friends as, "friendly, caring, sincere and humble."
Michigan Display at Lena Meijer Children's Garden

On November 25, 2011 Fred Meijer died of  a stroke at age 91. He was survived by Lena, Hank, Douglas and Mark.  Fred was buried in  plot at Meijer Gardens near a replica of the farmhouse in which Lena Meijer was born. Fred's sons continue to run the Meijer stores. At the time of his death, Fred was worth 5 billion dollars and was the 60th wealthiest man in the United States. Today, there are over 200 Meijer stores throughout the Midwest United states.  The stores employ over 60,000 people.  The Meijer store chain is the 18th largest private company in the nation.  The Meijer company continues to be a major employer and support to the community, including donation to Meijer Gardens.

To be continued...

Fred & Lena Meijer Sculpture at Meijer Gardens.


Meijer, Hendrik G. The Life of Hendrik Meijer: Thrifty Years. Wm. B. Eardmans Publishing Co. 1984  <--- Most of the historical information about Fred Meijer came from this source. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Gardens That I Worked On in the Past

My interview with Mr. Dave Ledoux of the "Back To My Garden" podcast ( got me thinking about the gardens that I have worked on in the past. Unfortunately, I was not considering blogging about them at the time, so some of the pictures are not the best.  Even so, I would like to share some images three of these gardens with you.


The first property that I ever gardened on was my parent's home in Rochester, Michigan.  The home was on 4 acres of woodlands that my parents had purchased from the bank because it was in redemption.  The family worked together to fix up the land that was trashed by the previous homeowner.  It was a great place to grow up.  There were plenty of wooded trails to run down, and a pond to swim in.  It was also a lot of work. We were always hauling brush, cutting dead trees, hauling rocks, weeding, mowing, trimming, planting... Here are some pictures of that property: 
Back yard & pond in Summer, 1980's. My brother & I swimming -- Rochester, MI
Back yard & pond winter, 2000's -- Rochester, MI

My brother & I, back deck, 1980's -- Rochester, MI

Emmy the cat lounging in the garden, 1990's -- Rochester, MI

Side yard with a white tailed deer, 1990's -- Rochester, MI
Rochester, MI 1990's -- My parents liked to teach us about the woodland plants.  They would sometimes transplant them from the woods into the garden.  Shown here: a very tall Jack-in-the-pulpit.


During my stay in peace corps, I built a small "dimba" or garden behind the house that the community loaned me to live in.  I had some help with this garden. I hired a local gentleman to put up the grass fence.  A friend of mine gave me a banana tree from his yard.  The local children helped me to water the garden, chase away goats that broke through the fence, and to "harvest" the plague of grasshoppers that attacked the garden one day when I was away teaching classes.  Here are some pictures of that garden:
Salima, Malawi garden after the fence was erected & before planting.  Notice the packed, swept dirt of the yard.
Salima, Malawi garden after the plants had grown in. Includes: Papaya, chidede, tomatoes, eggplant, banana, and much more. This was an attempt at the start of a permaculture garden. I hope that some of the plants have survived after I left, but I am not sure.

Some of my secondary school students in my garden: Salima, Malawi.

The local children loved to play, eat and help in my garden: Salima, Malawi

The local boys helped me to water my garden (I think that they really just liked to play in the mud :)  ), Salima, Malawi.

After marrying my husband in 2011, I moved in with him at his home in Brighton, MI.  Fortunately my husband is not much of a gardener.  I say that this is fortunate because it meant that he didn't plant much of anything in the gardens when he bought the house.  This gave me plenty of space to add whatever I wanted!  A blank page! Here are some pictures of the garden of our first home together:

The front garden of our home in early spring, Brighton, MI, 2013. The dead-looking plants in front are not actually dead, they are sage and made beautiful purple flowers later in spring.Many of the perennials in this picture have not grown to size at the time the photo was taken, but for the most part, in summer this became a butterfly garden. There are also a pear tree and some honeyberry bushes towards the back of the garden. I mixed vegetables in among the flowers later in the season.

The garden under the front window, Brighton, MI, spring 2013.  This is where the Pieris Japonica bushes failed (mentioned in the podcast).  I replaced them with variegated euonymous, blood root, and hyacinths.

The garden to the side of the garage, Brighton, MI. Includes: arbor vitae, pulmonaria, hyacinth, myrtle, and gooseberries.

The garden near the front step, Brighton MI, spring 2013.  Planted (but not grown in yet) : lavender, hydrangea, hyacinths, tulips, crocus, and baptista.

Side front yard, Brighton, MI, spring 2013. This area was shaded by several trees. So I planted a great variety of shade loving plants such as hosta, lily of the valley, heleborus, toad lilies, bleeding heart, coral bells and more.

Side front yard, Brighton, MI, spring 2013. This area was shaded by several trees. So I planted a great variety of shade loving plants such as hosta, lily of the valley, heleborus, toad lilies, bleeding heart, coral bells and more. 

Side front yard, Brighton, MI, spring 2013. This area was shaded by several trees. So I planted a great variety of shade loving plants such as hosta, lily of the valley, heleborus, toad lilies, bleeding heart, coral bells and more.

Side front yard, Brighton, MI, spring 2013. This area was shaded by several trees. So I planted a great variety of shade loving plants such as hosta, lily of the valley, heleborus, toad lilies, bleeding heart, coral bells and more.

Side front yard, Brighton, MI, spring 2013. This area was shaded by several trees. So I planted a great variety of shade loving plants such as hosta, lily of the valley, heleborus, toad lilies, bleeding heart, coral bells and more.

Side front yard, Brighton, MI, spring 2013. This area was shaded by several trees. So I planted a great variety of shade loving plants such as hosta, lily of the valley, heleborus, toad lilies, bleeding heart, coral bells and more. 
I like to inter-plant ornamental plants with edible plants.  Here shown: euonymous, rhubarb, walking onions, tulips, and yarrow. Brighton, MI, spring 2013.

I used this pot to cover the well opening in the back yard, Brighton, MI, spring 2013.  I planted it with pansies, chives, and a gerbra daisy.  Later in the summer, I switched out some of the flowers for herbs such as oregano and thyme.

Backgard vegetable garden, Brighton, MI, spring 2013.  My husband helped me to build a raised garden bed for my vegetables.

Inside the hoop of the garden bed, Brighton, MI 2013.  Planted: peas, spinach, onions, strawberries, lettuce and broccoli. I would plant the tomatoes a bit later. Zucchini is planted but not sprouted.


My husband and I just moved in to our current home this past summer, 2014.  The gardens here have already been somewhat established. Currently, they include: Arbor vitae, yew, burning bush, lilac, daylillies, ornamental grasses, hosta, roses, iris, sedum and a few other plants.  I will be adding to them, and hopefully improving them. My first project will be to work on the garden closest to the lake shore. I will be planting mostly herbs, perennial vegetables, strawberries, rhubarb and some flowers. I also plan on planting some vines to grow down the sea wall -- perhaps northern kiwi and/or honeysuckle. Please continue reading the blog to see what happens!

MI Lake Home Garden - Awaiting spring planting 2015!