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October 7, 2013

Going old school for the gardens

TRAVERSE CITY — Martha Dively plans to add kalmia to her Old Mission Peninsula garden next year.

The retired teacher and Master Gardener said after learning that the flowering evergreen shrub was introduced to English gardens from the American colonies in the 1700s, she hopes to grow the native plant in her own garden.

“I had no idea that so many English gardens contained American plants, from as early as the 1620s,” said Dively, who learned about the history of the plant — also known as mountain laurel — during a lecture by author Andrea Wulf at last week’s Botanic Garden Benefit Conference.

Wulf, along with award-winning landscape designers and authors Peter Hatch and Warren Byrd, spoke during the four-day event that benefited Traverse City’s Botanic Garden at Historic Barns Park.

Karen Schmidt, chair of the Botanical Garden Society of Northwest Michigan and event organizer, said she couldn’t be happier with the outcome.

“There were folks that came for one session and ended up staying for the whole conference; everything was so interesting,” she said.

More than 80 people, from as far away as Ohio, attended one or more of the programs that focused on subjects including “Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden: The Vegetables of Monticello,” “Reclaiming Lost Histories in New Landscapes: Jefferson to Olmsted and Founding Gardeners,” and “The Revolutionary Generation, Nature and Shaping of the American Nation.”

“We were kind of breathless for a while when Wulf spoke about the impact farming and gardening had on our first four presidents,” Schmidt said.

“All three speakers made a strong statement about the role of gardens and why they are so critical in our communities,” she said.

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