Native Gardens

Ecosystem Preserve / Visit and Learn / Native Gardens

Welcome to the Venema Plaza & Gardens, West Michigan’s largest public native gardens!

What to see

Twenty-three native garden beds have been constructed in and around Venema Plaza. Each garden bed features a collection of different native species or a specific habitat type for demonstration purposes. Some of these garden beds include:  spring ephemeral garden, native ground cover garden, short and tall pollinator gardens, oak savanna demonstration, shoreline demonstrations, and constructed dune habitat. These beds include over 40,000 native plants and represent more than 200 native species. See our garden maintenance plan or our map of the gardens for more details.


Visit the garden to learn about how native vegetation impacts local ecology by encouraging pollinators and plant and animal diversity, as well as cleans the air and water. The native garden is an ideal place for both the inexperienced gardener to learn how to create a native garden, and the experienced gardener to discover new species amongst those we have incorporated.

We hope the garden demonstrates the benefits and beauty that planting with natives provides throughout all four seasons and inspires you to create a native garden in your yard, or to volunteer to implement one in a schoolyard, park, or business property.


When you are ready to start planting native, you may purchase plants our annual Native Plant Sale. We offer many of the species you’ll see in our gardens for very reasonable prices.

Building the Gardens

The Ecosystem Preserve has had a new native garden on its wish list for many years. The project was finally initiated in 2016, with a substantial donation from a long-time supporter of the preserve. At that time, a landscape architect was hired to help us reimagine the space. After a site assessment and much consideration, a plan was approved and construction started in June 2018. We now have a demonstration garden containing various types of native habitats to provide inspiration for people planting at home, additional paths to roam and views of South Pond, a small gardeners cottage in which Calvin student employees (stewards) and volunteers can work, and a small greenhouse in which to display and sell native plants.

Building a garden from the ground up is no small feat. The summer and fall of 2018 were spent rescuing native plants from the existing garden, clearing the area, adjusting slopes, amending soil, laying sidewalks, placing irrigation, blowing mulch and planting.

The execution of this project is the result of immense efforts made by preserve staff and Calvin's exceptional Physical Plant staff and contractors. In addition, 176 wonderful volunteers donated 444 hours of time to help us install 30,000 native plants to complete the natural part of this project. Not only do we greatly appreciate their commitment, but we enjoyed gardening with both new and familiar faces including: Ecosystem Preserve Governing Board members and former student staff, Farmers Insurance employees, Fifth Third Bank employees, members of our partner organizations, Calvin faculty and students, Boy Scouts, Meijer Store Directors, Triangle Construction employees, and Master Gardeners.

We are sincerely thankful for everyone who played a role in supporting our vision for a new demonstration garden. This has truly been a community project, and we look forward to sharing the new garden with you.


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