May 08, 2019 | Staff

Blooms at the Calvin Ecosystem Preserve
The Venema Plaza and Gardens are home to 30,000 native plants of 198 species.

The Calvin Ecosystem Preserve is growing by 30,000—plants, that is.

That's the estimated number of native plants filling the garden portion of the new Venema Plaza and Gardens, opening on campus this spring.

Planning for this space launched in 2016 and construction began in 2018, through the guidance of the Calvin Ecosystem Preserve staff, the vision of a landscape architect, and a substantial donation from a long-time supporter of the preserve, Mrs. Venema.

"I envisioned the gardens as a beautiful, restful, and inviting spacespace designed to be used," said Mrs. Venema. "It is equipped for education and learning, for relaxation and appreciation of God’s creation. The whole of the ecosystem preserve and surrounding gardens and ponds have been an inspiration to me, and I hope they will be to others as well. Here there is space for work, for discovery, and also where people can 'Be still, and know that I am God.'"

Calvin Ecosystem Preserve & Native Gardens Director Randy Van Dragt anticipates that the new gardens will bring more community members to campus. "We expect the gardens to draw increased numbers of visitors and, thus, increase the exposure of the larger public to Calvin and its offerings," he said. "Based on many years’ experience, we can expect visitors to become volunteers in our efforts to maintain the gardens as the unique botanical venue that it will become."

The process of creating the gardens involved preserving native plants from the existing garden, clearing the area, adjusting slopes, amending soil, laying sidewalks, placing irrigation, blowing mulch, and planting—all completed by preserve staff, physical plant staff, and contractors. Associate Director Charlie Huizinga, of the physical plant's grounds department, orchestrated the ongoing direction of the project.

In addition to staff efforts, 176 volunteers, many from area businesses and organizations, donated 444 hours of time to help install the native plants, which total 198 different varieties.

New demonstration garden beds have been arranged according to learning themes, identifying the native plants of a specific region, the habitat and seasonal adaptations of various plants, the importance of plant-animal interactions (e.g., plant-pollinator relationships), and the values of using native plants in residential and commercial landscaping.

"The gardens are designed to inspire property owners to try native plants in their own landscapes no matter how large or small," said Van Dragt.

The new native gardens site also includes additional paths to roam and views of South Pond, a gardener’s cottage in which Calvin student employees, called stewards, and volunteers can work, and a small greenhouse in which to display and sell native plants.

Preserve staff stress that plants will be establishing themselves during their first two summers in the gardens and expect the garden to display its full potential in about three years as young sprouts mature. 

The dedication of the Venema Plaza and Gardens will take place Saturday, May 11, at 2 p.m., followed by an open house from 2:30–5 p.m. featuring tours, planting opportunities, art activities, and refreshments.

Venema Plaza and Gardens Celebration
May 11, 2019

2 p.m.

Open House
2:30–5 p.m.
Enjoy tours, planting and art activities for all ages, and refreshments.

The dedication and open house are open to the public.

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