May 01, 2009 | Myrna Anderson

Dave Warners and a few volunteers (including his mother) are preparing for the annual native plant sale.

Earlier this week at Calvin’s Lake Drive greenhouse, Jane Warners took a moment to talk about the plant she was re-potting: “This is bergamot. It’s part of the mint family, and it reproduces like crazy,” she said. “If you get close enough, you can smell it … It’s kind of a spidery blossom. Bees love it.”

Warners was working at the greenhouse in preparation for the annual Native Plant Sale, held 10 a.m.–12 p.m. on Saturday, May 2 at the Vincent and Helen Bunker Interpretive Center. It’s a ritual she performs every year to help out the organizer of the sale, Calvin biology professor Dave Warners, her son. “I gave up my garden for a condo, and now I have to get my fix,” she explained.

A range of natives

In anticipation of the sale—which draws a crowd of buyers every year—Warners, his mother and other volunteers spent the last week readying tray after tray of Michigan native species, all of them grown from seed in Calvin greenhouses: Wild Strawberry, Swamp Milkweed, Golden Alexanders, Wild Bergamot, Joe Pye Weed, Wild Columbine, Black-eyed Susan, Purple Coneflower, Rattlesnake Master, Boneset, Bottlebrush Grass, Fringed Brome Grass, Big and Little Blue Stem, Switchgrass, Canada Wild Rye and many other species.

One purpose of the sale is to get more native genotypes into people’s yards, Warners explained: “The good things about native genotypes is that they are well adapted to conditions in Grand Rapids,” he said. “These are plants that were here before you or I or anybody was here.”

Low maintenance

Because they are adapted to the Michigan terrain and climate, native species thrive on very little maintenance, Warners said: “Not only do they need less care, but they’re better providers for birds and butterflies.”

Warners picked up a pot of Wild Columbine: “It flowers right at the time that the hummingbirds come back from their migration … These guys make a ton of nectar.” He picked up a Cardinal Flower next: “These flower about the time the hummingbirds are about to leave. This one sends them off on their journey, and this one welcomes them back.”

The Native Plant Sale typically draws garden clubs and native plant devotees, said Warners, who hopes also to draw the merely curious gardeners to the event: “Our prices are a lot better than you’d get from a native plant dealer …,” he said. “If the price is right, they’ll try it out, and then we hook ’em.” All proceeds from the sale will benefit the summer camps at Calvin’s Ecosystem Preserve.

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