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Michigan State University

150 Years of connecting people, plants, and place

Michigan State University’s renowned W. J. Beal Botanical Garden and Campus Arboretum is celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2023.
Established in 1873, the W. J. Beal Botanical Garden is the oldest, continuously operated university botanical garden in the United States and illuminates the interconnectedness between people, plants, and place. This living laboratory encourages learning and exploration of the natural world. With a collection of over 2,000 plants from around the globe situated in the heart of MSU’s campus along the Red Cedar River, this lovely natural landscape is perfect for collaborative programming to advance research, teaching, wellbeing, and public engagement.
Alan Prather is the garden’s interim director. Maeve Bassett is education director. And Loren Campbell is a student and Beal Scholar. They join me to talk about the garden’s history, present, and sustainable future.
Conversation Highlights:
(1:43) – “My goal is that anyone who walks into the garden, whether they’re a math major or a cold war assassination specialist, I can find some way to get them interested in plants.”
(3:01) – “Being in the Provost’s office, and in University Arts and Collections specifically, has given us a stronger focus on academics. Now we have a tighter, richer role with scholarship and learning on campus.”
(3:29) – “One of my goals has been to broaden the scope of who feels welcome and who wants to come to programming at the garden.”
(4:30) – “What I’m doing is looking at the plants that are in the garden already and in the pollinator garden and seeing how much they’re visited by native pollinators.”
(5:27) – “One of the fantastic things about the history of the garden is the fact that it’s tied so tightly to the history of campus.”
(6:25) – “When Beal established the garden on the south side of the Circle where the main garden is now, he did it expressly to provide a place where native plants could be honored, maintained, and grown for educational and enjoyment purposes.”
(7:33) – “We wanted to create an event that represented all the different ways that people engage with the garden.”
(10:45) – “Anything we do we want to make sure has a foundation in science and research.”
(12:13) – “We illuminate the interconnectedness of the people, plants, and place.”
(12:33) – “We’re hoping that, for instance, when we model sustainable practices, that will actually turn into inspiration for people to take our practices and put them out and make the world a better place.”
(13:40) – “You can’t have flowers without them being pollinated at times by insects, and insects and plants have a close relationship. They sort of depend on each other.”
(16:34) – “The first time I found the botanical garden I was just amazed; I’d never seen anything like it.”
(18:03) – “I always joke that my favorite audience member is the boy friend who’s been dragged along and has no interest in plants whatsoever. If I can get them leaving the tour saying, ‘That was so cool and exciting,’ then I feel like I’ve won.”
(20:06) – “The garden doesn’t have to be a place where you’re dragged by a class. We want this to be a place of joy, relaxation, and wellbeing.”

By Russ White, originally published by WKAR

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