Bill Beekman, Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics at Michigan State University, welcomes Norm Lownds, curator of the MSU 4-H Children's Gardens, to MSU Today for a closer look at this campus gem.
“The garden’s origins go back to about 1987 or 88, and the founding curator, Jane Taylor, who also worked for the Michigan 4-H Foundation, had the idea that she wanted to create a a garden for children,” Lownds explains. “And what she meant by that was an idea that no one else had really had up until that time. She wanted a place like a botanical garden, but one that was for kids so that when you went in it, you didn't just walk in and follow the pathways and all you could do is look at plants because, God forbid, that you ever touch anything or step on the grass even or that sort of thing. She was very tired of when parents with young children ask the children, ‘Well, where do you want to go?’ They would always say, ‘Well, we want to go to the zoo.’ Never did they say we want to go to the garden.
“There have been many copies of the 4-H Children's Gardens since then, but we are the first true children's garden. It’s located on MSU's campus and is a wonderful place to visit.”
Lownds says the pizza garden is one of his favorite spots in the garden. “A pizza garden is a garden where a kid or an adult is going to be able to see all of the plants that make your pizza. But in order to make it so that it's immediately recognizable by children, the pizza garden is shaped like a pizza; it's round. The crust on it is concrete, but it is rounded concrete. It has imprints in the concrete of tomatoes, and onions, and basil leaves. It also even has a piece cut out of it so that you can step in and be a part of the pizza.”
Lownds says about 100,000 visitors come through the gardens each year. He describes the development of the garden’s Monet Bridge. And he says there’s a pharmacy garden that “contains plants that are used to make pharmaceuticals. If you go back in history, almost all of our pharmaceuticals started as plants, in plants, or extractions from plants.
The science discovery garden is our attempt to make available hands-on, right in front of you some of the research that's going on in the buildings that you can see when you're standing in the garden, like in the Plant and Soil Science Building and the Plant Biology Building. So we have examples of some of those experiments. Many of them are NSF funded experiments. And so we're providing some of the broader impact or the community outreach component of those gardens.
“Part of our mission is to provide a place of enrichment and delight for children of all ages.”
The sheep statue in the milk, meat, and wool garden is special to Lownds.
“Kids can sit on it because everything in the garden is designed to be interactive. What I tell my college students is, and it's a little bit tongue in cheek but not that much, and I'm usually sitting on the sheep while I'm talking to them, I tell them that what I want them to do is to come out there before they graduate and get their picture taken on the sheep. I'm trying to make that a graduation requirement. I just think everyone should get out there.
“My favorite plant in the garden is a plant called the sensitive plant. And when you touch its leaves, it closes up. It has action and activity and it’s the number one favorite kid plant in the garden, and it's my favorite plant too.”