Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Arboretum Tour Deepens Intern’s Connection to Nature

By Yoav Jacob

Student intern Yoav Jacob brought a love of nature and an appreciation of its many benefits to his internship at Matthaei-Nichols. When he took a tour of the Arb with Director Bob Grese and other interns this May, he came away with a deeper understanding of the forces that have shaped the area.

On a tour of Nichols Arboretum with the summer 2017 interns,
Director Bob Grese (second from left) discusses the original donation
of land from a local homestead that lead to the establishment of the Arb.
It’s exciting to see the Arboretum waking from the long winter, the empty landscape once again turning green. With my internship in full swing, this summer is gearing up to be one full of an amazing blend of new friends, learning, and of course—fun! Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum staff were offered a tour of the Arb by Director Bob Grese on May 16 (see photo). As we walked through the various areas of the Arb, Bob explained how the land had been preserved and used by the Ann Arbor community in the last hundred years and what’s been speculated about Native American influence in the region. When we stopped briefly near the prairie in the Arb's Alex Dow Field I was taken aback to learn that several years ago a fallen tree had exposed an approximately 3,000-year-old Native American stone plow. It's thought that nomadic Native Americans purposely buried the plow to hide it and other tools between seasons. (The stone plow is now in the collection of the University of Michigan Museum of Anthropological Archaeology.) The tour deepened my appreciation for this natural landscape found within urbanized Ann Arbor, reinforcing my longstanding connection to nature. 

Backpacking, hiking, and caring deeply about the environment being three of my most prevalent pastimes, I think I can classify myself as “outdoorsy.” I’ve spent several afternoons throughout the past year exploring the Arboretum, learning its various paths and trying to internalize the landscape. Whether visitors are running through, taking their dog(s) for a walk, or simply there to listen to the river’s song, it’s clear the Ann Arbor community appreciates the Arb as a quiet escape from the bustle of Ann Arbor life. For me, Nichols Arboretum is a lot more.

I grew up taking nature walks with my parents and grandparents in local parks and through a small local arboretum. Family vacations often gravitated around national parks and trips to scenic areas in Israel. I’ve concluded that time with nature is a key component to the maintenance of my positivity and energy. Strolls through the Arb help me process what’s going on in my life and they help slow my ever-racing schedule down to the point where I can confidently tackle the challenges that often appear. Having access to places like the Arboretum is key to my success, and I’m excited to continue developing a relationship with the area in the coming weeks, months, and years.

Yoav Jacob, from Setauket, New York, is a rising sophomore in the honors program at the University of Michigan. He is currently undeclared, but interested in chemistry, biology, and sustainability. He is a horticulture intern this summer and looks forward to learning more about greenhouse work and Arboretum maintenance. His hobbies include running (especially in the Arb), cooking, and looking for dogs to pet around campus. Yoav's internship is supported by the Norman Memorial Fund created by Steve and Ann Norman for the care and maintenance of the outdoor plant collections at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Matthaei-Nichols Director of Development Gayle Steiner's Retirement Party

Staff, donors, members, volunteers, and friends gathered April 28, 2017 to honor and celebrate Gayle Steiner. Gayle's farewell speech was so good we decided to publish it in full here.

Thank you for coming here today, as I retire from one of the best positions at the University of Michigan, as you can see.

Gayle prepares to enjoy a special cake prepared for her as she
leaves Matthaei-Nichols.
What you can't see is how this ties in to my childhood. When I was little, television shows included the Lone Ranger and Gunsmoke and Rawhide. One of my favorite things was galloping around in my cowgirl outfit. Well...in my first year at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, on my birthday, in March, the gate to the Display Gardens was accidentally left open, and a herd of hungry deer came in for a feast. You can't have deer eating your collections, so the staff-- including me -- went outside to find the deer and herd them out. My childhood fantasy -- head 'em up and move 'em out -- fulfilled!

One more pivotal memory comes from the first plant sale that I attended.  For those of you who don't know about those extravaganzas, think of a gigantic three-ring circus -- for plants.  Bob Grese was introducing me around, and I met Tom Gaffield, as in the Gaffield Children's Garden. Tom said something that has always stayed with me. He said, "When I'm working in my garden, nothing worries me, nothing bothers me."  I came to realize that it's no coincidence that in the English language, when we're describing people who are pretty together, we say: they're grounded, they're down to earth. And those are the people -- you -- that I've been lucky enough to work with.

Gayle Steiner, center, visits with party-goers last April.

Matthaei-Nichols Director Bob Grese, left, and Associate Director
Karen Sikkenga sing Gayle's praises at the retirement party April 28.
We've been partners in a creation story: creation of the Great Lakes Gardens, creation of the bonsai garden, and now, creation-in-progress of the hiking-biking trail running from here two miles south to Geddes Road and and to other trails that connect us, at last, to central campus and beyond...The peony garden in Nichols Arboretum-- the peonies are so voluptuous they're almost embarrassing.  But it's not just that--they open a window into the culture of the early to mid 1900s, and now they're even the focus of international genetic research, which is fitting, given that the man who gave us 280 varieties of peonies was W.E. Upjohn, who earned a medical degree from U of M, founded the Upjohn Pharmaceutical Company, and was a founder of the American Peony Society. He said, "Of the human joys, the joy of beauty is the one most universally demanded and gives the most universal satisfaction."

You always hear, "It's the people that I'll miss, it's the people that make this place so special." 

Yes. Of course it's the people. But it's also the peonies and the native orchids and the tadpoles and even the massasauga rattlesnakes. When the red-wing blackbirds come back each spring, when those luscious peonies and the bonsai azaleas bloom, when the gingko suddenly drops its leaves all in one day each fall, know that I loved it all, and all of you.

Thank you.

Free Parking on National Public Gardens Day - May 12!

Parking will be free to all visitors of Matthaei Botanical Gardens on Friday, May 12 in celebration of National Public Gardens Day! A complimentary one-day code will be available at the parking machines to receive free parking. Free parking is being provided by Domino's.

Stop by on Friday, May 12 to kick-off an exciting Mother's Day weekend by taking a walk on our trails or through the display gardens and stop by the Garden Store to pick up a special gift for mom! Then come back on Saturday for the artisan market and two-day plant sale. 

National Public Gardens Day is a day of celebration to raise awareness of America's public gardens and their important role in promoting environmental stewardship and awareness, plant and water conservation, and education in communities nationwide. This day of celebration is presented by the non-profit American Public Garden's Association, an organization which serves public gardens and advances them as leaders, advocates, and innovators. The Association's vision is to create a world where public gardens are indispensable.

A big thank you to Domino's for providing free parking on National Public Gardens Day!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Grant Invigorates Native Orchids

A grant makes possible an elegant solution for rebuilding and restoring the Jean Avis Wilson Native Orchid Garden. Read story about the gift, the garden, and the plans to rejuvenate our nataive orchid garden.

Update, April 12, 2017:
Thanks to Ford volunteers, Matthaei-Nichols staff and volunteers, and U-M student workers for your amazing help with the Jean Avis Wilson Native Orchid Garden in the Great Lakes Garden at Matthaei. Also to Ann Arbor Farm & Garden for their gift to cover the costs of the materials and plants that will go into the special boxes we built to grow native orchids. 

In all we filled over 10 orchid boxes with soil that will soon support 8 species of native orchids. This work included creating 5 different soil mixes, re-positioning and leveling 5 boxes, and installing a drainage system in 6 boxes to support bog orchids. 

We have now completed filling the 8 boxes that will support fen orchids. We have another volunteer workday on Saturday to fill the remainder of the bog orchid boxes.

Even gardeners devoted to growing native plants might be surprised to learn that 57 species of native orchids are found in Michigan—and that many of these orchids grow in remote or relatively inaccessible habitats, such as fens or bogs. Thanks to a $12,000 grant and an ingenious orchid-cultivation concept, visitors will soon enjoy a rare view of some of those native orchids in the Jean Avis Wilson Native Orchid Garden.

The grant comes from Ann Arbor Farm & Garden, a longtime Matthaei-Nichols supporter whose founder Mildred Hague Matthaei was, along with her husband Frederick Matthaei Sr., the driving force behind the gift that provided the land for what became Matthaei Botanical Gardens. 

Theses boxes were designed and built by Matthaei-Nichols staff
and volunteers. Great Lakes native orchids wil grow in them,
and the boxes will help prevent the orchids from flooding in
this low-lying area.

A Great Lakes native pink lady-slipper orchid

A Great Lakes native showy lady-slipper orchid

A Great Lakes native grass pink orchid.

A Great Lakes native yellow lady-slipper orchid.

Jean Avis Wilson was a local gardener and active participant in the University of Michigan’s Continuing Education for Women program. Her husband Richard Avis Wilson and daughter Christy Klim contributed the initial funds for the garden. (As we went to print we learned that Richard Wilson had recently passed away.)

The orchid garden is one of five spaces within the Great Lakes Gardens at Matthaei. This unique garden concept showcases not only the plants native to the region but the habitats in which they live. Touring the garden, visitors see and learn about our native plants and gain a new appreciation for these often rare plants’ one-of-a-kind habitats.

Initial plans for the orchid garden called for planting the orchids directly in the ground along with background vegetation to allow visitors to see the orchids and their related flora, says Matthaei-Nichols’ director Bob Grese. “The site has natural groundwater seepagethroughout the year, which led us to think this would be a good site for featuring native orchids,” he explains. When the site flooded several years in a row, Grese realized a different strategy was required to ensure the orchids’ success.

Mike Kost, Matthaei-Nichols’ curator of native plants, helped design the garden and choose the native orchids. Kost initially thought of planting the orchids in tree stumps or on hummocks. But that wouldn’t solve the problem of future flooding, he says. “Then I came up with the idea of individual boxes.” After he and Grese designed the orchid planters, Matthaei-Nichols’ Collections and Natural Areas Specialist Tom O’Dell determined the best materials to use and how to build them. When the design and materials were complete, volunteers extraordinaire Tim Schafer and Richard Vix began building the cedar-wood boxes. The varying-size boxes will elevate the orchids above the level of future flood waters. The boxes also make it easier to control the complex soil variations that some orchids need, Kost explains.

“Many of our rare and most beloved native wildflowers are seen as off-limits for horticultural gardens,” Grese says. While many people have long enjoyed photographs of these rare wildflowers, he adds, fewer have been able to experience them firsthand because so many of them grow in fragile wetland environments that are hard to reach. “This is a conservation garden in the truest sense,” says Grese. “It’s meant to inspire visitors by the beauty of these unique and rare plants and to build support for conserving the special places where these plants still exist.”

Ford workday volunteers along with Matthaei-Nichols staff, students, and volunteers, help fill and plant the orchid boxes on Tuesday, April 11, 2017:

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Annual Artisan Market at Matthaei Offers Up Out-of-the-Ordinary Art and Crafts

Back by popular demand! The artisan market at Matthaei features unique, handcrafted items from local artists. Perfect gift ideas for Mom. Free admission.

Sale located at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, 1800 N. Dixboro Rd., Ann Arbor 48105.

9 am-4:30 pm.

Participating artists: BioArtography - University of Michigan, Crafty Darling, Creative Photo Effects LLC, Ej3Art, Elophina, JB Works in Wood, Julie's Ceramics, Kitchen Table Books, Mary Whiteside, Mason and Birch, My Sweet Allison, Penrith Goff, Quinn Burrell, Red Opal Designs, Stephanie King, Straight from the Lake, Sue Shine, The Awkward Crafter, Tin Ruby, Whimsical Garden Art, Inc., WildEdgeFelt, Angeline Rebottaro-Mason and Birch.

Click here for directions and map. See below for a gallery of artists' work.

Angeline Rebottaro-Mason and Birch

Adrienne Elliot-photography

Agnes Soderbeck-textiles

Allison Okuyama-textiles

Angie Hauch-jewelry

Bev and Len Spigoda-jewelry

BioArtography-University of Michigan-photgraphy

Ed Warzyniec-original drawings


Jess Lovell-jewelry

Julie Corey-ceramics

Kiersten Kern-jewelry

Mary Whiteside-photography

Nancy Slebodnik-garden art

Nick Morley-paper-notebooks

Pen Goff-colored pencil

Quinn Burrell-prints

Sheena Awad-cards

Sophia Fenby-jewelry


Sue Shine-art

Vase by JB Works in Wood

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Grandmother Tree Walk: a Journey through Michigan Time

A tour of trees in Nichols Arboretum offers a unique take on the University of Michigan Bicentennial.

The U-M celebrates its bicentennial throughout 2017. Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum is doing its part to honor this 200-year milestone with a look at history from the perspective of trees. Take a self-guided tour any day of the week, sunrise to sunset, in Nichols Arboretum. 

Maps are available at the Arb’s Washington Heights entrance, at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, and online (download and print). The tour features 12 trees and their stories, and how they connect with events happening at the U-M when the tree started growing. It’s informative, easy, and free. We also want to send a big thank you to former U-M student Meredith Burke, who, as a summer 2016 intern, worked intensively on the Grandmother Tree Walk as her main project. Also, to welcome the next 200 years, this fall we’ll be planting two native white oaks and giving away 200 white oak seedlings grown from acorns harvested from a tree at Matthaei. Stay tuned for dates and times.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Long-Awaited Matthaei Botanical Gardens Trail Project Begins

A paved trail will soon connect Matthaei Botanical Gardens to the Washtenaw County Border-to-Border Trail system and beyond. Karen Sikkenga, Associate Director of Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum, tells the story of how the trail moved from dream to reality.

At last, it’s really happening, that gorgeous hiking-biking trail paralleling Dixboro Road and providing a safe and beautiful non-motorized connection between Matthaei Botanical Gardens and the UM campus, downtown Ypsilanti, Gallup Park and - almost - the Arb!

I confess, there have been many moments over the past four years when I doubted we’d pull it off, even though the project is a top priority for us and for Washtenaw County, enjoying widespread support from organizations and individuals throughout the area.  Here’s the story of how the trail went from an idea to a reality, thanks to the collaboration, dedication and support of many key individuals and organizations.

A draft of a sign that will appear
on the trail. The map shows the
trail route between Matthaei
Botanical Gardens and Parker
Mill County Park at Dixboro
and Geddes roads. When complete
later this year, the trail will connect
Matthaei with the Washtenaw County
Border-to-Border Trail system.
I’m an avid bike rider. For almost a decade, I’ve ridden to the Gardens along the riverside trail in Gallup Park, scared to death for the last two miles along Dixboro Road for the sake of those glorious Huron River views. Trusting – hoping - I wouldn’t end up a statistic.

Then, in the summer of 2013, Dixboro Road closed for resurfacing. I started detouring down Radrick Golf Course’s long, pastoral driveway, tiptoeing my bike across the fairway to Matthaei Botanical Garden’s two-track and hoping no one on our staff or theirs would catch the Associate Director with a bicycle at the eleventh hole. It was a long sight safer – and more beautiful – than harrowing, shoulderless Dixboro Road.

And I thought, wouldn’t it be great if we could turn this route into an official bike path?

I had just wrapped up another project and was looking for something to sink my teeth into, something that would add value to our organization and help us accomplish our strategic planning goals. I approached our director, Bob Grese, to ask for his thoughts on whether the Dixboro Trail would be a good use of my time. Bob threw his support behind the idea.

The idea wasn’t new. Dixboro Road between Geddes and Plymouth, once a sleepy rural area, has gotten progressively busier over the past two or three decades. More businesses and housing developments have been built here, and more people are using our stretch of road to flow from north to south. An old road with no shoulders and long stretches with no Road Commission right-of-way, Dixboro Road has a pressing need for a sidewalk – one of society’s oldest and most basic forms of public infrastructure – but no place to put it. A project of this nature is very complex, requiring collaboration from the community, neighboring organizations and all levels of government. In this case, the University of Michigan is more than just a neighboring organization: UM owns much of the less developed land along Dixboro Road, making UM a key stakeholder. Bob shared with me that a Dixboro Road trail project had been fully funded and designed prior to 2005, but did not move forward because the necessary parties could not come to agreement on the details. He warned that it would be a long and complex journey, one that might never arrive at its destination. But if I wanted to try, he would support me.

Author Karen Sikkenga stands to one side of what will be the trail.
When this picture was taken in late March, the construction company
had already driven heavy machinery over the path route to remove
woody plants.  

In late March 2017 work had begun on the path, as evidenced by the ruts made
by heavy machinery on this section. Hard to believe this will be a real, paved
path in a few months!
I had recently begun meeting with my fellow University land managers to increase our collaboration and effectiveness. The Adventure Leadership Program (then known as the Challenge Program), Radrick Golf Course and Matthaei Botanical Gardens all occupy land originally donated by Frederick Matthaei Senior to the University of Michigan, beginning to the north of the botanical gardens entrance all the way to Geddes Road. If the three of us agreed that a hiking-biking trail was a good thing, then land acquisition for most of the trail length would not be an issue; the University would be the only land owner. For Matthaei-Nichols, non-motorized and public transportation options had already been identified in our strategic plan as a top priority for bringing more students, faculty and community members to our facility. Adventure Leadership (John Swerdlow) and Radrick Golf Course (Paul Scott) had not specifically identified transportation as a top priority, but the two managers felt that with their emphasis on sports and wellness, student and community engagement, a trail would be an appropriate use of their properties. As long as I did the work, they were willing – even eager – to allow the land under their management to be used for this purpose, if we could get permission from above.

The next step was to engage higher-level leadership at the University, starting with the Campus Planner, Sue Gott. Sue arranged a plenary meeting of University stakeholders from Athletics (Golf Course manager), Student Life (Adventure Leadership), Department of Public Safety and Security, Government Relations, the Office of General Counsel, Provost’s Office, Architecture and Engineering, Parking and Transportation, Real Estate and more. The group considered all the possible ramifications of a hiking-biking trail - a trail that would be used not just by the University community but by the broader community as well. Who would maintain it? Who would patrol it? Who would respond if trail users needed help? What would be the impact on parking? What if a future competing purpose for the land arises? Would the trail make it easier for trespassers to get into delicate environmental research areas? Despite the risks, the stakeholders agreed that the benefits were clear and the risks manageable. I had the go-ahead to begin looking for funding.

Then came the first big hurdle. Virtually all the funding sources for this significant public infrastructure project were available only to local government entities, not to universities. I found three great possibilities for Federal, state and local grants, but Matthaei-Nichols was unable to apply for any of them. I needed a local government partner.

Enter Mike Moran, the elected Supervisor of Ann Arbor Township. Matthaei Botanical Gardens is located within both Ann Arbor Township and Superior Township, but the proposed trail route was contained entirely within Ann Arbor Township. I cold-called Mike and explained my big idea over the phone – I’d do all the work, and Ann Arbor Township would sign on the dotted line and hit the “submit” button. I wonder now if he thought I was crazy. He didn’t say so at the time, but he did tell me that the AAT Board of Trustees needed to approve all grant applications, and that at least one member of the board lived in a condominium adjacent to the trail route, and that she – like a lot of Laurel Gardens neighbors - might or might not take kindly to the idea of bicyclists whizzing past their previously bucolic back doors. My response? “Well, they should!”

He put me in touch with his board member, allowing me to make my argument directly to her. The argument? Undeveloped land is always waiting to be developed, right up until the plan is made and implemented. A hiking-biking trail would create a relatively benign plan and use, reducing the likelihood of a less desirable development in the future. I guess my argument won the day, because the next thing I knew, Jim Kosteva (the University’s Government Relations liaison), Sue Gott and I were presenting the project proposal at an Ann Arbor Township public meeting. The Board fully supported the project and continues to do so. We were off and running.
That was in October of 2013, and the grant source was the Washtenaw County Recreation and Parks Department. I believe I told the Township board that I hoped trail construction would begin in the spring of 2014.

Who would have believed then that the project would take four years to bring to fruition? Since 2013, we’ve had many hiccups. Sometimes, the barriers seemed insurmountable. The project has evolved into a three-party endeavor with the Washtenaw County Road Commission, Ann Arbor Township and the University of Michigan as the parties, an arrangement that requires consistent communication and deep collaboration. Budgets have gone up and down. University leadership has changed. Gifts have fallen through. Deadlines have changed. But each time a barrier seems insurmountable, one or more of a very large team of dedicated, creative, generous and competent partners have found a way to jump the barrier and move onto the next challenge.

I hesitate to call out individual names because of the risk of leaving out one of the many dedicated partners, but a core group of very dedicated partners deserve special recognition for the success of the project. These are Mike Moran of Ann Arbor Township, Matthaei-Nichols passionate development director Gayle Steiner, Matt MacDonnell of the Washtenaw County Road Commission, Frances Mueller of the University of Michigan’s Provost Office, and Bob Grese.

The broader circle of supportive stakeholders includes our corporate neighbors Toyota and NSF as well as almost 150 individual donors, including the Matthaei sisters and Pam Braden in honor of Fred Matthaei Junior and Fred Matthaei III. University administrators (especially from the Office of University Development and A&E), County and Township employees and contractors, the Ann Arbor Township board, the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Department, advocates from the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments (especially WCC Trustee Diana McKnight-Morton), and many, many more dedicated individuals have contributed to the success of the project.

To all of you, thank you.

Ride on.