Ypsilanti Township is now home to a garden boasting 1,300 native Michigan wildflowers. How it took shape

YPSILANTI TOWNSHIP, MI – What was once just a grassy field next to a children’s play structure in Sugarbrook Park is now bursting with life.

Some 1,300 wildflowers — among them wild onion, purple coneflower and hairy beardtongue — are taking root on a 3,500 square-foot plot sown by volunteers in Ypsilanti Township’s on Saturday.

The plants have one thing in common. They’re all native to Michigan.

That’s by design, says Ypsilanti Township Park Commissioner Tajalli Hodge, who first dreamed up the garden about a year ago and on Oct. 2 worked with some 30 volunteers to bring it to life.

The seedlings, nestled in color-coded dirt rows according to a carefully drawn out plan, include 11 native species. Volunteers worked through the morning to plant black-eyed Susan, two species of milkweed and wild strawberry, among other varieties.

If all goes according to plan, the flowers will be a permanent feature of the 5-acre township park on Andrea Street next to I-94 in the Sugarbrook neighborhood.

Hodge hopes the wildflower garden will boost biodiversity, attracting birds, butterflies and bumble bees, while making the park more attractive to residents and even school groups wanting to learn about the plants.

“I’m using this project as a way to uplift and beautify my community,” Hodge said. “An easy way to do that is to bring brightness and flowers into people’s lives.”

The wildflower garden project was supported by three grants totaling $8,000. They came from the Michigan Recreation and Park Association, the Ann Arbor Area Board of Realtors and the Washtenaw County Water Resources Office, Hodge said.

Catie Wytychak, a water quality specialist with that county office, was “instrumental in helping turn my vision into a reality,” Hodge said. The parks commissioner’s day job is with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, but she had never designed a garden before.

“If I can do it, anybody can do it,” she said, praising the Water Resources Office’s support.

Community comes together for planting effort

The planting attracted volunteers from down the block, but also gardeners who traveled 40 miles to help out. That was the case for Chris Payne, a resident of Hartland, who found out about the effort from an online posting by the Sierra Club’s Huron Valley Group.

As a gardener, the plans for Sugarbrook Park struck a cord with Payne.

“I think right now it’s really important with climate change, and communities needing to come together, to plant native plants, which is going to support the pollinators and they’re going to grow well here because they’re native,” Payne said after two hours of planting on Saturday.

Volunteers finished four hours ahead of schedule and with seedlings to spare.

“It was a great group of people, there was a lot of really good energy and everyone worked really hard and got done really quickly,” Payne said.

Planting the flowers in the fall allows them time to establish themselves before the first frost, Hodge said. Fall rains will help the plants establish root systems before the cold winter months.

The garden was planted with perennials, which will return next year.

The wildflowers don’t require fertilization and shouldn’t need to be watered once they are established because they’re adapted to the local climate, according to Hodge. That’s good news because there’s currently no water supply at the park.

Mother nature was on the gardeners’ side this weekend. Clear skies Saturday morning quickly turned to rain.

Those interested in volunteering to upkeep the wildflower garden, contact Hodge at [email protected].

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