Here are my thoughts in response to the photo collage “Visualize Empire” in your July 14 edition:
As a horticulturist, my attention instantly focuses on the land around Empire’s vacant buildings, particularly the spacious lot where the schoolhouse sits. My thought is, it needs plants! (Plants other than turf, that is.)
I visualize a garden of native plants surrounding the schoolhouse. In that prominent “gateway” space, such a garden would be a valuable and regionally appropriate aesthetic addition to Empire as well as an educational resource for the region. Such a space would support the Park Service’s plea to use native plants in landscaping (“Protect Your Park from Bullies,” Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Visitor Guide 2011, pg. 8) by offering practical ideas of how to incorporate natives into a landscape with visually exciting results.
As far as I am aware, there currently is no public space where people can go to see natives used successfully in a residential landscape setting. Many people are likely left with a desire to use native plants, but are hesitant about how to proceed. They are not quite sure what plants to select, where to buy them, or how to combine them for the best visual effect. A native plants example garden would serve this need, informing and inspiring locals as well as visitors about plants they see in the wild and demonstrating practical ideas for successfully using them around their homes and cottages.
Regarding the inside of the schoolhouse: It seems the interior space would make a good home for an enlarged Glen Lake Community Library, as well as a community center and winter home for the farmers’ market. Of course, inside visitors would also find additional educational resources about native plants, designing with them, and sustainable landscape practices.
I currently live in Pennsylvania but visit your area several times each year and intend to eventually relocate there. If the idea I’ve outlined sparks any interest, I’d like very much to be involved. I’ve made a career of gardening for the public and am currently employed as a horticulturist at a 31-acre public garden in the Philadelphia suburbs. I have the experience and energy to make this idea a reality.