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W.J. Beal Botanical Garden to celebrate 150th anniversary with ‘people, plants, and place’

September 11, 2023
The W.J. Beal Botanical Garden is celebrating its 150th anniversary on Sept. 13. On Sept. 11, the W.J. Beal Botanical Garden was already prepared for the celebration of its 150th anniversary.
The W.J. Beal Botanical Garden is celebrating its 150th anniversary on Sept. 13. On Sept. 11, the W.J. Beal Botanical Garden was already prepared for the celebration of its 150th anniversary. —
Photo by Sloane Barlow | The State News

Michigan State University's W.J. Beal Botanical Garden, the nation’s oldest maintained botanical garden on a university campus, celebrates its 150th anniversary this Wednesday, Sept. 13. To celebrate the sesquicentennial, there will be a celebration open to the public from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the garden.  

Botany and horticulture professor William Beal established MSU's first garden in 1873. However, this wasn't in the area we know it today — 140 species of forage grass and clovers grew in 'Sleepy Hollow,' the grass area between the College of Music's building and Beaumont Tower.

In 1877, the Beal Botanical Garden, referred to as "the wild garden" at the time, was planted along the Red Cedar River by the College of Music. Now, 150 years later, the garden is a staple of MSU's campus where visitors can see over 2,000 plants, most labeled with their names and descriptions

At the 150-year celebration, the Beal Botanical Garden will highlight their current programs, such as the river restoration, an ongoing project where students and community members plant native Michigan plants along the riverbeds. Attendees will be able to assist in planting from 3 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.

Jennifer Hunnell, communications coordinator for Beal Botanical Garden, said they want the community involved “to feel they have a sense of place in this space on campus … (because) they contributed to this project.”

150 participants of this project will receive a chocolate from Oh Mi Organics. At 5:30 p.m., attendees who complete activities before 5 p.m. will be able to enter a free drawing for the chance to win a native plant consultation, a gift prize package, two tickets for Wharton Performing Center’s shows and three tickets for the MSU vs. U of M football game on Oct. 21.

Also starting at 5:30 p.m., the picnic food truck will serve smash burgers with herb aioli and a vegan entree. Like everything else in Beal Botanical Garden, the food will be free for attendees. The first 300 people to arrive will also get to try the new Berry Botanical ice cream flavor, made with blueberry and lavender flavors. The flavor will be available at the MSU Dairy Store through the end of September. 

Attendees will also be able to participate in wellness-focused activities. Student-led yoga and visits from Canines for Change’s therapy dogs will take place in Sleepy Hollow from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. During this time, there will also be art performances and a jazz saxophone quartet

“Our focus is connecting people, plants and place, (which) can take the form of research and knowledge, but can also take the form of wellness and mental well-being,” Hunnell said.

To close the event, the College of Music’s string quartet will perform from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Post-graduate students Natasha Kubit, Alirna Korieva, Gafur Nartadjiev and Mira Chen will play several pieces with historical relevance to the garden, from its founding in 1873 to the present day. This will include music from "The Hobbit" soundtrack, "Bad Guy" by Billie Eilish and an original song composed by cellist string quartet member Nartadjeiv that incorporates birdsong into the music. 

“I hope (audience members) enjoy being able to listen to music in a different space than we normally hear classical music,” violinist Kubit said. 

The audience will learn facts about Beal Botanical Garden corresponding to these pieces’ composing date, Kubit and Hunnell said

Attendees can also expect multiple campus VIPs to visit throughout. Sparty will make an appearance from 4 to 4:45 p.m., and Interim President Teresa Woodruff will speak at the commemorative tree planting at 5 p.m.

The celebration will be an opportunity for long-time garden visitors and those visiting for the first time to immerse themselves in the historic garden.

International relations freshman Ellie Pugh considers herself an outdoorsy person but has yet to visit Beal Botanical Garden. She hopes the 150th celebration on Wednesday will be her first time, though not her last.

“I heard (Beal Botanical Garden) has native plants to help plant on the banks of the river, so I want to help with that,” Pugh said. “I also didn’t realize the garden is so old, and I think that’s interesting.”

Photojournalism sophomore Madeleine Knopf is also in her first semester at MSU, but she’s visited Beal Botanical Garden many times.

“When I toured the campus here, (the garden) was one of the things I wanted to check out, and I fell in love with it,” Knopf said. “The entire place just washed over me, and I knew it was going to be somewhere I’d visit often.”

Having only seen a few individuals visit Beal at a time, she’s most excited for a “bigger gathering of people in the garden” on Wednesday.

“I think it is really nice to have solitude when you go in the garden,” Knopf said. “But once in a while, you want the energy of having a bunch of people there sharing the experience.”

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