Lansing Garden Club installs pollinator gardens behind Eisenhower Fitness Center

by Carrie Steinweg

LANSING, Ill. (October 1, 2019) – Tucked away behind the Eisenhower Fitness Center in Lansing is the Mildred Burt Nature Center, a little natural haven that got a recent makeover by the Lansing Garden Club.

Many Lansing residents are unaware of the Mildred Burt Nature Center that was established nearly 50 years ago just north of the Eisenhower Center parking lot. It is now in the process of being transformed. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Members of the Lansing Garden Club adopted the Mildred Burt Nature Center as their first project, adding a number of pollinator gardens to the grounds. From left: Leeann Byrne, Pam Lancy, Leigh Anne Fredbloom, Dan Bovino, Rich Lund, Jim Rehak, Dana Wood, and Robbin Rehak finish planting a curved sun pollinator garden near the entrance of the nature center.
(Photo: Diane Lund)

It has been decades since Lansing had an official garden club, and a new group was established in 2018 by Diane Lund with 28 current members. The Lansing Garden Club’s first formal meeting was in February of this year, and its first project, completed in September, was a big undertaking—the installation of five pollinator gardens at the Mildred Burt Nature Center.

The project was done in partnership with the Lan-Oak Park District. In April, Lund and her husband, Rich, attended a Lan-Oak Park District board meeting to petition the board to plant pollinator gardens on some district-owned property within the village. The board approved the project and funding for adding pollinator gardens at the Mildred Burt Nature Center.

“I measured the Mildred Burt Nature Center and envisioned some improvements,” said Lund. “This site is 225 feet long and 135 feet wide. It is mostly wooded, had a lot of invasive teasel and a small pond that fills in the spring only. I met with Michelle Havran (Superintendent of Parks and Maintenance) for approval of these changes, which was given.”

Lund’s suggested changes included a curved sun pollinator garden, a sun pollinator garden around the sign, and three woodland pollinator gardens to the west and middle tree areas. Lund also requested help from the University of Illinois extension office, which also provided input into the final planning in June along with two master gardeners and several members of the Lansing Garden Club. “We chose plants which would be all native species and where there would be three species in bloom all season, making them pollinator gardens.”

Lund proposed a curved sun pollinator garden, a sun pollinator garden around the sign, and three woodland pollinator gardens to the west and middle tree areas. (Image provided)

Within the sun pollinator gardens are 12 native species that include Wild Nodding Onion, Blue False Indigo, Sky Blue Aster, Prairie Smoke, and Purple Coneflower. The three pollinator gardens have 14 native species that include Swamp Rose Mallow, Blue Flag Iris, Solomon Seal, May Apple, and Virginia Bluebells.

A pollinator garden is an area with flowers and grasses where there are at least three species in bloom at all times. Pollinators like bees, butterflies, birds, and some beetles need the nectar, pollen, and vegetation to live.

Though there are more than 4,000 species of bees in the United States, all of them are in population decline. The decline is due to a number of factors, including urban sprawl and the use of herbicides and pesticides.

The monarch butterfly is one species of butterfly that is in severe population decline. Monarchs cannot survive without milkweed, which is one of the plant varieties appearing in the new gardens.

“The pollinator gardens at the Mildred Burt Nature Center now have plants that support many different species of pollinators, including many species of bees, butterflies—including the monarch—birds, and beetles. There are two different types of milkweed planted for the monarchs,” said Lund.

“The Lansing Garden Club also set a good example in that we killed an invasive species without the use of herbicides. We utilized a heavy black plastic laid on the ground for several months. We recycled the plastic and the pins holding it in place for future use.”

The Lansing Garden Club used plastic rather than toxins to kill an invasive species of teasel. They then recycled the plastic for future use. (Photo: Diane Lund)

More improvements are planned for the site, including new benches and signage, and further planting on the east side of the garden. The Lansing Garden Club will have the responsibility of weeding the area and completing phase two of the project.

The Lansing Garden Club meets in the Lansing Public Library’s community room on the third Tuesday of the month from 6:30-8:00pm. New members are welcome.

About Mildred Burt

The Mildred Burt Nature Center is named for former Lansing School District 158 science teacher Mildred Burt, who also served on the District 158 school board from 1983 to 1993.

According to former District 158 science teacher Tim Sandow, Burt took over the Lansing Area Invitational Science Fair in the 1960s and ran it into the 1970s. “At its peak, the area fair involved 12 feeder schools from public, private, and parochial schools in the Lansing area. It offered competition for all students in grades K-8. Our numbers of students often exceeded 150-175, and we always had a judge base of at least 75 volunteers, including many former students who came aboard along the way,” he said.

Burt taught at the Eisenhower School and later Oak Glen School. “Mildred was the resident expert in our district on just about every subject,” said retired Oak Glen teacher Jeannie McCall. “She traveled the world every summer. She was determined to bring some prairie back to Lansing, and that garden space was actually first planted with natural prairie grasses indigenous to Illinois. She wanted her fifth graders to know what the pioneers traveled through.”

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