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Greenhouse Garden Team grows new garden with plans to donate edible, medicinal plants


Orange Mint grows in the Plants and Society Garden in the Fabiano Botanical Garden.

Nestled on the corner of Preston and Washington streets is a garden filled with cotton, tobacco, kiwi and a marshmallow plant. 

A feature of the Fabiano Botanical Garden, the Plants and Society Garden houses a variety of different plants for community members to learn about. Manager of the Fabiano Botanical Garden and Greenhouse Patti Travioli said the garden's bounty can be harvested.

"Right now the volunteers and community organizations that tend to the garden can harvest the goods from it," Travioli said. "However, when there is plenty to be harvested, we'll give it to the soup kitchen."

The garden consists of sub-gardens like Peter Rabbit Garden, Fabrics and Dyes Garden, Medicinal Plant Garden, Fragrant Plant Garden, Pizza Garden, Small Fruits Garden, Vegetable Garden, Multicultural Food Garden, Herb Garden and the Cereal Bowl Garden.

Each sub-garden is made up of ingredients of of its title. For example, in the Pizza Garden, spectators can see wheat, parsley, oregano and tomatoes growing.  

In early February, the Greenhouse Garden Team members began growing the plants in the Greenhouse. They planted them outside in May.

"We wouldn't normally see these things in an average flower garden," said  Southgate senior Joshua Simms. "It really provides an opportunity for people to learn more about these plants. I didn't know kiwis grew on vines—that was something cool I learned."

Simms is greenhouse worker who started working with Travioli last year. The coolest thing about the Plants and Society Garden is the workers started the project from scratch, he said. 

"This garden will be here for a long time, so I'm excited to come back in five years and see if the work I put in is still there," Simms said. 

Last week, the Greenhouse Garden Team planted the last of the plants into the garden. Travioli said it took the team a month to plan the entire garden. 

"A lot of people will walk by the garden thinking it's a food garden, but if you take a closer look you'll see we're growing cotton and tobacco," Tavioli said. "We have medicinal plants, like a marshmallow plant that is used for healing purposes. It's a learning opportunity for the community and the gardeners. There are plants here I've never planted, so it's interesting to see what will grow here and what won't."

Southgate senior Tyler Goudreau, also an assistant manager for the Farmers' Market in Mount Pleasant, said she enjoyed watching the process of the Plants and Society Garden every day. 

"I like all the different ideas of the garden, like the sub-gardens. My favorite has to be the Small Fruits Garden because I love kiwis," Goudreau said.

Community members and students wanting to volunteer at the Plants and Society Garden should visit the Mary Ellen Brandell Volunteer Center. Volunteers help with the garden every Friday from 10 a.m to 1 p.m.

The Greenhouse

As a horticulturist, Travioli grew an interest in teaching others about plants. 

In 2009, she became the manager of the greenhouse and the Fabiano Botanical Garden at Central Michigan University. Tavioli has a team of student workers who aid her in taking care of CMU's gardens and greenhouse. 

 "I'm obsessed with growing plants and taking care of gardens," Travioli said. "I was really lucky to find this job because I get to do what I love."

The greenhouse, nestled between Brooks Hall and DOW Hall, has been on campus for more than 20 years. The $1 million project is part of Brooks Hall. 

"There was an original greenhouse that was based on Beaver Island," Travioli said. "This new greenhouse is about 8,000 square feet and is a large collection of various plants."

The greenhouse is set up for people to experience plants they aren't normally exposed to. It features a subtropical center that is noticed as soon as you walk in the door. There are hanging hibiscus flowers and huge banana leaf plant. Observers are guided through a maze of different plants and ponds. 

"Our garden team spends an hour everyday in the greenhouse just sweeping, pruning and checking on the plants," Travioli said. "There a variety of plants growing in different environments in the greenhouse."

Among the various rooms, there lies a massive blue agave plant housed with the dessert plants. Simms said his favorite plant in the greenhouse is the sensitive fern. 

"It's a very sad plant, but it's really cool," Simms said. "When you touch the plant the leaves close up."