By Lori Dresner, Managing Editor/New Editor
The Sustainability Office, in collaboration with students, faculty, staff, and community members, came together to cultivate a new native garden in front of Stadler Hall on April 21 at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. The new garden is home to nearly 30 different varieties of native Missouri plants, such as milkweed, indigo, coneflower, bottlebrush, bee balm, and little bluestem.
The idea began in the fall of 2015 when some faculty, staff, and students came together to discuss ideas for planting a new native garden on campus.
UMSL Sustainability Coordinator Katy Mike Smaistrla spoke with The Current about the new native garden and the goals that UMSL Sustainability is working toward to create a more environmentally friendly campus.
TC: What purpose does the garden serve?
Smaistrla: Faculty can use it for research and hopefully use it for teaching purposes, so they can bring their students outside to actually engage in experiential education, looking at the things that they’re studying … in real life.
I also think staff and just anyone walking by can benefit from that, just by changing the aesthetic of the campus landscape, and that by installing such a large landscape, we’ve clearly made a commitment to growing native plants and a conservation ethos. So in that demonstration of our conservation ethic, I think that helps to slowly change campus culture.
TC: Who partnered to make the garden a possibility on campus?
Smaistrla: We’ve had some really good partners along the way, [such as] the Whitney Harris Ecology Center and all of the biology department. Dr. Patti Parker has been a great key driver of this, making sure it happened. Dr. Parker brought up the idea to the Des Lee Collaborative, and all of the professors had different insight into it.
Finding partners in unusual places throughout the student body, too, was key. We found Alpha Phi Omega (APO), members of the Biology Graduate Student Association, the Biological Honors Society, [and] also SUCCEED students.
TC: What steps did you have to go through to make the garden a reality?
Smaistrla: Vetting the site was really important. Finding a very visible place, that raises a lot of questions. There are a couple of other places that we looked at, but in deciding on this one, I think it made a lot of sense because it’s so close to the science buildings.
TC: How many other gardens are on campus?
Smaistrla: [This is the] second for me. There’s been other people doing work in the past, [but] the Sustainability Department in particular has put in a community garden down on South Campus. The community garden has about seven beds. [The community garden] is more focused on vegetables, growing food, and engaging people in the growing process and gardening process, whereas the native [gardens] … are very much more about indigenous plants that are meant to live here and don’t take a lot of cultivation.
TC: When will the plants and flowers you planted in the native garden begin to grow?
Smaistrla: Well, spring is the time for planting, and then hopefully through the summer we’ll see them take off. We’re not expecting huge results right away because it is going to take some time for these plants to get established. And then, of course, throughout the winter [the garden] starts to look a little weird because things die. And then hopefully by spring and next summer, we’ll really start to see the benefits of this [garden].
TC: Can you talk about the broader efforts of Campus Sustainability here at UMSL?
Smaistrla: Well, the department’s been around for a little over four years now, and sustainability is so broad. It is about saving the planet, saving people, and saving money.
And so how that works here on campus is oftentimes you’ll see us out doing things that relate to saving the planet, like getting recycling bins or recycling signage. Other things that you may not see that we do do is energy efficiency. We actually are tracking our utility bills and monitoring some of the data that come off of how much energy is being used, as much as we can for this campus.
A big part of it is changing the campus mindset to become a more sustainable campus. [It] really has to do with changing personal behaviors. As we do more and more events, hopefully [sustainability] becomes more and more visible, people start to think more about it, they make their own personal choices, and [hopefully] that has a ripple effect.