April Millsap Memorial Garden takes home top state award at Keeping Michigan Beautiful annual awards ceremony

April MilsapThe April Millsap Memorial Garden was designed and coordinated by Julie Risch, a Romeo native now living in Kalamazoo, and Jean Persely, a military transplant from Massachusetts, now living in Armada. We are both MSU Extension advanced master gardeners. We teamed up to use our landscape design skills and garden savvy to create a fitting tribute for April Millsap. Landscape design is a natural progression for many gardeners who search out ways to improve their own gardens.

April Milsap 2The April Millsap Memorial Garden is a place for everyone to visit, heal and enjoy. It was designed to reflect April’s personality and her love of butterflies and flowering plants. The arbor invites you onto the stone and flower lined path where you can rest and reflect and enjoy the garden. This garden was created for the healing process of April’s family and friends, residents of the village and township of Armada and the community whose hearts have been touched by one of Armada’s angels. Additional items were worked into the design to provide a respite for those who use the trail to walk, run and bike. We worked with several Macomb County representatives to ensure we complied with the specifications set forth.

A reflective, healing space was envisioned, one where visitors would come to know the spirit of April and the community where she lived. A resting space where one could stop along the Macomb Orchard Trail, a welcoming site to those commuting along North Avenue into the Village of Armada, a haven for wildlife and educational components were all aspects we wanted to incorporate into April’s garden.

A variety of annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees ensure year-around interest in the garden. With no on-site water and to ensure sustainability, we incorporated many drought-tolerant and native prairie plants. Plants were also chosen for wildlife food and habitat sources. Nectar plants for hummingbirds, butterflies and other pollinators were selected. Flowering shrubs provide nectar, as well as shelter for pollinators and birds. Blooms are allowed to go to seed to provide birds with seeds in the winter. This past weekend, 800 spring and early summer blooming bulbs were planted to ensure a multi-season color show while also providing nectar sources for pollinators early in the season. Approximately 50 bulbs were planted along the path.

Applying Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices has allowed garden volunteers to work without chemicals in the garden. An example of this would be aphids on milkweed. Milkweed plants are critical to the plight of the Monarch butterfly and were a first choice for our gardens. Knowing that milkweeds attract aphids, we took an IPM practice of manually removing a portion of the population. We monitored the population, exercising patience. It wasn’t long before lady bugs were seen feasting on the aphids. By allowing nature to take its course, we were able to provide chemical-free milkweed for Monarch’s to lay their eggs on. Caterpillars hatched, devoured the milkweed and emerged into butterflies, repeating the cycle until migration time.

April Milsap 2On Oct. 16, a small contingency of garden volunteers made their way to the Keeping Michigan Beautiful (KMB) Annual Conference and Awards Ceremony in Frankenmuth. The April Millsap Memorial Garden was nominated for, and awarded, The President’s Plaque – KMB’s highest award. This modest garden project, created entirely out of donations and carved into a space along the Macomb Orchard Trail in Armada, received the highest score of all the projects – higher than even multi-million dollar commercial projects. Julie shared April’s story to a captive audience. It was amazing how many people were moved to tears, with audible gasps being heard throughout the room. Afterwards, quite a few attendees approached April’s mother, Jennifer, offering encouraging hugs and sharing stories of loved ones lost.

What does winning the Keeping Michigan Beautiful Award mean to Julie and Jean? Just like the garden, the award is not about us. The KMB President’s Plaque means that April Millsap will never be forgotten. The award is about the garden. It is about a beautiful 14-year-old girl from a small town in northern Macomb County. It is about that small town and the strong, resilient people in it. It is about the people who love the Macomb Orchard Trail. It is about the people who refused to let the Macomb Orchard Trail become tarnished by a heinous act. It is about the people who would not give up. It is about the people who vowed to reclaim the trail as a fun, safe place to visit.

We are merely the instruments that were able to bring a healing light to April’s memory. To Jennifer. To Armada. To Macomb County. To southeast Michigan. To all who have seen or heard her story. Ultimately, the Keeping Michigan Beautiful President’s Plaque for the April Millsap Memorial Garden is about everyday folks who are just trying to Make Macomb their Home. We are humbly honored to be facilitators of a wonderful community project.

Throughout the year, we will hold work days and educational sessions in the garden. No skills are needed. Volunteers will be taught the hows and whys to various garden tasks.

The garden is a beautiful place to visit– but we are not quite done yet. To enhance our sustainability, a solar-powered well will be added. This is a costly endeavor for which we have held multiple fundraisers. While we have made a dent in our goal, we must still continue to raise funds. If you would like to assist us reach our $8,000 fundraising goal, please click here.

We hope that you will come out and visit the April Millsap Memorial Garden. The garden is located a 1/2 mile south of Main Street in the Village of Armada. It is at the corner of Fulton and Depot roads. It is also alongside the Macomb Orchard Trail, located in Macomb County, Michigan. Parking is close and convenient. Three spots are on the north side of the garden, along Depot Road. Several other spots are available just west of the garden, across Fulton Street, alongside the trail.

For more information, visit http://aprilmillsapmemorialgarden.weebly.com/ or email AprilMemorial@aol.com.

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