Michigan State University and Windmill Island Gardens partner to offer gardening classes

A budding new partnership between Michigan State University Extension and Windmill Island Gardens will allow those along the Lakeshore to not only to learn more about pollinators in a new display garden but also take advantage of free Smart Gardening classes held throughout the season.  Classes will be taught by MSU Extension Senior Horticulture Educator Rebecca Finneran and cover a variety of topics. While the classes are free, registration is required and limited to 60 people. To learn more and register, visit programs.windmill.island.com

The newly refurbished ‘Vlinder Veld’ (butterfly garden) will feature dozens of new, pollinator-friendly plants to nurture butterflies, native bees and beneficial insects. Composed of a wide variety of flowering plants, the garden will explode with color from spring through fall.  

'Perfect partnership'

Rather than build a show garden from scratch, MSU-Extension reached out to the municipal park, looking for a partnership along the Lakeshore, says Matt Helmus, Windmill Island Gardens development manager. 

Windmill Island Gardens created the ‘Vlinder Veld’ a few years ago, but with the COVID-19 pandemic and staffing changes, backed off the plans for a little while, Helmus says.

“It has been a perfect partnership. They have the knowledge, and we have the space,” he says.


The first class —  Smart Gardening for Pollinators  — filled up fast. In fact, twice as many people signed up as there was room, Helmus says.

“The response has been massive,” he says, adding the city is hoping to find a larger venue to accommodate more people to match the response.

Two other classes are planned for this year: 

July 19 – Garden-Sized Trees – Explore trees that will adapt well to any garden space. 

September 28 – Smart Gardening with Bulbs – Explore a rich palette of bulbs to enrich your garden’s season-long color. 

Smart Gardening

Classes will be centric to a greater purpose known as Smart Gardening which is MSU Extension’s campaign to share earth-friendly messages and help gardeners make smart choices in their own backyards. MSU Extension Master Gardeners will be sharing Smart Gardening tip sheets with thousands of guests at Windmill Island Gardens throughout the summer. Topics include smart plant selection, soils, vegetables and more.  This partnership is sure to inspire West Michigan gardeners and play an important role in supporting invaluable pollinators.

Windmill Island Gardens tries to promote three primary areas: its ties to Dutch history and heritage, its gardens, and its natural setting. For a long time, Helmus says, people knew only about the Dutch component of the municipal park. Staff is working to educate the public on all aspects of the park.

A garden oasis on the edge of downtown Holland, Windmill Island Gardens features more than 36 acres of gardens, dikes, canals, an antique Dutch carousel, children’s garden, gift shop, the Posthouse Visitor Center — an exact replica of a 14th-century wayside inn, more than 100,000 tulips that bloom each spring and dozens of varieties of annual and perennial plants and flowers. The island’s centerpiece is "De Zwaan" (the Swan) Windmill built in the Netherlands in 1833 and brought to Holland, Mich., in 1964. 

Windmill Island Gardens is open year-round. City of Holland residents may enter the municipal island park for free. Non-residents’ entrance fee is  $12 for adults and $6 for ages 3 to 15.

Read more articles by Andrea Goodell.