Native plants matter. Let’s plant more of them

As I look around campus and enjoy late summer in Michigan, there’s only one thing that I can think of that would make our campus even more beautiful: more native plants and trees. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that Calvin has already taken steps and made efforts to make our campus more sustainable. I love walking around the garden spaces Calvin has and seeing butterflies and dragonflies flutter around, but more can and should be done.

There are three main reasons why we as the Calvin community should care about planting more native gardens and trees on campus: Christian duty, positive impact on the environment and historical precedent. 

As Christians, we are called to take care of the earth and to preserve the natural beauty around us. In Genesis 2:15, God puts man into the Garden of Eden and says to work and take care of the earth. The duty to care for the earth has been ingrained in humanity since the beginning. This is the concept of stewardship. Christians are meant to take care of and love the earth on God’s behalf. Taking care of the earth could mean many different things in a variety of contexts, but at Calvin a good way to do this would be to work on restoring land to its natural state by planting native plants.

The duty to care for the earth has been ingrained in humanity since the beginning.”

Planting another native plant garden would also be immensely helpful both to the environment and to our university. Turf grass is actively harmful to the environment. It provides no habitat for important pollinators to rest or feed and the chemical fertilizer on the grass flows down storm drains and into Plaster Creek, which feeds into the seminary pond. Planting another native plant garden would not only help prevent chemicals from reaching the storm drain, but it would also restore places for butterflies and bees to pollinate while reducing the amount of carbon released into the environment. In 2017, President LeRoy signed a climate commitment that pledged Calvin University would be carbon neutral by 2057. Native plants, specifically prairie plants, sequester more carbon than turf grass does. Adding another garden would put Calvin closer to the goal of carbon neutrality. 

In addition to the positive environmental impacts, planting another native garden on campus also has an aesthetic benefit. Having blooming flowers and grasses around campus makes for a compelling scene for visiting students and it shows that Calvin is truly dedicated to sustainable efforts at the same time.

As Christians, we are called to take care of the earth and to preserve the natural beauty around us.”

There’s even historical precedent for sustainability projects. The campus architect, William Fyfe, wanted to preserve as much of the natural landscape as possible when building the campus fifty years ago. Almost no mature trees were cut down for construction of the campus. Preserving the landscape wasn’t just a focus for Fyfe. The Calvin administration at the time was committed to natural preservation, too. They were so committed to preserving the trees that the Spoelhof Center was rotated ten degrees to save one tree. 

As Calvin’s Knollcrest campus approaches its fifty year anniversary in 2023, we should take the chance to honor our commitments to sustainability, both in the past and in the present, and plant more native gardens that will help the earth around us and continue Calvin’s strong legacy of sustainability. Let’s not just be Christ’s agents of renewal in the world, but Christ’s agents of renewal of the world.