Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids

Printing note: This design was created to be 8.5″ x 14″ and the design pdf will print best on legal size paper.

Native Garden Designs Video Series:
Grand Rapids Discussion with DesignerS Amy Heilman & Rebecca Marquardt

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The Great Lakes of the United States hold 20% of the fresh water found on planet earth. The entire state of Michigan includes watersheds for four of the five Great Lakes (Erie, Huron, Michigan and Superior). See graphic from the Nature Conservancy below.

The thousands of inland lakes that exist within Michigan’s borders are valued for fishing, recreation, and habitat for wildlife. Housing development surrounding many lakes continues to grow at a steady pace, creating issues with flooding, erosion, sedimentation, the spread of invasive species and fragmentation of habitat.

Climate change is projected to lead to a 5-fold increase in heat wave days by 2050 and widespread drought is expected to triple during the summers and fall months. Inland lake temperatures may warm by 3-7 degrees. Increased temperatures allow warm air to capture more moisture, which means winters and springs will bring heavier snows and rains leading to widespread flooding. These are dire predictions but there are steps that can be taken by property owners to mitigate some of these issues.

Designer Statement

The designers envisioned this home site to be situated on land that slopes down to the south side of an inland lake. Soil types around the property range from clay to sandy loam to peaty, wet soil along the shoreline. Some areas are dry and quickly draining while other areas retain water at times. The home is part of a development along a paved street. The potential for erosion along the lake’s shore is high due to runoff. Heat pockets from hard surfaces along the street side create very dry growing conditions. Anticipated watering restrictions warrant wise plant selection. This landscape plan depicts some solutions to these common problems which will intensify with climate change.

Key elements of this design aiding in the adaption to climate change problems include:

  • Minimizing of high water-use turf, which is limited to use as a pathway to access other areas and using drought tolerant lawn alternatives.
  • Increasing the amount of shade by planting broadleaf trees to help cool south and west sides of the home in warm months and allow sunlight to access the home for radiant heat during cold months. Trees also capture carbon dioxide and release oxygen, thus cleaning the air. Their leaves are collected on site, composted, and used as mulch (leaf mold) around plants to retain moisture and cool soil.
  • Improving the ecological function of the soil not only will increase the overall health of the landscape and its ability to offer habitat to wildlife but will also enable more carbon to be sequestered.
  • Transitioning the hot, dry parkway between sidewalk and street to low-scale, drought tolerant plantings that provide nectar, pollen, and visual interest.
  • Retaining and filtering rainwater on the property (rather than having it flow to local drains or into the lake) by directing downspouts to a garden bed along the driveway or a raingarden and bioswale that leads to the lake, allowing runoff to be captured and absorbed into surrounding plantings. Rain barrels also hold water that can be used in the garden.
  • Preventing shoreline erosion during times of flooding or ice damage with a planted buffer which offers habitat, rather than an impermeable concrete seawall. Plantings along shore also filter pollutants entering the lake and help cool water temperatures, decreasing the chance of algae blooms.
  • Using permeable materials for the patio, fire pit area or driveway which will allow water to filter through and remain on the property.

Plant Community Layout

This plan considered the existing soil types, hydrology, degrees of sun/shade occurring around the property and utilized plant species that are often found together in natural plant communities that exist under similar conditions around the Great Lakes region.

Dry Prairie – The front of the property has southern and western exposure and is adjacent to pavement and the walls of the home. These elements reflect heat and increase soil temperature and dryness. A variety of sedges and grasses create a dense groundcover to help cool the soil and decrease weed competition. A combination of perennials, shrubs and trees that have low moisture requirements and tolerance to heat were used.

Wet/Mesic – Soil conditions along the north side of the home are a combinations of sandy loam and clay loam. More trees were added here to offer structure, habitat, and winter interest. The viburnums help screen the composting area from view. Clay pockets within the bioswale hold water as it travels from the downspout. Sedges were used in the lowest portions of the bioswale to slow the flow of water and aid in absorption. A diversity of colorful forbs will provide nectar, pollen, seeds and cover for insects and birds.

Wet Meadow – The lake’s shoreline is comprised of sand, silty loams, and peaty muck. Dominant plant species are sedges and tall, moisture loving forbs that can withstand the fluctuating water levels. This network of plants requires little maintenance beyond removal of occasional woody species that may arrive. Vegetation is left in place from year to year, allowing for buildup of organic material which works as an absorbent sponge and protective barrier to erosion.


  1. Prioritize phases based on the most problematic areas first. In this example, the shoreline was eroding which meant loss of property to the elements. Stabilize the shore edge by laying a biodegradable erosion control blanket into which plugs of appropriate species are inserted. This blanket allows the plants to root and not get washed away by water action. The plants chosen, mostly a variety of sedges with mat-like root systems which soak up water, combined with colorful wildflowers with staggered bloom times, are species that can tolerate various levels of water inundation.
  2. Planting trees (8’- 10’ or larger) is also a good first step in combatting climate change. This is an investment in the property’s capability to offer needed shade – which saves money on cooling and heating. Trees store carbon and reduce stormwater runoff, increase property values, and provide habitat. Planting a diversity of fast-growing native trees appropriate for your site conditions is an action that reaps big rewards.
  3. Decrease lawn areas in stages by implementing small portions of the plan as time and budget allow. Lawn can be covered with cardboard and woodchips, bark mulch or shredded leaves collected from the property in the late fall to eradicate the grass and will be ready for planting in the spring. Focusing on completing one portion of the plan at a time before moving on to the next section provides a greater sense of satisfaction. Installing plants closely allows them to grow together more quickly, eliminating spaces for weeds and invasive species to become established.
  4. Retain the water that falls on the property by extending downspouts at least 10’ away from the home and into planted beds with appropriate species that can tolerate occasional high water levels as well as extended dry periods. The addition of rain barrels will help to store water so it can be used to water container plants, or the barrels may have a hose connected to them which runs into planted areas and water can be released as needed.
Erosion Control Blanket


Alternate Leave Dogwood by David J. Stang

Alternate Leave Dogwood(Cornus alternifolia)

Arrowwood Viburnum by David J. Stang

Arrowwood Viburnum(Viburnum dentatum)

Beak Grass by Revery

Beak Grass(Diarrhena americana)

Bearberry by Revery

Bearberry(Arctostaphylos uva ursi)

Bee Balm - Bergamot by Jay Sturner

Bee Balm - Bergamot(Monarda fistulosa)

Black Chokeberry by I.Sáček, senior

Black Chokeberry(Aronia melanocarpa)

Black Eyed Susan by Revery

Black Eyed Susan(Rudbeckia fulgida)

Blue-Stemmed Goldenrod by Cbaile19

Blue-Stemmed Goldenrod(Solidago caesia)

Bottle Gentian by Joshua Mayer

Bottle Gentian(Gentian andrewsii)

Bush Honeysuckle by Krzysztof Ziarnek

Bush Honeysuckle(Diervilla lonicera)

Butterfly Milkweed by Jim Conrad

Butterfly Milkweed(Asclepias tuberosa)

Buttonbush by The Cosmonaut

Buttonbush(Cephalanthus occidentalis)

Christmas Fern by David J. Stange

Christmas Fern(Polystichum acrostichoides)

Cinnamon Fern by C T Johansson

Cinnamon Fern(Osmundastrum cinnamomeum)

Creeping Juniper by David J. Stang

Creeping Juniper(Juniperus horizontalis)

Dense Blazing Star by Revery

Dense Blazing Star(Liatris spicata)

Field Pussytoes by Revery

Field Pussytoes(Antennaria neglecta)

Fox Sedge by Len Worthington

Fox Sedge(Carex vulpinoidea)

Fragrant Sumac by Revery

Fragrant Sumac(Rhus aromatica)

Golden Alexanders by Revery

Golden Alexanders(Zizia aurea)

Indian Grass by Eugene van der Pijll

Indian Grass(Sorghastrum nutans)

Ironwood by David J. Stang

Ironwood(Ostrya virginiana)

Ivory Sedge by Revery

Ivory Sedge(Carex eburnea)

Kalm's St. John's Wort by Joshua Mayer

Kalm's St. John's Wort(Hypericum kalmianum)

Long Beaked Sedge by Matt Lavin

Long Beaked Sedge(Carex sprengelii)

Mountain Mint by Salicyna

Mountain Mint(Pycnanthemum virginianum)

Musclewood by Sherief Saleh

Musclewood(Carpinus caroliniana)

New Jersey Tea by JohnOyston

New Jersey Tea(Ceanothus americanus)

Northern Bayberry by David J. Stang

Northern Bayberry(Myrica pensylvanica)

Northern Blazingstar by Krzysztof Ziarnek

Northern Blazingstar(Liatris scariosa)

Pale Purple Coneflower by USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

Pale Purple Coneflower(Echinacea pallida)

Palm Sedge by Jay Sturmer

Palm Sedge(Carex muskingumensis)

Prairie Dropseed by Krzysztof Ziarnek

Prairie Dropseed(Sporobolus heterolepis)

Prairie Phlox by Joshua Mayer

Prairie Phlox(Phlox pilosa)

Prairie Smoke by Revery

Prairie Smoke(Geum triflorum)

Purple Coneflower by James St. John

Purple Coneflower(Echinacea purpurea)

Rattlesnake Master by Krzysztof Ziarnek

Rattlesnake Master(Eryngium yuccifolium)

Riddell's Goldenrod by Joshua Mayer

Riddell's Goldenrod(Solidago riddellii)

Round Leaved Ragwort by James Steakley

Round Leaved Ragwort(Packera obovata)

Serviceberry by Walter Siegmund

Serviceberry(Amelanchier alnifolia)

Sky Blue Aster by davecz2

Sky Blue Aster(Symphyotrichum oolentangiense)

Sneezeweed by Kurt Stueber

Sneezeweed(Helenium autumnale)

Solomon's Seal by Didier Olmstead

Solomon's Seal(Polygonatum biflorum)

Southern Blue Flag Iris by Frank Mayfield

Southern Blue Flag Iris(Iris virginica)

Sundrops by Fritz Flohr Reynolds

Sundrops(Oenothera fruticosa)

Swamp Milkweed by Ryan Hodnett

Swamp Milkweed(Asclepias incarnata)

Sweet Black-eyed Susan by Revery

Sweet Black-eyed Susan(Rudbeckia subtomentosa)

Sweet Joe Pye Weed by Tatters

Sweet Joe Pye Weed(Eutrochium purpureum)

Tall Bellflower by Jason Hollinger

Tall Bellflower(Campanulastrum americana)

Tufted Hair Grass by Christian Fischer

Tufted Hair Grass(Deschampsia cespitosa)

White False Indigo by James Steakley

White False Indigo(Baptisia alba)

White Tinge Sedge by Mason Brock

White Tinge Sedge(Carex albicans)

White Wood Aster by R. A. Nonenmacher

White Wood Aster(Eurybia divaricata)

Whorled Milkweed by George F Mayfield

Whorled Milkweed(Asclepias verticillata)

Wild Ginger by Wasp32

Wild Ginger(Asarum canadense)

Wild Stonecrop by David J. Stang

Wild Stonecrop(Sedum ternatum)

Winterberry by David J. Stang

Winterberry(Ilex verticillata)

Witch Hazel by Revery

Witch Hazel(Hamamelis virginiana)

Woodland Phlox by Dlanglois

Woodland Phlox(Phlox divaricata)


Amy Heilman is a certified landscape designer and has been planning and implementing sustainable gardens for over 20 years, initially in California where water restrictions drive most planned landscapes and currently in her home state of Michigan. Her business, The Living Garden, refers to the ecologic life that can be brought to any garden space with the presence of appropriate native plant species.

Amy has worked in various areas of natural resource management, landscape restoration and native plant nursery operations. She is a frequent educator and speaker. Her goal is to encourage property owners to take an active role in the planning and care of their gardens and to use these spaces to learn about the natural world and the web of life they support.

Rebecca Marquardt is a licensed landscape architect with over 25 years experience working with native plants and urban environments and is an accredited professional with the Sustainable Sites Initiative. She is the owner of Revery, a landscape architecture design studio with an ecological restoration influence and core values that hold every site within the built landscape as one that has the potential to protect, improve, and regenerate the ecosystem services that may have been displaced over time.

Rebecca’s leadership focus with Revery is in developing a narrative and design for residential and commercial sites that addresses the important topics of water quality and infiltration, soil health, pollination services, habitat regeneration, climate regulation, while also carefully considering the human experience within these landscapes.

About Wild Ones

Wild Ones is a non-profit organization that promotes environmentally sound landscaping practices to preserve biodiversity through the preservation, restoration and establishment of native plant communities.

Some of the ways Wild Ones strives to accomplish our mission is by providing educational resources and online learning opportunities with respected experts like Wild Ones Honorary Directors Doug Tallamy, Neil Diboll, Heather Holm and Larry Weaner, publishing an award-winning journal and awarding Lorrie Otto Seeds for Education Program grants to engage youth in caring for native gardens.

Wild Ones depends on membership fees, donations and gifts from individuals like you to carry out our mission of healing the Earth, one landscape at a time.