From Gardener's Supply (

2005 Garden Crusader Awards

Winner: Restoration
Patricia Osburn, Gaylord, Mich.

Patricia Osburn
Garden Crusader Patricia Osburn
When Patricia Osburn moved back to her hometown of Gaylord, Mich., in 1993, she started working at the Otsego County Conservation District. Patricia had developed a strong sense of environmental stewardship while living on a 40-acre ranch in California. She wanted to work in the environmental field and was aware that Otsego had some significant water quality issues. "This county has the highest elevation in the state and lots of rivers and lakes," she says. "Whatever goes into the waterways here, ends up in the Great Lakes".

Patricia knew that just telling people about responsible erosion prevention, ecological landscaping, and proper construction practices wasn't enough. "We needed to show, not just preach," she says. That philosophy inspired her to take a 20-acre dump site near her office and turn it into a model alternative landscaping and garden demonstration site. Patricia involved local residents—from school kids to seniors—in making the gardens. Today, eight years later, almost the entire 20 acres are covered with beautiful gardens and landscaping that shows how to reduce erosion and runoff.

Preparing the Site
Patricia started by enlisting volunteers to clean up the site, recycle what they could and give away or bury the rest. Luckily the soil was still in good shape. With annual additions of manure, the plants grew quickly. "The first goal for the site was to show people how to create a backyard wildlife habitat," she says. "This is one of the fastest-growing counties in the state. Lots of development means the wildlife is getting squeezed out of habitats. Ironically, it's for wildlife and forest that people move here in the first place. So by having a demonstration garden, we can show and teach people how to landscape to meet their needs and protect the wildlife."

The site is just a mile outside of town and there's a high school right next door. Patricia was able to enlist lots of community help to build the gardens. "The high school kids really touched my heart," she says. "Here were these big football-playing boys sowing seeds in their high school greenhouse in spring and then coming back in fall to see their plants in the garden. Some of these kids would have tears in the their eyes when they saw how big their little plants had grown," she says.

Alterative Landscaping and Garden Demonstration
While trees and shrubs are grown to provide wildlife habitat throughout the site, there are many specific demonstration gardens as well. There's a wildflower meadow, a Michigan native plant garden, a butterfly garden, a children's garden with a cedar maze, raised-bed gardens for senior citizens, community garden plots and a conservation forest to show how to manage a woodlot.

One the most striking gardens is the artificial wetland. "It was constructed by a local Scout troop," says Patricia. They designed the garden, provided the labor, found the funding and took the lead in constructing the wetland. The plants in this wetland area offer residents ideas about how they can create a buffer zone that protects waterways from pollution and soil erosion. Another Scout group built an amphitheater for classes and talks. There are local seniors working in the raised-bed gardens, high school kids raising seedlings for the flower gardens, Master Gardeners teaching classes, and individuals from the local correctional institution mowing, mulching and weeding.

"This garden wouldn't be possible if it wasn't for the whole community pitching in to help," Patricia says. The garden is open 24/7 and has no fences or gates. Because of such active community involvement in the garden, there has been no vandalism in the eight years the garden has existed.

A Labor of Love
The Alterative Landscaping and Garden Demonstration site is Patricia Osburn's baby. She can only spend part of her work time on-site due to other responsibilities, so it's often on her own time that she coordinates volunteers, runs tours, teaches classes, and writes and researches grants for the next project. "This year we just put in a vernal pond/wetland in a shady area," she says. The high school kids designed and installed it all.

"Even though we've almost filled up the 20 acres, I can still see room for a few more demonstration gardens," says Patricia. With her drive and vision, it's a safe bet that Gaylord won't have to wait long for the next garden to be built.

Last updated: 10/24/15